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  • Fr. Satish Joseph

Holy Thursday: The Altar, the Feet, the Cross, the Mission!

(Picture: AFP/Getty Images) The fire that ravaged the Notre Dame Cathedral is still very fresh in our minds. Scenes of the collapsing spiral and the charred interior cannot never be erased from our minds. In the midst of all the devastation, hope never

fades for God’s people. How can we forget he video of people singing hymns on their knees? News also emerged of Fr. Jean Marc Fournier, the Catholic Chaplain of Paris Fire Brigade who insisted on being let into the smoldering Cathedral. Along with other fire fighters he formed a human chain and secured the holy relics, specially, the Blessed Sacrament and the Crown of Thorns. The now iconic image of the shining remnant cross amidst the charred rubbles has become symbolic of the tragic fire. Catholics saw in this image a sign of God’s radical fidelity to the church. Thanks be to the God of Jesus Christ we are never short of hope in the midst of the darkest darkness.

On this night on which we commemorate of the Lord’s Supper, we remember the darkest night – the night when one of the twelve, betrayed the Savior of the world, and handed him over to his enemies; the night when even his most trusted friend disowned him; the night when all the apostles, except one, abandoned him to his fate; the night when he prayed alone in agony as he prepared for his impending death. Yet, even that darkness night was not without a glimmer of hope. On that same night, neither the powerful Pilate nor the treacherous Herod, nor or the cunning Pharisees could stop the fulfillment of God’s plan. On that night, Jesus entrusted his will into God’s holy hands and ensured human redemption. On that night, while the cross was being prepared for a crucifixion and the tomb was be prepared for a burial a death, sin and darkness were being vanquished forever. Yes! today, as we commemorate the Lord’s Supper, we are not here to celebrate darkness. We are here to remember the hope, the light, the strength, the life that comes from our Lord Jesus Christ. Gatherings like these around the globe assures us that we are a people of hope.

Today, the Church must carry forward the hope that Christ brought to the world. We can do it in three ways!

The Eucharist – The Body of Christ. For just a moment I want to return to Fr. Jean Marc, the chaplain of the Paris Fire brigade and his heroism in securing the Blessed Sacrament and holy relics. This was the same Body and Blood that Christ handed over at that Last Supper when he said, “this is my body,” and “this is my blood. Before he did that, he knelt down and washed his disciple’s feet. What was Christ teaching us? Christ was teaching us that the Body of Christ is not only what we preserve in the tabernacle, but rather, that he is also to be found in the feet that we wash. Adoring the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, receiving the Body and Blood of Christ in the Eucharist remain incomplete acts, if they do not also lead us to each other’s feet! Really, the Eucharist is received and revered in the Church, but the Eucharist is lived at each other’s feet! If the Eucharist has to have meaning beyond the Church, then at home, at our work places, in our neighborhoods and wherever we find ourselves, we must be at each other’s feet!

The Priesthood – Laying Down One’s Life. This year, and this commemoration of the Lord’s Supper is very special for me. Next Thursday, the 25th of April, will be the 25th anniversary of my ordination to the priesthood. While there is immense gratitude in my heart to God and to all of you, I am also aware that my anniversary occurs at a time when the dignity of the priesthood has been severely damaged by the child abuse crisis. How do I see my own priesthood in light of the crisis of priesthood in the Church? For me, unless my priesthood imitates the priesthood of Christ, I am wasting my life. Like Christ’s priesthood, my priesthood is best lived out in washing the feet of those, whose feet are the filthiest. My priesthood is best lived out in breaking myself for them. My priesthood is at the service of God’s people, especially the poor, the neglected, the rejected, the oppressed, those on the periphery, the one stray sheep for whom no one cares. Many of you are concerned about my passion and work for the immigrants and asylum seekers. My struggle on behalf of any one who feels relegated to the peripheries of the Church and society is the essence of my priesthood. This is not about politics. This is about Christ who lay down his life for his sheep. The day I stop serving and to expect to be served; the day I stop serving the most neglected, oppressed, and rejected will also be the day, I will stop celebrating the Mass at the altar. For me, the altar leads to me to the poor. If the dignity of the priesthood must be reclaimed, it must reclaimed in the connection that priests make between Body of Christ on the altar, the body of the Christ in the pews, and the body of Christ in the peripheries of the Church and society. Today, I commit myself to Christ-like priesthood.

The Church – Continuing the Mission of Christ. There was Gallup poll taken in the last couple months about the priests and church. One of the questions asked in the poll was, “As a result of the recent news about sexual abuse of young people by priests, have you, personally questioned whether you would remain in the Catholic Church?” In 2002, 20% of the respondents answered “Yes.” In 2019 that number rose to 37%. In continuing data that emerges from the Pew Research, it is becoming increasingly clear the more and more people are moving away from organized religion and the denomination that is hurting the most is Roman Catholicism. What can we do? The answers vary. The traditionalists say that Vatican II, the relaxation of the defined Catholic practices, and the New Mass is responsible. The progressives say that the non-implementation of Vatican II, the rigidity of Church moral teaching on divorce, remarriage, homosexuality, the role of women, among other reasons is responsible. No matter where your loyalty lies, the mission the Christ entrusted to the Church is neither traditionalism nor progressivism. Jesus did not send his disciples out preach ideologies. Christ sent his disciples to “make disciples of all nations!” He sent them out to proclaim the “good news” of salvation to the whole world. The good news that Jesus preached was that the radical, unconditional, and unfathomable love and mercy of God was freely available to all. If anything, the Church must continue this mission as faithful disciples of Jesus. Yes, if the Church, you and I, must commit ourselves to continue the mission that Christ entrusted to us.

Yes! From the altar, to the feet, and the mission of Christ. This is our calling!

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