Friday, April 19, 2019

On the Day Before He Suffered, a Holy Thursday Homily

After Holy Thursday Mass at Boston University, some of our students walked to the Cathedral of the Holy Cross to  pray with Cardinal Sean
The other day, I received a text message from a man who was a high school student when I was a newly ordained priest. He and his family became friends of mine and we've kept in touch over the years. He was texting me photos of the beach in the Bahamas where he and his wife are on vacation. He wanted to let me know that he is enjoying warm, sunny weather and that he hopes I'm enjoying the cold, rainy weather here in Boston. Nice guy.  After we texted a bit, I recalled another time he texted me, about two years ago.

His mother had been sick for quite a while, but she took a rapid turn for the worse and he called to see if I could come visit her in the hospital. As it turned out, I would visit her on the night before she died. I've been at the bedside of hundreds of people at the moment before they pass from this life and go to the next. It can be an extraordinary moment. Being present at the side of this woman on the night before she died stands out in my mind.

When I entered the room, which was fairly dark, I greeted her family members.  They said to her, "Fr. Barnes is here." I was preparing myself to offer some words of consolation to her. Instead, she said, "Oh, Father Barnes! It's so nice of you to come. Thank You. How are you doing? How are the kids at BU doing? Tell me about them?" At a moment when she would fully be within her rights to be concerned about herself, she was thanking me and asking about the people whom I serve. 

There are words that I have spoken daily for twenty-two years.  They have never really struck me because what follows them are the most important words. "On the night before he died." Or, "On the night he was betrayed." Or, "On the night before he suffered." These words never stand out to me because it is the words that follow these that are the most important. "This is my Body. This is My Blood."

But today, these words really strike me. Tonight, we are with Jesus on the night before he died. We are with him in this privileged moment when he prepares to pass from this life to the next. He is the one who is about to be betrayed, to suffer, and to die. And what does he think about in this moment? He thinks about you. On the night before he died, Jesus thought about you.  He loves us to the end. He spends the night before he dies, loving us. He expresses this love by giving us three gifts.

Firstly, he gives to you the gift of the priesthood. True, none of you are ordained priests, but all of you--all of us--are recipients of this gift of Jesus' love. On the night before he died, Jesus gave to us the gift of the priesthood. This gift of his love is given so that the presence of the Good Shepherd can be prolonged in every age and place. Through the priesthood, Christ loves us by teaching us with his Word, absolving us from our sins, and feeding us with His Body and Blood. On the night before he died, Jesus loved you and gave you the priesthood.

Secondly, on the night before he suffered, Jesus gave you the Eucharist. He thought of you in that upper room. He loved you and wanted to remain with you in the most intimate of ways. In this gift, Jesus remains with you and transforms you into himself. He who is Love Incarnate opens a way for us to be caught up into Divine Love. In the Eucharist, Love Himself enters into our soul and transforms us from the inside. The image of Christ becomes more and more alive within us, enabling us to love to the end. On the night before he died, Jesus loved you and gave you the Eucharist.

Thirdly, on the night before he suffered, Jesus gave to us an example. He emptied himself--lowered himself--and washed the feet of his apostles. In doing so, he showed us what love is. And then, he commanded us to love. He showed us how to love to the end. So many people feel trapped in anger, trapped by circumstances, trapped by their past. They feel imprisoned by their faults and failings. They feel as though there is no way forward, no way out.  But Jesus shows us that there is a way. On the night before he suffered--at the moment when fierce enemies were closing in on him, surrounding him, and taunting him--at the moment when close friends were betraying him, denying him, and abandoning him--Jesus loves them.  He loves them to the end. He loves us to the end.  And so, on the night before he suffered, he gave to us an example, a reminder that love makes us free. He loves us to the end and allows us to do the same. On the night before he died, he taught us how to love.

The woman I mentioned earlier died such a beautiful death because she had been transformed by the One who loved her. She knew that Christ, on the night before he died, loved her to the end. She lived a life of receiving the gifts of love that Christ bestowed upon her and she was transformed by this love. She was loved to the end and was made able then to love to the end. This is the Catholic life. 

Dear Friends, tonight we are with Jesus on the Night before he died. What a privilege to be with him at this moment. And as we stay at his side in this sacred moment, he does something that we should never forget.  He loves us. And he loves us to the end.

1 comment:

  1. How beautiful! I too am friends with that same man texting you from the Bahamas. He did something very similar to me. As I read your story I was reminded of the first time I met his mom. She was so kind and made sure I felt welcomed. Such a special lady and she lives on through her son who is pretty amazing as well. Thank you for sharing you story and Happy, Blessed Easter to you.