Thursday, April 21, 2011

Fullness of Love and Life in Christ

Holy Thursday
Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper
Rosary Monastery, St. Ann’s
21 April 2011
Exodus 12:1-8. 11-14
I Corinthians 11:23-26
John 13:1-15

“It was before the festival of the Passover, and Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to pass from this world to the Father. He had always loved those who were his in the world, but now he showed how perfect his love was.”
          In the Opening Prayer for Mass on this day we proclaim that Jesus gave us the Eucharist “to reveal his love”, that He gave us the Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper (as it is called on Holy Thursday) “to reveal his love.” Our central prayer intention for this evening is that “in this Eucharist we may find the fullness of love and life.”
          By way of Old Testament prophecy, we see in the Passover commemorating Israel’s liberation from the slavery of Egypt the sure sign of God’s love for His people, whom He set free and set on the road to the Promised Land. Love is about respect and service and in the Washing of the Feet we see another powerful witness to Christ’s love for us, His people, for whom He laid down His life. The bread and the cup of which St. Paul speaks are the symbols of the new and everlasting covenant in Christ’s Body and Blood. We proclaim the death of the Lord Who loves us even unto the Cross and Grave until He comes again in glory.
          But where is love really? What is love all about? Where and how does the Church, Christ’s Bride, His other self if you will, where and how does the Church effectively witness to the love of Christ crucified? How does the Church disclose what is going on for us in His Sacred Heart? One way the Church does it and has always done it over the centuries is through its ministry of charity. We only need think of somebody like Mother Teresa of Calcutta. She teaches to love as Christ loved. She is one of a whole army over the centuries which has loved without counting the cost, loving as Christ first loved us.
          That is one element, a very practical one, but there is also a truly significant symbolism or imagery which relates more of the story and helps us comprehend more fully and profoundly what God-like love is all about.
          Lest we forget, the imagery is not something all that evident or clear for some folk. I can remember back as a seminarian in the early 1970’s being exposed to the theories and teaching of Christiane Brusselmans (1930-1991). She was a Catholic religious educator, catechetical advocate for children and a pioneer in the implementation of the Rite of Christian Initiation in the United States. She had some good things but to my mind was really oddball about not putting a crucifix in the baby’s room at home. I think she had a favorite plaque she recommended a Jesus, the Good Shepherd, hugging a couple of fluffy white lambs. When you are less than 25, as I was at the time, and the woman talking to you is big and red-headed, speaks with a thick Belgian accent and has bishops and cardinals all cow-towing to her, well, you keep your thoughts to yourself. But both back then and now I find something terribly wrong with anybody who would deprive a baby of an encounter with Jesus on the Cross.
          Just the other day, my sister and I were talking fondly about missing the Crucifix which shows up in all the old family pictures of us as babies taken in Mom and Dad’s bedroom. “God so loved the world…” says John 3:16. Jesus prophesied that He would draw all men to Himself when He was lifted up, and we know that means lifted up on the Cross, not when we see Him sitting down on a big rock somewhere out in a field cuddling fluffy lambs.
          But where is love really? What is love all about? Where and how does the Church, Christ’s Bride, His other self, where and how does the Church effectively witness to the love of Christ crucified? How does the Church disclose what is going on for us in His, in Jesus’ Sacred Heart?
          Do you suppose I could get a nod or a quiet little “Amen” out of you if I suggested that we need to turn down the volume and slow the rush in our lives a bit if we want to really understand or appreciate what Jesus did for us and how God loves us? I think Jesus must have tried to do so with those present at the Last Supper; He sought to focus the disciples and calm all their fears and distractions there in the Upper Room on that Holy Thursday Evening. Our worship space and time ought to do the same for us; it needs to offer us the possibility of grappling with our question or questions about love and the Cross. Tonight in a special way, but always at Mass we ought to be able to access what is meant really by love, we ought to be able to receive an answer to our prayer intention: that “in this Eucharist we may find the fullness of love and life.”
          I can remember at a retreat house in Italy seeing a sort of famous modern sculpture of St. John the Evangelist falling back in fright with Christ crucified looming over him. I remember in the gift shop of that house they had a black and white postcard with a picture of that sculpture; I even bought a couple to take with me as a reminder. The concept displayed by that sculpture is wrong however. Jesus on the Cross did not repel or frighten and in my lifetime and experience of growing up in a Catholic family He never frightened any of us, especially not as children, no matter what Ms. Brusselmans and others of her school may have thought. We knew and understood that on the Cross Christ was lifted up for our salvation; on the Cross He drew all to Himself. His Cross did not loom over us or threaten us. When we say that the Holy Eucharist, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is an unbloody renewal of His Sacrifice once and for all on the altar of the Cross, we are also saying that here Jesus attracts, He draws to Himself, here at Mass and especially here at this, the Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper, it is indeed He, the Lord Jesus, the Lord of Life and Love, Who attracts; He draws us to Himself and incorporates us into the mystery of His boundless love.
          Is it too little to answer the question “Where is love?” by saying “Why it is right here! Just be still and know the Lord Who loved you even unto death”? I think not; I think the teaching shines through clearly at Mass, that is if we let it.
          The symbolism of the Cross, of the Holy Eucharist, just like the witness of the Church to God’s love for His people through her works of charity (code word: Mother Teresa) is rooted in the believing life of faithful people at home, the very people who lovingly placed that crucifix on their bedroom wall. If that was not your experience, if you have complaints about your home life, set them aside in favor of what you know to be true and allow the Lord to work through you to see to it that everyone in your household today has a better chance than maybe you did of encountering the selfless love of the Son of God in you, as you give and never count the cost, as you give not for the sake of chalking up points or receiving some kind of a trophy or merit badge or a mother or father of the year award, but Godlike for the sake of His Holy Will.
In a sense, our prayer intention for this evening is a life project. Let it be so! Let us draw strength for that project from our worship here this evening. As we continue now with the washing of feet, as we pray the Eucharistic Prayer and receive the Lord in Holy Communion, the Lord Who gave Himself up entirely for our sake, as we watch and pray with Him in Gethsemane at the Altar of Repose, may we indeed come to find the fullness of life and love in Christ.

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