Issues Vol. 168 >
Vol. 168 No. 14 - April 08 - April 14, 2017
On the night of Maundy Thursday, when we remember the institution of the Eucharist - the source and summit of Christian life, the Church in her wisdom proclaims John's good news of the Washing of the Feet. Not only is the foot-washing a vivid picture of 'mercy in action,' but it is also a dramatic commentary on the selfless giving of Jesus' life. It spells out a perfect summary of the selfless service that His life, death and Resurrection was about.
On the night when 'the hour' dawned, Jesus showed whom He loved how He will love them to the end. He begins to dispossess Himself: tonight of His garments, tomorrow of His life. That night, He Himself laid aside His own garments; the next night, His clothing will be ripped from Him by others. Wrapping a servant's towel around Himself, He washes their feet. Jesus puts on visible signs of His love; later, naked on the Cross, He will be wrapped in nothing, but His own blood.
Here is the Lord and Master, reaching out to those in need; in need of recognition, of forgiveness, of encouragement. Here is an action of service offered without distinction, including the one who is to betray Him, including those who will shortly abandon Him. No one is outside this embrace of communion. After the foot-washing, Jesus returns to the table, to help His disciples to understand what He has done. He says, "If I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also have to wash one another's feet."
Blessed by the loving service of Jesus, they are now called to be given, broken, consumed in the service of one another. The way out of the room leads to Gethsemane and Golgotha, to the self-giving, the breaking, the consuming of the Servant in passion and death, and the affirmation of His love by the Father, when Jesus passes over into His Resurrection. This is communion; this is what the Eucharist is all about.
But there is another narrative told to us in the liturgy of the Last Supper. It weaves in and out of this washing of the feet. St Paul tells us the deeper meaning of all that is taking place within this circle of the friends of Jesus. He tells us that on this very same occasion, 'the night before he was betrayed,' Jesus took some bread, blest it and broke it, and said: 'This is my body which is for you.' Then He took a cup of wine, and said, 'This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this as a memorial of me.'
The washing of the feet and the giving of the Eucharist are inseparable, if each is to be fully understood. Our service, one to another, finds its source and inspiration in the act of total self-giving which is Jesus' death on the Cross. And that death, and the triumph of His Resurrection, is made constantly present to us in the Eucharist. For, as St Paul has said, "Every time you eat this bread and drink this cup, you are proclaiming His death."
The Lord lifted up before us for our imitation in the washing of the feet is the same Lord who comes to us in His life-giving death and resurrection, in the Eucharist we celebrate and the Holy Communion we share. So we have to recognise that without practising the service Jesus shows us, we fail to fulfil the Eucharist we receive. Without our many works of service leading us to the Cross of Jesus and the Eucharistic heart of that service, we fail to understand the deepest meaning of the memorial of the Last Supper.
The message of Maundy Thursday offers a radical challenge to our conventional ideas of political and religious leadership, that lusts after entitlements and privileges at the cost of human dignity and equality, be it in the first century Palestine or our own 21st century.
Homily preached by Cardinal Oswald Gracias at the Ordination ceremony of five Deacons of the Archdiocese of Bombay.
Today is a very special day for each one of us. This ordination ceremony will be etched in your memory and you will remember it all your life. Today is a special day for our Seminary because it crowns the efforts of the St. Pius family to form our future priests. Today is a special day for the Presbyterium of the Archdiocese of Bombay because five new, young, energetic, enthusiastic priests are being incorporated into our Presbyterium. Today is a special day for this Archdiocese because our new priests will bring new energy, new confidence, and new enthusiasm as we plant God's Kingdom in this Archdiocese.
Today's Gospel narrates the raising of Lazarus: for Jesus it was also a very special moment: He decidedly went late to the house of Lazarus so that he could raise Lazarus from the dead; he overruled the objections of his disciples who said it was dangerous to go to Bethany, so close to Jerusalem, when they sought to kill him; and de facto this is the last major miracle reported before our Lord's Passion-Death-Resurrection. Seeing that he had raised Lazarus from the dead, his enemies decided that he should be killed.
But he was fulfilling the Mission given to him by the Father: to infuse life, to bring the dead to life, to heal the sick, to give liberty to captives, to set the downtrodden free, to reconcile man and woman to God: to make his own life a bridge, a means to go to the Father. Tomorrow with your First Masses my dear Brothers, you will inaugurate your ministry: to do what Jesus did, to give life, to build the Kingdom of God, to be reconcilers, to transform society as true disciples of Jesus.
