HOLY THURSDAY- HOMILY: John 13: 1-15



JESUS, HAVING LOVED HIS OWN IN THE WORLD, LOVED THEM TO THE END. Love willingly gives itself in service to the beloved; it goes even further: love seeks opportunities to give all it is to the loved one. There is some non-rational, inexplicable need deeply anchored in the human heart to honor another with the gift of what is most personal and intimate in oneself. Some of the most gifted of mystics properly identified this urge for what it truly is. St. Gregory the Great recognized it as a form of communication: "The language of souls is desire"(Moralia in Job 2,7,11 S.C. 32 p 189, cited in O.Clément, The Roots of Christian Mysticism, 22)). St. Augustine, had already indicated more specifically the nature of this communicative function of desire in relation to love. It prepares the heart by emptying it of longing for vain satisfactions.

Desire for vision: Faith. Desire for possession: Hope. Desire for love: Charity. By expectation, God increases desire. By desire he empties our souls. In emptying them out, he makes them more capable of receiving him (Augustine of Hippo, Commentary on the First Epistle of St. John, 4, 6 S.C. 75, p. 235; cited in O. Clément, op. cit.p. 23)
Such emptying is necessary because the urgings of love are so imperious that they led one to project on to another qualities deserving of such honor where they do not exist, or to exaggerate them where they are present. Human craving for love readily leads to delusion and eventual frustration. When it we thus project on to another person, or to some achievement the value that will fulfill this need it results in what amounts to a kind of idolatry. St. Paul understood this well and so, just before he speaks of the love-feast that is the Eucharist, he exhorts the faithful at Corinth to free themselves from the idolatry that was rampant in their city at the time. Since the same psychic mechanism is operative in our own society today, though under different forms, his words remain topical for all of us, and are suited to the context of today's liturgy when we commemorate the institution of the Eucharist.

And so, my loved ones, flee from idolatry. I speak to you as to persons with understanding; judge for yourselves what I tell you. Is not the cup of blessing that we bless a communion in the blood of Christ? Is not the bread we break a communion in the body of Christ? For we who are many are one bread, one body, all of us who share in the one bread (1Cor. 10:14-17).

God alone can satisfy fully this craving for the perfect one; He only is capable of responding to this desire for the absolute in the order of love. Denys the Areopagite has explained why, at bottom, this desire directs us to God who, being absolute personal existence is Beauty itself...

Beauty is the source of all friendship and all mutual understanding. It is this Beauty which moves all living things and preserves them whilst filling them. With love and desire for their own particular sort of beauty... In God, the eros desire is outgoing, ecstatic. Because of it lovers no longer belong to themselves but to those whom they love.... Beauty-and-Goodness is the object of the eros desire and is that eros itself (O. Clément, op. cit.pp. 21, 22).

Though He alone is absolute Good-and-Beauty, that is to say, the infinite and ultimate in the order of being and so of love, his love does not render void the real worth of created persons; rather, he demands they be loved in a manner suited to their proper dignity. The love of God affirms and enhances the intrinsic value of each individual in proportion as his love is operative in the heart of that person. The Eucharist is His way of uniting Himself to each of us personally and so of affirming our irreplaceable worth in His eyes while at the same time joining us to one another through our common bond with Him. It is this great mystery of love that we memorialize and celebrate today.

Since the Church has from early times considered the service of the Eucharist, along with the power of absolving from sin, to be the specific and chief function of the priesthood, we also give thanks for the institution of the priesthood which took place at this same Paschal meal. Fittingly, Holy Thursday in the ancient Church was also the day of reconciliation of public sinners who had fulfilled their penance throughout the season of Lent. Following the absolution given in the course of a rite that took place in the morning they were free to join with all the congregation in the sacrament of the body and blood of Christ. We are reminded by this ancient public ritual of the serious obligation to approach the Eucharist only with hearts purified by penance and by the sacrament in which we the merits of Christ and the absolution of the priest cleans us from venial sins even when we have no need of a radical reconciliation.

May we all be purified by the sacrament of penance as well as by the word of God we have heard in this Gospel where Jesus washes the feet of his followers as a sign they need to be cleansed even of their venial faults by a rite specially given for that purpose. And may this Eucharist already give us a foretaste of the joy of the Savior who shares his risen life with us in our communion with him in this sacrament.

Fittingly, Holy Thursday in the ancient Church was also the day of reconciliation of public sinners who had fulfilled their penance throughout the season of Lent. Following the absolution given in the course of a rite that took place in the morning they were free to join with all the congregation in the sacrament of the body and blood of Christ. We are reminded by this ancient public ritual of the serious obligation to approach the Eucharist only with hearts purified by penance and by the sacrament in which we the merits of Christ and the absolution of the priest cleans us from venial sins even when we have no need of a radical reconciliation. May we all be purified by the sacrament of penance as well as by the word of God we have heard in this Gospel where Jesus washes the feet of his followers as a sign they need to be cleansed even of their venial faults by a rite specially given for that purpose. And may this Eucharist already give us a foretaste of the joy of the Savior who shares his risen life with us in our communion with him in this sacrament.

Abbot John Eudes Bamberger

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