Holy Thursday – A Day of Judgement

Holy Thursday of the Triduum 2020
Lectionary 39

Ordinarily, I do not post my parish homilies. I prefer this blog to remain a place of personal reflections. However, I am making an exception for Holy Thursday of 2020.

Homily – Holy Thursday 2020

It is so easy to be upset about the state of the world and our Church. The government requires us to remain at home, and the doors of the church are locked. A video stream is nice, I guess, but it is not an adequate substitute for the communal worship and fellowship of our parish. Our faith, our liturgy, is sacramental. It exists in the intersection between the spiritual and bodily, between the eternal and the temporal. However, I do not think this is a moment to lament what we have lost, because this is a moment of grace. Tonight is the most authentic Holy Thursday the Church has celebrated in many centuries.

That may seem a surprising claim, but only because we have not allowed the message of Holy Thursday to sink into our hearts. The Roman Missal subtitles Holy Thursday, “The Mass of the Lord’s Supper.” These words suggest to us that this day is a celebration of the institution of the Eucharist. It is the commemoration of the final meal Jesus shared with his disciples before his death. There are, without doubt, some elements of this in tonight’s liturgy. However, there is one glaring omission which demands we reevaluate the meaning of this holy day.

That omission is the gospel. Tonight, we read from the Gospel of John, which does not even mention the Eucharist at the last supper. All it says is, before Passover, they were at supper. That is all. The Church had four gospels from which to choose, and on the day she commemorates the Last Supper, she decided on the only one that does not mention it! Instead, we hear how Jesus stripped off his clothes, placed a towel around his waist, and washed the feet of his disciples. That is, we hear how God became a slave: naked, debased, and touching the dirtiest part of ancient peoples.

This scene is the meaning of Holy Thursday. The love of God is not an abstract nicety. It is not mere kindness and tolerance. The love of God is tangible and scandalous. It is a love that submits to humiliation for the sake of encountering its beloved. No one has ever been, and no one ever will be excluded from God’s love because there is no end to the humiliations he will accept for our sake. God, in Jesus Christ, has become a slave for us; he was tortured, spat upon, and mocked, for us. And he continues to be treated this way, to this very day.

Do we not know that every time the poor go hungry or thirsty because of our limitless greed, that we are torturing Jesus? Do we not know that every time we gossip and slander others to maintain our image, we spit upon the wounded face of Christ? Our choices to fight wars, destroy the environment, and dehumanize others are not sins against people who are beneath us; they are sins against the one who is infinitely superior to us! And we justify these choices, whether consciously or not, by the Eucharist.

We have made the Eucharist into an anesthetic. We have allowed our participation in this great mystery to dull our senses and convince us that we are “pretty good people.” So long as we show up to mass and get our prize, then nothing we say or do can be all that bad. Now, the Eucharist has been taken away from us. The award which soothes our wounded consciences is absent, just as in the Gospel of John. Now we must confront the truth. Pope Francis has said this is a time a judgment, not God’s judgment of the world, but our judgment. The truth of who we are, who we have become, stands revealed. The loss of health and comfort we are experiencing shows that the world was sick long before this virus. So, we must choose. Will we continue to live as before without regard for the disfigured face of Christ present in our common humanity and common home, or will we change. Will we finally unite together into a single body whose only goal is to love and live the gospel? Which is to say, will we finally become the Eucharist and not merely take it?

A Few Thoughts on Isaiah

Tuesday of Holy Week
Lectionary 258

The necessary work of a parish during Holy Week are taking up most of my time at the moment. So, rather than the typical reflection on the daily readings, I am posting a few thoughts on Isaiah.

Literally Jesus

It is widely known that the Church reads the scroll of Isaiah as a prophecy about Christ. St. Thomas Aquinas even went so far as to say the literal meaning of Isaiah is Jesus Christ. Which is to say, St. Thomas thinks Isaiah is not talking about events that were to be fulfilled in the hearing of Isaiah’s contemporaries or near contemporaries. Isaiah was talking about Jesus Christ. I don’t think this is correct, but it is understandable. Isaiah, more than any other work, clearly depicts events in the life of Jesus. Current scholarship suggests that it has more to do with the Gospel authors themselves than history. Many believe the gospel authors wrote the life of Jesus with Isaiah in mind. It is a reasonable view, but I don’t think it accounts for typical human limitations. If the gospel authors were consciously aware of the many allusions to the Hebrew Scriptures, then they were geniuses of the first degree. It has taken centuries, and the work of many people to discover these allusions, and the process continues today. It is improbable that the early Christians were so subtle in their literary works. The idea that they laid out notecards and storyboards to construct the gospels is an anachronism. This is not to say that they were uneducated rubes. Rather, it is too monumental a task, and the many non-canonical writings we have demonstrate much less subtlety. So, I think it is more reasonable to hold the gospels are working from historical events. Therefore, the prophetic utterances of Isaiah genuinely are fulfilled by Jesus.

