Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Do You Realize What I Have Done for You? A Holy Thursday Homily

In getting ready for Holy Week, I came upon a homily that I wrote for Holy Thursday a few years ago.  I share it here.
"Do You Realize What I have Done for You?"

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
The Solemn Mass of the Lord’s Supper in which we now participate, places a question before our hearts; a question that will live in us for all eternity; a question that causes us here below to tremble and that causes the saints in heaven to cast down their crowns and worship before the Altar of the Lamb.  It is the question that forms the vocation of every Christian.  It is the question that Jesus himself put to his apostles in tonight’s gospel.  “Do you realize what I have done for you?”

The great cathedrals, the masterpieces of Christian art and architecture, the exquisite motets and chants of the Christian world; all these are human responses to this profound question.  Even more, the lives of the saints and blood of the martyrs were all offered in humble gratitude from hearts that were formed by this question.  “Do you realize what I have done for you?”

To live the Christian life is to live this question.  To return again and again to a pondering of what Christ has done for us.  The grandeur and nobility of the Holy Mass tonight directs our gaze to Christ on the night before his Passion and Death.  This night causes us to look into the Upper Room and to gaze upon three gifts that our Lord has given to us.

Do you realize what I have done for you? 

Firstly, on this holy night Christ instituted the supreme gift of the Blessed Eucharist.  On the night before he was handed over to evil men, he handed over to his Church, his very self.  Although he was rejected by those whom he came to save, he chose not to reject them in return. Instead, he hands himself over completely to them in an irrevocable gift.  In the Eucharist Christ remains forever with his Church.  When we receive the Eucharist, we receive Christ Himself, Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity.  Christ did not leave us a token by which we could remember him.  Instead, in the Eucharist he has given us his very self.  “Do you realize what I have done for you?  I have found a way to remain with you forever.  I have given you the antidote for death, the seed of future glory, the Bread that came down from heaven.  Whoever eats this Bread will live forever and on the last day I will raise him up.”

Do you realize what I have done for you?

Secondly, on this night, Christ instituted the Sacred Priesthood.  Like the Eucharist itself, the Priesthood is a gift that flows from the Sacred Heart of Christ.  Through the priesthood, Christ continues his saving work on earth.  Through the priest, Christ continues to teach and to preach, to heal and to reconcile, to sanctify and to govern.  Be it the priest who gives first communion to a second grader in her parish church or the priest who gives last rites to a dying soldier on the battlefield. Be it the priest who baptizes a little infant in Boston or the priest who absolves a dying man in Uganda; be it upon an altar in one of Europe’s grand cathedrals or on a makeshift altar in a clearing in the Amazon Jungle, wherever the priest speaks the words, “This is my Body, This is my Blood,” bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ.  The priest exists so that Christ—the Good Shepherd—can be made visible in the midst of his flock in every age and place.

The vocation of every priest was born on this night in the upper room.  When we see the priest—any priest, no matter his personal failures and faults—we see the love of Christ made manifest in the world. 

Do you realize what I have done for you?

Thirdly, in the upper room, Christ gave another gift.  It is a command.  “As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”  Normally, we do not consider a command a gift.  We consider commands to be burdensome and bothersome.  But Christ tonight gives us a command that elevates our life.  He commands us—he permits us—to enter and to participate in his divine love.  Christ is not asking us simply to imitate him.  Like the priesthood and the Eucharist which make Christ’s presence visible in the world, the command to love one another is also part of the logic of the Incarnation. 

Christ continues to make his love visible in the world through our love for one another.  When we love one another, it is not merely an effort to observe some moral code.  In our love for one another, we make visible the memory and the presence of Christ.  In our love for one another, we prolong the Incarnation.

Do you realize what I have done for you?

Tonight, I will offer this Mass in the ancient custom of facing in the same direction as all of you—using the high altar.  The Eucharistic Prayer tonight—speaking of Christ—says, “And looking up to heaven to you his almighty Father.”  The prayer invites us also to direct our gaze to heaven.  Together, priest and people, we will turn toward the Lord and fix our gaze upon him.  This turning east together reminds us that our love is not closed in on itself and it is not something of our own making.  It is a love that is born in the Mystery of the Infinite God, a love that came down from heaven and has made his dwelling among us, and a love that is leading us and lifting us up to an eternal union with God.  Christian love is born beyond ourselves and it is leading us beyond ourselves.

We will never find an exhaustive answer to Christ’s question: Do you realize what I have done for you?  But, by our participation in this Holy Mass tonight—by fixing our gaze intently upon the command to love one another, upon the priesthood, and most especially upon the Eucharist, we can begin our response by echoing the words of St. John: “He always loved those who were his own in the world and he loves them to the end.”

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