Friday, April 22, 2011

He Loves His Own to the End

Homily from Holy Thursday - Evening Mass of the Lord's Supper - Year A

In the seminary, we began preaching classes right away in our first year of theology studies.  A priest preaches nearly every day at every Mass so they wanted to give us as much practice, teaching and correction as they could in the four years of theology studies.

The faculty priests teach these classes. And they teach us a number of techniques such as how to use illustrations to paint a picture for your imagination, how to interpret the scriptures in the light of your lives, how to preach without depending too much on notes, how to make eye contact, how to project well enough to be understood and so on.

However, the most important instruction I received for preaching came not from one of the priests but rather from a lay faculty member: Dr. Perry Cahall, who you may remember gave a talk here a few months ago on the Theology of the Body.

I asked Dr. Cahall, “What do you want to hear in a homily.”  Dr. Cahall thought for just a moment and said, “I want you to lead me to Jesus.  And I want to hear your love for Jesus and I want you to tell me about Jesus’ love for me.”

Today, of all days, demands such a message.  At the beginning of today’s Gospel we hear these wonderful words about Jesus: “He loved his own in the world and he loved them to the end.”

Jesus loves us.  Jesus doesn’t just save us.  Jesus doesn’t just feed us.  He doesn’t just work miracles for us or just teach us how to pray.  Of course He does indeed do all these things.  But He does them, first and foremost, because He loves us.

He loves us because we are His own.  We belong to Him.  Through Him we were created.  In Him we have life.  And He draws us constantly through His Holy Spirit into union with Him and His Father because we are His own.

And He loves us to the end.  He loves us to the end of His life.  He is denied, betrayed, arrested, falsely accused, scourged, mocked, spit upon, crowned with thorns, made to carry the cross, is crucified, died and buried… because He loves us to the end.

He also loves us to that end which is our destiny.  Our lives are not to end in suffering and death just as His life does not end in suffering and death.  It is His love which raises us up from death and into union with His Father in Heaven.

And lastly, He loves us to the end of time.  So He gives Himself to the Apostles in such a way that He may be given to all people forever.

On this night, on Holy Thursday in the Upper Room, Jesus shows the depths of His love for His Apostles by giving them Himself.  He gives them His very own Body and Blood.  On this night, Holy Thursday, Jesus gives the Apostles the Sacrament of the Eucharist.

And in order that He might love you and I in exactly the same way that He loved His Apostles, He commands them: “Do this in memory of me.”  In saying these words, Jesus tells the Apostles, “Now, you give Me to the world in the exact same way.  You give them My Body and Blood.”  On this night, Holy Thursday, Jesus gives the Apostles the Sacrament of Holy Orders, the ministerial priesthood.

He did this so that He could love you and I no less than He loved those who walked with Him and talked with Him 2,000 years ago.

He gives us the Eucharist, so that we can eat, in fact, His very Body and Blood just as the Apostles did.

He gives us the Sacrament of Reconciliation so that we can hear, in fact, the very voice of Jesus say to us, “I absolve you from your sins” just as the woman caught in adultery heard his voice.

He gives us the Sacrament of Confirmation so that we can receive, in fact, the gifts of the Holy Spirit just as the Apostles did on Pentecost.

He gives us the Sacrament of Baptism so that just as He died and entered the silence and darkness of the tomb, we can die to sin and enter the silence and darkness of the water, so that, like Him, we too can rise, in fact, into new life just as He did at the Resurrection.

He gives us the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick so that we can receive, in fact, spiritual healing, just as he gave to so many of his day who were spiritually dead.

He gives us the Sacrament of Matrimony so that he can be, in fact, present at your marriage just as he was at the wedding feast in Cana.

And he gives us the Sacrament of Holy Orders so that he can be, in fact, present to you through the priest whom he has chosen and commanded, “Do this in remembrance of me.” And, “As I have done for you, you should also do.”

Jesus gives us the Sacraments so that he can love us, his own in the world, and continue loving us to the end.  Through the Sacraments we experience and receive, in fact, Jesus’ love, in ways that cannot be experienced or received anywhere else.  Because in the Sacraments it is truly Jesus who is present.  And the Sacraments are where Jesus loves us most passionately.

And to our elect, those who will be received in the Church in just a couple of days at the Easter Vigil, I hope you feel like brides and grooms waiting excitedly for your wedding day. Because at the Easter Vigil, you are going to experience the love of Jesus as you never have before.

I know I speak for Monsignor John when I say it is the joy of our lives, as priests of Jesus Christ, to be Him for you.  To be an “alter Christus,” another Christ to you.  To be chosen by Him to love you as He loves you.  To be able to say those words:  “I baptize you in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”  “I absolve you from your sins in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”  “Take this all of you and eat it. This is my Body which will be given up for you.”

The priest is given the privileged and undeserved blessing of being put in the ecstatic position of being the point of contact of the love between Jesus and you!

You know how we all say, right before receiving the Eucharist, “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you.”  Trust me when I say, that what’s going through my mind at that moment is, “Lord, I am not worthy to give you.”

But Jesus does it anyway.  He allows Himself to be given and received by us, unworthy as we are.  And He does this for one reason and one reason only: He loves us.

He loves His own in the world and He loves them to the end.

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