Thursday, April 09, 2009

Holy Thursday 2009

Perhaps the best way to approach today’s feast is to permit ourselves to be amazed at the reality of the Creator of the universe becoming man and living His divinity in a human way: “He worked with human hands, he thought with a human mind. He acted with a human will, and with a human heart he loved. Born of the Virgin Mary, he has truly been made one of us, like to us in all things except sin.”[1]

And then, conversely, to consider that the concrete humanity of Jesus of Nazareth is being lived out in a divine way. And that divine way is shown by Christ’s washing the feet of the apostles telling them: “You call me Master and Lord, and you say well, for so I am. If, therefore, I the Lord and Master have washed your feet, you also ought to wash the feet of one another. For I have given you an example, that as I have done to you, so you also should do….Blessed shall you be if you do them” (Jn. 13, 13-18). And then, after making the startling and unfathomable announcement that “As the Father has loved me (which is the very reality of the Father as eternal dynamic engendering the Son), I also have loved you”(as a God-engendering act toward us). As divinized sons, He gives them the New Commandment: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love than this no one has that one lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do the things I command you… I have called you friends, because all things that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. You have not chosen me, but I have chosen you and have appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain” (Jn. 15, 13-16).

What is astounding in this is that it is a divine way of acting and being, and the acting precedes the being. We will become “other Christs” in act if we will exercise ourselves in this way. This is the meaning of ordinary Christian life. It is a divinized life. It is completely secular as free and autonomous (read: “theonomous” since we cannot live this without sacraments of Baptism and Eucharist; “without Me you can do nothing” [Jn. 15, 6]. The reality is not that I am here and Christ is there, and that He helps me. The reality is that I am in Him, and He is in me, but in such a way that I “am” Him. And this means that His way of being is completely and totally relational as Person. Whereas I am in myself and progressively become relational by choices of self-giving in the exercise of in-the-world-work, He is pure and total relation to the Father. That is why He reveals who He is radically when He takes our humanity to death on the Cross so that there is nothing more to give.

And it is this divine way of being in relation that is invisible in the secular world. It is Love, and it is invisible to the senses: “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is he who takes no offense at me” (Lk. 7, 22-23). In fact, Love can be seen in the deeds when the observer is a loving heart that is “like” the reality that is sensibly observed. Like is known by like. Only lovers can see the God Who is Love present in the world right in front of their eyes; which again is the reality of the Kingdom of God present before their eyes in present time and space. Judas Iscariot watched Christ wash the feet of the apostles, and had his own feet washed by Christ, whereupon he went out to betray Him (cf. Jn. 13, 30). The divine Person of Jesus Christ is the Kingdom of God that is not to come eschatologically at the end of time, but is present right now: “If it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons then the Kingdom of God has come upon you” (Lk. 11, 20). As Jesus Christ is complete man and divine Person, He is present in the world, while always transcending the world as divine.

God feeds us with His humanity so that we can live in the mode and rhythm of His divinity. Hence, today’s feast. There was no paschal lamb at the Last Supper because Christ Himself is that lamb Whom we eat. This is the flesh of the divine Person Who is the “nuclear fission” that powers us to self-gifting: “In instituting [the Eucharist] he did not merely say: “This is my body”, “this is my blood”, but went on to add: “which is given for you”, “which is poured out for you” (Lk 22:19-20). Jesus did not simply state that what he was giving them to eat and drink was his body and his blood; he also expressed its sacrificial meaning and made sacramentally present his sacrifice which would soon be offered on the Cross for the salvation of all.
“The Mass is at the same time, and inseparably, the sacrificial memorial in which the sacrifice of the Cross is perpetuated and the sacred banquet of communion with the Lord's body and blood.”

New Heart:

What could the above mean except that we are called to live with a “new heart,” for which we need a “heart transplant.” Cardinal Suenens wrote: “Thus a transformation must come about, and this is the concrete translation of devotion to the Sacred Heart: we need a sort of heart transplant. It would be interesting to follow up the analogy of the surgical operation and to love God with a new heart, not with this heart of stone (for the heart of Christians is very hard!)… This is a great sin of hardness ofheart. We must plunge into the Lord’s Heart, in respondse to the prophecy: ‘I will take the stony heart out of their flesh and give them a heart of flesh’ (Exek. 11, 19), a heart that is alive to all the wretchedness of mankind an dis close to men and is partiouclarly oattentive to what Leon Bloy called ‘the crime of non-love’ through forgetfulness…

So truly, O Holy Spirit,give us a new heart! A new heart to love; and I believe that this is the essential phrase – we must love God and men with the very love of God, and not only for the love of God. We are invited to this, to this transformation of heart which the Holy Spirit alone can bring about. ‘God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us’ (Rom 5, 5).”[3]

[1] Gaudium et Spes #22.
[2] Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1382.

[3] Leo Joseph Suenens, “Loving Through the Power of the Holy Spirit,” Towards a Civilization of Love Ignatius (1985) 92-93.

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