You will be appointed to parishes: and your task, with the team to which you belong, is to build up the parish community. In the Archdiocese of Bombay, in India and in Asia, we have discerned that the new way of being Church presently is through the Small Christian Communities. I want to pay public tribute to Bishop Bosco Penha, who strove tirelessly to make this operative in this Archdiocese and beyond. It has served us immensely in the revitalization of our parishes. Now it is time to review the past, see what midterm changes may have to be made and to renew the system, where necessary. This we have done in Asia with ASIPA and for every living organism we must continuously examine, review and revitalize if the organism has to grow.
The family has been the focus of pastoral attention at the world level, the Asian level and the Indian level. Both the FABC and the CCBI had taken the family as the theme for our discussions at our Plenary Assembly last December and in February. Many plans have been drawn up. Following the call of Pope Francis in Amoris Laetitia, his post Synodal Apostolic Exhortation, these programmes have to be realized at the local level. In our Archdiocese, we have an excellent, much appreciated, and a well-organized Family Service Centre. But more important and urgent is an effective Family Apostolate in our parishes: our parish family cells, strengthening of family associations, preparing couples to accompany the newly married. Our task is to make good families better, holy families holier, and giving assistance to families in difficult situations. This needs to be a priority in the coming years.
Procession Gospel Mt 21:1-11
We enter into Holy Week, the Great Week of the liturgical year, with the procession of palms. In ancient times, this Sunday was called "the flowering Pasch" - a rightful suggestion that this is not a pageant or a folkloric restaging of what is described in the gospel, but an anticipation of what we will celebrate in the days ahead, and especially in the Triduum, the three-day feast of Christ’s Pasch: His Passover through death into the life which He shares with all those who die and rise with Him. The palms or branches that we wave, the 'Hosannas' that we sing, are symbols of Christ’s victory, of the sap that flows through the wood of the Cross to flower in us, the branches grafted onto Him.
The processional gospel begins near Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, just outside Jerusalem, with the obedience of two of Jesus’ disciples who are sent to find the ass and colt on which Jesus will sit. Perhaps, the puzzling mention of two animals suggests that the colt was a young animal being pressed into its first service, and so accompanied by a parent. The service it will offer is to carry the Messiah into His own city as the royal Son of David. Jesus will not charge into Jerusalem/Zion on the back of a well-muscled warhorse; He will come humbly, gently, on an animal of the people of the land. This was how Solomon rode into Gihon for his anointing as king (1 Kgs 1:38), a symbolic reminder that the king’s main concern was not to make war, but to establish peace, and defend the poor and disadvantaged. That most of the kings failed in this vocation contributed greatly to the later downfall of the monarchy.
We have to be Christ-bearers to the world, and especially to those on the periphery.
Jesus, Son of God, born without the stain of sin in the stable of Bethlehem. The One who traversed the plains and hillsides of Judea and Galilee, and in doing so, tirelessly proclaimed the Good News that God loves all of us—sinner and saint, the leper, the tax-collector, the adulteress, the possessed. The Messiah who promised that the poor, the laughed-at, and the seekers of justice would be heirs in the Kingdom. The Good Shepherd who longed to hug the lost close to His heart. The Father who watches and waits for the prodigal to return. In the three years of His public ministry, Jesus went around, healing and uplifting the downtrodden, loving and being loved in return. For this, He was sent into the world to spread the News that God so loved us that He sent Him, the only Begotten Son to make whole (holy), and to redeem from the darkness that engulfs humanity ever since that first rebellion in the Garden of Eden.
The reconciliation of humankind to the Father was always on His mind. Did He not constantly tell His disciples how He would be treated during the last days in Jerusalem? His followers could not understand. Nevertheless, the rejection and the animosity of the religious leaders were witnessed by the closest followers. For Jesus, the pain and the anguish of this ever-present repudiation was hard to bear. "My people, what have I done to you, and how have I offended you? Answer me!" (Micah 6:3) You also have that most heart-breaking sentence in John 1:11 – "He came unto His own, and His own received Him not."
Yet, Jesus did not flinch from what the ultimate rejection was leading Him to. He accepted the humiliation, the suffering, the Cross. As a matter of fact, so complete was His incarnation into our lives that He took upon Himself our sins – ‘God made the sinless One into sin’ - profound and mystical words.
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