Where Else Would We Be?

Parochial vicars usually do not preach on Holy Thursday. We usually listen to the pastor preach, like everyone else does.

Two years ago, though, I had the privilege of preaching on Holy Thursday. This morning, I was trying to organize some of my files, and I turned up that homily. Here it is:

last-supperA few moments ago, we heard the bells ring during the Gloria, making a great tinkling and chiming. The bells announced that the most sacred days of the year have begun. Now the ringing has stopped, and the bells will not ring again until Saturday night. The Lord is giving us a very precious gift: He is giving us the hush of the Sacred Triduum.

As the prophet Isaiah put it, God does not clamor or cry out in the street. A bruised reed He does not break, and a smoldering wick He will not quench. He does great things silently. As the prophet Elijah discovered on Mt. Horeb, the Lord does not tend to speak with wind and fire and earthquakes, but with a whisper.

So when a priest enters a temple to offer a sacrifice, a hush falls. These three days of the Sacred Triduum are like the inner sanctum of the great temple of the liturgical year. Tonight the High Priest enters to offer the eternal sacrifice.

At the Last Supper nearly two millennia ago, the Lord Jesus offered to the Father the sacrifice of the new and everlasting covenant. He offers the same sacrifice tonight in the Blessed Sacrament of the altar. He offers His body and blood just as He did on Mt. Calvary. Jesus is in heaven now, but He continues to make this offering through the unworthy hands of His priests.

tv-remoteWe know all this very well, of course. The Holy Mass is very familiar to us. We have it with us throughout the year. The Lord Jesus never takes a day off from His perfect sacrifice.

He never takes a day off from us, but we have a tendency to take days off from Him. The distractions of this world beguile us, and before we know it, we have taken a day—a week—a month—a year—even the better part of a lifetime—off from God. So, in His mercy, He gives us these holy days to draw us back to Him. On Holy Thursday evening, it is as if the Lord reaches down from heaven and grabs the cosmic remote and turns off the stupid t.v. that fills our heads with noisy nonsense.

Then He leads you to us: He lead His people to His priests. We priests are pitiful sinners like everybody else, but by the grace of God we have been given the power to offer Christ’s sacrifice. And along with the sacred priesthood, the Lord has given us priests other gifts that go with it. He has given us the gift of consecrated celibacy. He has plucked us out of the cacophonous world and planted us firmly in the sacred precincts of His temple. He has given us a special vocation to bear witness to our faith publicly, to stand at the head of the Church and take the place of Christ Himself.

Because of God’s love, we can say—we priests—we can honestly say to you: Being before you here now is the most important thing in our lives. We can honestly tell you, not because we are particularly heroic guys, but simply because of Christ’s love: We would sooner die than let Holy Week pass without celebrating the sacred rites for you.

If the powers of the world tried to lay down a law that made celebrating Mass on Holy Thursday a capital crime, you would find us here anyway. What else would we do? This is who we are. Are Monsignor and I going to spend Holy Thursday evening relaxing in the rectory, watching a Brad Pitt movie on DVD and throwing back some popcorn? No, no…We would sooner go to jail or die than miss being here with you right now.

cannes changling premiere 200508All this is a gift from God: Holy Thursday, the priesthood, the Mass—all is a gift from God. Why does He do all this for us? Why does He renew the world with His goodness every year during Holy Week without fail, year after year, century after century? Why does He call men to His priesthood in every generation, in an unbroken march down the ages? Why does He feed us with His Body and Blood today and every day?

He does it now for the same reason that He did it in the first place, in the first Holy Week: Because He loves us. He loves us with an ardor that cannot and will not be thwarted. The passing of time does not diminish the intensity of divine love.

In this, He has given us an example. His unfailing love moves us to love our brothers. The pagans shout: “What’s in it for me?” and “Show me the money!” But you, dear brothers and sisters in the Lord—you prefer to love and give quietly.

After all, what else are you going to do? This is who you are. Are you going to spend your lives lounging in a recliner and saying to yourself, “Who cares about my neighbor? All I want to do is watch t.v.!” No. Even if the powers of the world tried to make it illegal to love your neighbor and pray for him and try to help him, you would do it anyway. You would sooner go to jail or die than pretend that Christ, the King of love, is not your Lord.

Now, that the Lord has hushed us down, dear brothers and sisters, let us allow Him to lead us into the heart of the Paschal mystery.


One thought on “Where Else Would We Be?

  1. Best place to be on Holy Thursday: Listening to a beautiful homily like this – given by a priest.

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