Fr. Michael Denk
Holy Thursday Homily
April 1, 2010
St. Barnabas – 7:30 pm
On Holy Thursday we celebrate the institution of the priesthood and the institution of the Eucharist. They both go hand in hand. Because we are celebrating the year for priests I’d like to begin with a quote by St. John Vianney. “Were we to fully realize what a priest is on earth, we would die: not of fright, but of love… Without the priest, the passion and death of our Lord would be of no avail. It is the priest who continues the work of redemption on earth… The priest is not a priest for himself, he is a priest for you.”
If we hade any idea the gift that God has given us in the priesthood we would be completely in awe. Sometimes I need to remember this when I run from thing to thing and then I get to the end of the day and realize how God has used me to speak to people, to touch them, to heal them. God desires to touch us with human hands and he does so in the priest.
And yet one of the things I often here as a priest is: “I don’t need to go to mass on Sunday, I can pray to God on my own.” Followed by another common one: “I don’t need to go to a priest for confession, I can go right to God.”
Let me reflect on the Gospel:
Then he poured water into a basin
and began to wash the disciples’ feet
and dry them with the towel around his waist.
He came to Simon Peter, who said to him,
“Master, are you going to wash my feet?”
Jesus answered and said to him,
“What I am doing, you do not understand now,
but you will understand later.”
Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.”
Jesus answered him,
“Unless I wash you, you will have no inheritance with me.”
Peter says to the Lord, “I don’t really need you to wash my feet.” His saying “I don't need Jesus to wash my feet” is just like saying I don't need to go to mass to experience God or confession to be forgiven.
And Jesus says very strongly – “Unless I wash you, you will have no inheritance with me.” In another reference he says “Unless you eat my body and drink my blood you will have no life with in you.”
A person that says I don’t need to go to mass to experience God is a pantheist and not a true Christian. And this is heresy.
For all generations we have desired to know God, to hear his voice, to see him, to be touched by him, to be held by him. And so God sent his only son into the world. If we could know God without Jesus he wouldn’t have needed to send him. And God sent his only son to suffer and die so that he could be with us.
God knows that we can’t conjure Him up on his own and so he gives us ways of experiencing the unseen God through the sacramental life of the church.
At the center of our faith is the notion of sacrament. God touches us through material things. Making them instruments of the encounter between us and himself. There are four elements in creation on which the world the of the sacraments is built: water, bread, wine and olive oil.
Jesus was born into history and through our encounter with those elements we are born into eternal life. The God that Jesus Christ has revealed to us comes to us in the form bread and wine. He comes to us in the sacramental ministry of the Church. He comes to us in the gifts of water and olive oil.
Water: baptism, cleansing, confession, foot washing. It is by baptism that we are brought into the sacramental life of the church and through baptism that our sins are washed away. We can see God as he really is and not our distorted image of a false god.
Bread: body touch, given up, sacrifice. He feeds us with the Bread of Life. Every time we come to the Eucharist we are fed with His Word and His Body. Another famous line is “I don’t really get anything out of mass.” Or “I’m not fed at that church.” How is that possible? If you go to mass and hear the word of God proclaimed and receive His Body and Blood how are you not fed? Maybe it’s not the priests fault, or the music director, or the design of the church… Maybe, just maybe you are missing something. And instead of blaming someone else you should be asking God… What am I missing here? Help me to hear you God and see you and hunger for you.
Wine: joy, celebration, passion. We heard at the beginning of Lent on Ash Wednesday, "When you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites. They neglect their appearance, so that they may appear to others to be fasting. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you may not appear to be fasting, except to your Father who is hidden. And your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you.
As Catholics we are not called to be gloomy and sad. We are a people of faith and a people of celebration. All of the sacraments are a celebration. Jesus’ first miracle was at a wedding feast where he turned pitchers and pitchers of water into… WINE. We are called to rejoice and be glad!
Oil: healing, mercy, protection, strength for battle, anointing something sacred. Olive oil is used in all of the sacraments of anointing. Why olive oil because as with bread and wine and water this is what Jesus experienced in his Mediterranean upbringing. He really and physically stepped into our world and that piece of history has a significant meaning for us. He grieved in the
Today in the Holy Thursday offertory all four of these will be brought up.
God desires to touch you with all four of these because he wants to gift you and bring you into a special relationship.
We have a great gift in the priesthood. It involved all of it, suffering, passion, joy, celebration, feeding, cleansing and mercy. We thank God for our priests.
Let God love you. Let him touch you today. Let him use these gifts to heal and restore you. Allow yourself to be vulnerable to him and to wash your feet.
Don’t deny him. Don’t tell him you don’t need him to wash your feet or to reach you in the sacraments because we do. Unless we let him wash our feet and unless we allow ourselves to be loved by him and immersed in the sacramental life of the church we will never experience life.
I hope you are never one of those that say “I don’t need to go to mass to experience God.” Because the truth is we do. And by giving us the gift of the priesthood and of the Eucharist God fulfills our deepest desire that we can really see him, and hear his voice and be touched by his hands.
Let him wash your feet.