Chapter Talk – Holy Thursday – April 18, 2019
Sisters and brothers, we are being ‘summoned’; we are summoned to an ‘encounter’, to a living encounter with Jesus. This summoning, as Fr. Casey told us on Palm Sunday, asks that we come with our whole being: ‘our minds, our hearts and our feet’. The backdrop for our encounter with Jesus during these days of the Holy Triduumis God’s love. With Jesus love will always have the last word and will be his orientation towards us as we meet him in this present moment. The horizon of God’s love that Jesus embodies, which is brought to the encounter, meets the present horizon of our lives. We encounter the expansive horizon of Jesus’ life and consciousness: an horizon, which embodies the immensity of God’s love and truth and overshadows the very limited horizon of our lives where we strive to expand our minds and hearts to be more Christ like in our everyday living and in the choices we make.
Pope Francis says he never tires of repeating these words of Pope Benedict XVI: ‘Being a Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction’ (The Joy of the Gospel, p.4). The hope of these holy days is that as we encounter Jesus and walk by his side, the horizon of our lives will be renewed: we will receive a clearer and more meaningful direction to our lives, and an experience where our hearts are expanded in love and forgiveness.
Holy Thursday, which opens the Easter Triduum, pivots around two sacramental rituals: the washing of the disciples feet by Jesus and Christ’s offering of his body and blood at the Eucharist. In the washing of the feet what is Jesus communicating to his disciples and to us? In this sacramental gesture he is ‘loving to the end’. He is bending into ‘communion’ with each of his disciples, even his betrayer. He is meeting them eye to eye, heart to heart. Jesus is totally disarmed, his heart wide open…his disarming gesture is reaching out to disarm the hearts of his disciples so that God’s love may be received and in turn may flow out from them to others. With Jesus’ ritual gesture, the whole hierarchical structure of power is turned upside down…In essence, he is saying, ‘we are all one’. The most wounded, the poorest, the outcast, everyone is equal in the outpouring of God’s compassion and mercy; everyone is a temple of the Spirit and is to be ‘loved to the end’. To repeat, the horizon of love embodied in Jesus turns our world upside down: no one is better than their neighbor…each one is equal in God’s heart, equal and worthy of Divine love and its transforming power. Behind the sacramental gesture of the washing of the feet is love. And the fruit of the ‘encounter’ in the words of Pope Francis: “For if we have received the love which restores meaning to our lives, how can we fail to share that love with others” (p.5). And from John’s gospel: “As I have done for you, you also should do” (Jn 13:15). What a profound exchange, an exchange that is the fruit of this encounter with Jesus!
Next, the sacrament of the Eucharist: the offering of God’s life for the life of the world. Every time we hear the words proclaimed: ‘This is my body, this is my blood’ offered, given…the Divine reality behind these words, God’s healing life spreads a little more in our midst and in our world. As we receive and take in Jesus’ offering of his very self we are supported, strengthened to go forward to do the same. The words ‘do this in memory of me’: memory (memoria) recalls an experience, an event and brings this event back into the present moment, so it is no longer just an event of the past but also something very real right now in our lives and in the life of the Church. The Eucharist: Christ is present as we reenact the sharing of his body and blood. As we meet him face to face in this encounter, we raise our lives, we offer our lives with his as he says ‘This is my body, this is my blood’ given freely, given in the fullness of God’s love. Edith Stein gives a glimpse of the impact of Eucharist for us when she writes: “To live Eucharist means literally to tear oneself loose from one’s own narrow, particular life in order to grow toward the immensity of the life of Christ” (quoted in Born From the Gaze of God, p.37). Parenthetically, these words of Edith Stein were written down in the journal of Br. Christophe, one of the martyred monks of Atlas in Algeria.
Whatever issues right now that are restricting our lives: be it fears, anxieties, reactivity that hardens the heart, difficult relationships, health issues and so on let us bring them to the encounter with Jesus so that we can prepare our selves to receive the gift waiting to be given. We will be encountering God in Christ through his Word and through Sacrament. Both the Word of God and Sacrament bring us into an experience of meeting Christ right here, now. We need only to show up for this living encounter with our anchor of faith and an open heart. Surely, then, we will rise with Jesus into fuller life if we give our selves to this encounter of God’s love.
Sr. Kathy DeVico, Abbess