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HOLY THURSDAY HOMILY: Self Giving Love and Washing Feet

By Deacon Keith Fournier
March 28th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

When Pope Francis the Priest rises and takes the basin, towel and washcloth, he will wash the feet of twelve prisoners as a symbol of the Love which breaks their real chains.  The Love of the Incarnate Word, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, is made into symbolic action. Love is a command, a mandate. This foot-washing is more than a re-enactment of an actual historic event; it is a participation in the ongoing redemptive mission of Jesus Christ through His Church in the real, nitty gritty world of our age.

CHESAPEAKE, VA (Catholic Online) - On Holy Thursday only the Chrism Mass and the Evening Mass of the Lord's Supper may be celebrated by a priest. Pope  Francis will celebrate the Chrism Mass in St. Peter's Basilica in the morning and the Mass of the Lord's Supper at the Casal del Marmo youth jail where he will wash the feet of young prisoners. 

The Mass of the Lords Supper is usually held in the Basilica of St. John Lateran. In its announcement the Vatican Press Office explained, "The Mass of the Lord's Supper is characterized by the announcement of the commandment of love and the gesture of washing the feet. In his ministry as Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Cardinal Bergoglio used to celebrate the Mass in a prison or hospital or hospice for the poor and marginalized. With this celebration at Casal del Marmo, Pope Francis will continue his custom, which is characterized by its humble context."

Last Sunday we celebrated Passion or Palm Sunday. Just prior to the reading of the Passion Narrative, we heard one of the most ancient of the passages contained within the Sacred Scripture. St. Paulīs words concerning Jesusī great self emptying, in Greek, "kenosis". It is recorded in the second chapter of his letter to the Philippians. "Christ Jesus, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself." (Phil. 2:6-11)

The Vigil Mass of Holy Thursday deepens our understanding of that Mystery of the self emptying of Jesus Christ and calls us into it in the real stuff of our own daily lives. We celebrate the gift of the ministerial priesthood which continues to make present the Priesthood of Jesus Christ. When our Priest stands at that altar, it is Jesus Christ in whom He stands, Christ is the victim, and Christ is the Holy Oblation. Jesus gave Himself to us in the great meal in which we participate in on this Holy Night.

At the Last Supper Jesus anticipated the altar of the Cross at which He would willingly pour out the very last drop of His Blood - so that we could be set free. St. Paul told the Galatians, "For freedom Christ set us free." (Gal. 5:1) We are set free to live real human lives in Him, for Him and with Him, for the sake of the World. When the Lord rose from that table, He showed us the naturally supernatural expression of  Love; an expression that reveals the heart of the Christian vocation.

He, who is Lord and Master, King of Kings, took off His Cloak of Royal Splendor and became a Servant. He washed the feet of those whom He had chosen to continue His Redemptive work. He showed them what they were chosen to do. Then He enlisted them to live lives of self emptying Love for the world. To bear the name "Christian" is to walk in this kind of love in the midst of a broken and wounded world waiting to be reborn. Pope Francis is engaging in a prophetic act to show us how to live.

We live in a world which God still loves. He still sends His Son into that world, through the Church of which we are members. That world is being recreated anew as He continues His Mission through the Church. The early Christians spoke of the Church as the world in the process of being transfigured. And, my friends, we are a part of that Body, that Communion, which brings heaven to earth and earth to heaven. It is in this sense that we come to understand that Christian love is to be lived. 

When Pope Francis the Priest rises and takes the basin, towel and washcloth, he will wash the feet of twelve prisoners as a symbol of the Love which breaks their real chains.  The Love of the Incarnate Word, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, is made into symbolic action. Love is a command, a mandate. This foot-washing is more than a re-enactment of an actual historic event; it is a participation in the ongoing redemptive mission of Jesus Christ through His Church in the real, nitty gritty world of our age.

Foot washing expresses what living a life of self emptying love looks like in imitation of the Lord who emptied Himself for us. It has been traditionally referred to as the Mandatum, the Command. It is an invitation to become a man or woman poured out for others. A Christian who lives the love of Charity (Caritas), the Love of Jesus Christ, makes Jesus Christ real. In so doing, the Incarnation continues.

In our participation in the Mysteries of these three Holy days we will encounter the Lord Himself. In that encounter He calls us afresh to follow Him, to bear His name in the real world. To pray and to live in that name, Christian, it helps to remember what names mean in the biblical sense. They communicate identity. Through grace we are capacitated to become an epiphany a manifestation of the self emptying Servant love of Jesus the Christ.

"So, during supper, fully aware that the Father had put everything into his power and that he had come from God and was returning to God, he rose from supper and took off his outer garments. He took a towel and tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples' feet and dry them with the towel around his waist.

"So when he had washed their feet and put his garments back on and reclined at table ..."You call me 'teacher' and 'master,' and rightly so, for indeed I am. If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another's feet. I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do." (St John, Chapter 13)

Here, in this poignant scene recorded by the beloved disciple, we encounter Jesus, before he shares a final meal with his closest friends; before He who knew no sin, would suffer and freely stretch out His sacred arms to embrace the entire world and join heaven to earth, showing the depth and substance of true love.

Shortly after this event we read of the continuation of this great Act of poured out Love. First Jesus inaugurates the great meal that is itself the very heart of the holy exchange, The Sacrifice, the Holy Oblation of Love. He gives Himself as food for those who will make the journey with Him back to the Father and invites them to bring the whole world with them.

Then, this Innocent One walks the way of suffering and mounts the altar of sacrifice on Golgotha in order to fully pour Himself out - every last drop of blood and water flowing from His wounded side - on behalf of us all, beginning creation anew, overcoming sin, paying the debt of justice and defeating the devil and last enemy, death.

As we enter into this Triduum, which in Latin means these great three days, we are invited to make this mystery our own. No mere spectators in this Act of Love we are empowered to become participants. We who bear the name Christian are called ourselves to pick up that basin and towel, to climb up on that Cross and to learn -and to live- this way of Love in service in the stuff of our own lives.

Our faith and love are meant to be active and real. We live Lovesī eternal promise by living like the One who washed His disciples feet. When we serve, we make the mystery of self giving Love real by washing feet.

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