Fr. Bryan Howard
Holy Thursday Mass of the Lord’s Supper – 18 April 2019
On Palm Sunday we asked the question, “Who is Jesus of Nazareth?” Today, Jesus gives us one possible answer to that question, “I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do.” Jesus has come among us as one who serves, to be a model for us, that we might do for one another what He did for us.
We say that Jesus condescended to come down to us. That word, condescension, is one that normally has a negative connotation. If I say that someone is acting condescendingly towards me it means that they’re insulting me by treating me as if I’m inferior to them, and I need their help to do something that they find easy. It’s particularly easy for priests to fall into this sort of behavior, because we spend so much of our time teaching and preaching; we might start to think that we have all the answers. We have to remind ourselves, first, that we are all equal before God and rely on Him for everything that we have, and, second, that we all have a calling from God and something vital to contribute to the Body of Christ, the Church.
Jesus condescends to us in a deferent way, in the way that a parent or teacher condescends. The young child truly does rely completely on its parents. When a parents teach their children to walk, for example, they must get down to the child’s level, or condescend, which literally means “to go down.” I’ve seen this type of behavior, this truly humble and loving condescension, with some people when they interact with very young children. My mom, for example, is great with children. She’s far more patient than I am, she can explain things in ways that they understand, as many times as necessary, and she’s always able to tell what that picture is supposed to be. That is how Jesus is with us. Jesus approaches us with humility and love in order to lift us up.
Jesus becomes a model for us, to teach us by example, and example is the best teacher. Today Jesus washes His disciples’ feet to put into action the lesson that He had been trying to teach them, “If you wish to be greatest, you must become the servant of all.” Of course, this example is pointing forward to another, more powerful example, the Cross, of which Jesus said, “I give you a new commandment: love one another as I have loved you.” St. Peter resists having His feet washed by Jesus, but he relents in the end when Jesus tells Him that he must be washed to have an inheritance with Jesus. He will resist again when he runs from the Cross. Christian tradition holds that St. Peter was in Rome, founding the Church there, when the persecutions broke out. They sought especially to arrest the leaders of the young Church, so the Christian community urged Peter to flee. On the road out of the city, St. Peter saw Jesus walking into the city, and said, “Domine, quo vadis?” Lord, where are you going. He replied, “To Rome, to be crucified again.” And Peter replied, “Then I shall go with you.” With that, Jesus ascended to heaven, and St. Peter understood that it was his own crucifixion that Jesus meant. Tradition also holds that St. Peter was crucified upside down, because he didn’t see Himself as worthy of being crucified in the same way as Jesus.
In the Last Supper, Jesus said, “Do this in memory of me.” We do this every time we celebrate the Mass and commemorate the death and Resurrection of Jesus. The Mass is the only thing about which Jesus told His disciples, “Do this in memory of me.” We also “do this in memory of me” by doing what He did, by serving one another in love, by taking up our Crosses and following after Him, and by sacrificing for the good of others. As we come forward to receive the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ in this Mass, let’s ask the Lord to strengthen us to wash one another’s feet in love and to bear our own Crosses out of love for God.
Fr. Bryan became pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes on July 3, 2017. Read his bio here.