The Significance of Jesus

What is the significance of Jesus in the Gospel of John? The gospel’s scene of Mary anointing Jesus’ feet and Judas objecting raises this critical question.

Monday of Holy Week
Lectionary 257

Significance of Jesus

What is the significance of Jesus in the Gospel of John? That is, what is the role and purpose of Jesus? The gospel’s scene of Mary anointing the feet of Jesus and Judas objecting raises this important question and highlights two possible responses.[1] What seems like a tense disagreement about money and propriety, reveals a deeper underlying disagreement. Mary and Judas have opposing views about who Jesus is and his role in the world. If we can bracket our knowledge of the outcome of the Gospel of John and read it with fresh eyes, then this is a shocking scene. Mary and Judas are both close to Jesus. They are both, seemingly, his friends and belong to his earliest disciples. This means they have witnessed similar events. Mary and Judas know the power of Jesus and his teachings. Nonetheless, they have come to divergent opinions on who Jesus is.

Judas and Jesus

Judas is the treasurer for the wandering band of Jesus’ disciples. Despite Jesus’ repeated warnings concerning money, this was surely a prestigious position. A movement cannot succeed without money and money cannot last without good administration. Ignoring the editorial hindsight inserted into the gospel, this implies Judas was a trusted and respected figure. Jesus, and his followers, believed Judas to be the best candidate for treasurer. Given that Matthew was a tax collector, Judas must have had amazing credentials. Surely he had had experience managing finances, whether professionally or in another movement. Given the above, we would expect Judas has the best understanding of the significance of Jesus. Unless we are contrarians, our natural inclination is to hold experts and professionals as more credible than amateurs and people of unknown origins. However, the gospel subverts our natural expectations. Not only does the author of the Gospel of John outright state Judas was a thief, but it demonstrates his failures in the encounter with Mary. Judas cannot bring himself to recognize the events that are about to occur. His mind is trapped in worldly thinking and so he misses the significance of Mary’s actions. In his effort to denounce her “waste,” Judas is rebuked by Jesus. Judas’ failure to penetrate the mystery of Jesus is revealed and Judas’ charter is laid bare to all.

Mary, the Wise Disciple

Unlike the presumed qualification of Judas, Mary seems to have little going for her. We know she is friends with Jesus, but we are given no insight into her origins or daily life. Mary is a hidden and lowly figure. From a natural perspective, we expect nothing from her. She is like any random person on the street. While we might genuinely care what such a person thinks, we will not place much stock in it or take their thoughts into serious consideration. Again, the gospel subverts our expectations. Mary, despite her lowliness, is the most insightful of Jesus’ followers. She alone seems to recognize the significance of Jesus. In anointing him, Mary not only foreshadows the coming days but makes their inevitability and importance apparent. The disciples are easily distracted and routinely misunderstand Jesus. They draw ever nearer to the passion and death of Jesus but continue to remain clueless. Mary’s actions reveal, in an extravagant fashion, the very near passion of Jesus. His death must be confronted face to face. It is not a reality that can be avoided. Mary also reveals, by privileging love of Jesus above the poor, the reality of Jesus. Who should be shown honor even above the poor and marginalized? God alone may legitimately be loved this much.

Signifiance of Jesus Reconsidered

It is clear Judas’ understanding of the significance of Jesus is to be rejected. Judas completely misunderstood Jesus. However, the understanding of Mary is not the definitive and full truth of who Jesus is. As much wisdom as is seen in her actions, the Gospel of John does not allow the significance of Jesus to be contained in a book. Jesus is too great to be circumscribed. To know and understand him, one must enter into a relationship with Jesus. Only through this experiential relationship and an open heart can one realize the full significance of Jesus.

[1] Moloney, Francis J., The Gospel of John, ed. Daniel J. Harrington, vol. 4, Sacra Pagina Series (Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1998), 349.

Cross of Christ

Palm Sunday
Lectionary 37 & 38

The Cross is the central mystery of our faith because the Cross is what the human heart needs to be complete. So many people, perhaps all people, suffer from isolation. Whether it is because of what they have done, or what others have done to them, they feel like no one understands their pain, and no one loves them unconditionally, that they are alone. The Cross is the promise—the concrete, and tangible proof—of God’s response to that isolation. The Cross proclaims that we are never alone, that we have no pain, which God does not feel in his own flesh. No matter if everyone else in this world abandons us or looks down upon us, there is one person who loves us so much that he died for us. So, let us open our eyes and gaze upon the Cross of Christ and know that he loves us, and we will never be alone.