MARCH 28, 2002, HOLY THURSDAY- HOMILY: John 13: 1-15

JESUS, HAVING LOVED HIS OWN IN THE WORLD, LOVED THEM TO THE END. It is with these words that St. John opens his account of the Last Supper and the Passion of our Lord. He, in doing so, is following in the same tradition that St. Luke had witnessed to when he described our Lord’s disposition in terms of desire as he prepared to share his last meal with his intimate circle of friends and disciples. ‘With desire I have desired to eat this Passover with you’, are the words he is reported to have uttered on that momentous occasion. It was not with reluctance and dread that he anticipated his coming ordeal, but with eager anticipation. Love casts out fear; love does so by sharpening desire to which it gives rise. True love seeks not its own advantage but the welfare of the beloved.

However, it does seek the fulfillment of the desire which is intrinsic to love. Such fulfillment of desire is not selfish but ordered to the good of the one loved so that the desire of true love is a transforming power that can change pain and suffering into a creative experience that is life giving. For ir is the very nature of love willingly to give 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 all that is most personal and intimate in oneself.

Some of the most gifted of mystics properly identified this urge as basic for the search for God. St. Gregory the Great understood well that the it is desire that propels us forward in our movement to join the Lord in the glory of the Father. He encouraged the reading of Scripture in view of increasing the desire for divine realities. He recognized in desire a form of communication by which the soul gave expression to its very nature: ‘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) Desire speaks more tellingly than do words of the dispositions of the heart. One of the surest ways leading to self-knowledge is to examine attentively and honestly the desires that actually motivate our choices.. St. Augustine, had already indicated more specifically the function of desire in relation to the three theological virtues of faith, hope and love of God. He pointed out how desire prepares the heart for union with God 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, 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 great 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 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. Jesus had taught the need to avoid allowing our heart to be taken up with the cares and vain desires of worldly matters. In his parable of the sower he tells how seed that falls among thorns represents ‘the man who hearing the word, the care of the world and love of riches smothers the word so it becomes fruitless (Mt 13:22).

God alone can satisfy fully this craving for belonging to 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, pp. 21, 22).


By his act of service in washing the feet of his disciples Jesus expressed the deepest desire of his heart to reconcile those who put their faith in him with his Father, who is the absolute Beauty ‘which moves all living things and preserves them whilst filling them.’ His love led him to affirm our inner beauty and goodness by his giving of his life. He seeks to have us ratify it by turning our desire to him. He gives us the Eucharist as his eminent means of uniting Himself to each of us personally and, by that very fact, of affirming our irreplaceable worth in His eyes. At the same time this union with him becomes a communion among ourselves through the bond with Him that we share in common. It is this surpassing mystery of love that we memorialize and celebrate today. May we, by our carrying out of his will prove worthy of his love for us.