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Holy Thursday: 'Love is a Verb'

By Deacon Keith Fournier
April 1st, 2010
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

The washing of feet is a symbolic action which expresses living a Eucharistic Life, a life of self emptying love.

CHESAPEAKE, VA. (Catholic Online) - "God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him" (1 John 4:16)

These words from the First Letter of John express with remarkable clarity the heart of the Christian faith: the Christian image of God and the resulting image of mankind and its destiny... I wish in my first Encyclical to speak of the love which God lavishes upon us and which we in turn must share with others. That, in essence, is what the two main parts of this Letter are about, and they are profoundly interconnected."

With these words Pope Benedict XVI began his first encyclical letter Deus Caritas Est. (God is Love)

Our Holy Thursday Liturgy this evening is not simply a re-enactment of an event which happened over two thousand years ago. Rather, like every Divine Liturgy, it is an invitation to participate in the very institution of the mystery of Love called the Holy Eucharist.

There is no time in God. He is the eternal "Now" and His superabundant grace opens the portal of eternity for those of us who live in time as we participate in the Holy Mysteries.

Our Holy Thursday Liturgy this evening begins our Triduum (Latin for our three Holy days). In his message for the Chrism Mass in Rome today, Pope Benedict reaffirmed the ancient understanding concerning these three days, saying that "...they could be considered one single day. They reveal the heart and are the key to both the liturgical year and the life of the Church."

Last Sunday we celebrated Passion or Palm Sunday. Just prior to the reading of the Passion Narrative, we heard proclaimed one of the most ancient of the passages contained within the Sacred Scripture. St. Paul´s powerful words concerning Jesus´ great self emptying, in Greek, His "kenosis", recorded in the second chapter of his letter to the Philippians.

Tonight deepens our understanding of that Mystery.

We celebrate the glorious gift of the ministerial priesthood which continues to make present the Priesthood of Jesus Christ. When our Priest stands at that altar, it is Christ in whom He stands, Christ is the victim, and Christ is the Holy Oblation. Jesus gave Himself to us in the great meal in which we participate on this Holy Night. The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is the Holy Oblation of Incarnate Love.

At the Last Supper, Jesus Sacramentally anticipated the altar of the Cross at which He would willingly pour out the very last drop of His Blood so that we could be set free to be free. Set free to love now, in Him, to live our very real human lives in Him, for Him and with Him, for the sake of the World.

When the Lord rose from that table, He showed us the naturally supernatural expression of that Love; an expression that is the very core of the Christian vocation. He who is Lord and Master, King of Kings, took off His Cloak of Royal Splendor and became a Servant. He washed the feet of those whom He had chosen to continue His Redemptive work. He showed them what they were chosen to do and then He enlisted them to live lives of self emptying Love for the world.

To bear the name "Christian" is to walk in this kind of love in the midst of a broken and wounded world that is waiting to be reborn. This is the world which He still loves. It is recreated anew as He continues His Mission through the Church. The early Christians spoke of the Church as the world in the process of being transfigured. And, my friends, we are a part of that Body, that Communion, which brings heaven to earth and earth to heaven.

Love is a verb

Our Priest, standing "in persona Christi", will rise, and taking the basin, towel and washcloth, he will wash the feet of twelve people chosen to symbolize the sacrificial service of love offered by this whole parish. 

The Love of Christ is made into symbolic action, because Love is a verb. Love is a command, a mandate. This foot-washing is more than a re-enactment; it is an invitation to participate in the ongoing redemptive mission of Jesus Christ through His Church.

The Eucharist is the "Sacrament of Love", in the words of our beloved Holy Father Benedict XVI. In that first Encyclical letter he underscored not only the depth of the Mystery revealed in that penultimate Sacrament, but he also connected that Sacrament - and our participation in it - to our choice to live lives of love in the real world.

Love is a verb

The washing of feet is a symbolic action which expresses living a Eucharistic Life, a life of self emptying love in imitation of the Lord who emptied Himself for us. It has been traditionally referred to as "the Mandatum", the Command. It is an invitation to become a man or woman poured out for others. A Christian who lives the love of Charity (Caritas), the Love of Jesus Christ, makes Him real in the real world.

In our participation in the Mysteries of these three Holy days, this one day; we will encounter the Lord Himself. In that encounter He calls us afresh to follow Him, to bear His name in that real world. To pray and live in that name, Christian, it helps to remember what names meant in the biblical sense. They communicate identity. Through grace we are capacitated to become an "epiphany" a manifestation of the self emptying Servant love of Jesus the Christ.

In his encyclical Pope Benedict wrote of the inner dynamic which happens when we participate in the Eucharist: "The Eucharist draws us into Jesus' act of self-oblation. More than just statically receiving the incarnate Logos, we enter into the very dynamic of his self-giving."

The grace communicated in the Sacrament we celebrate this evening draws us into a communion of love. The Holy Father writes:

"... Union with Christ is also union with all those to whom he gives himself. I cannot possess Christ just for myself; I can belong to him only in union with all those who have become, or who will become, his own. Communion draws me out of myself towards him, and thus also towards unity with all Christians. We become "one body", completely joined in a single existence. Love of God and love of neighbor are now truly united: God incarnate draws us all to himself...."

Love is a Verb

"So, during supper, fully aware that the Father had put everything into his power and that he had come from God and was returning to God, he rose from supper and took off his outer garments. He took a towel and tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples' feet and dry them with the towel around his waist…

So when he had washed their feet and put his garments back on and reclined at table me 'teacher' and 'master,' and rightly so, for indeed I am. If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another's feet. I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do." (The Gospel of St John, Chapter 13)

How extraordinary!

The God who fashioned the entire universe, who dwells in inaccessible light, is now present as a Man among men; serving the very humanity that had been created through Him. This God, before whom all the Nations will one day bend the knee, bends His human knee before the ones He had chosen to carry His redemptive mission forward until He returns in glory. This God, Incarnate in Jesus Christ, takes up the basin, towel and washcloth.

We behold Divine Love in service; pouring Himself out, like the water in that basin, in order to make all whose feet were embraced by His sacred humanity clean all over. This is the mystery of faith that we profess during these Holy Days, this the way of loving service into which are now invited through our Baptism into Christ.

St. John would remind the early Christians, in the fourth chapter of the first letter he wrote after recording this Gospel, of the implications of this event when he wrote:

"Beloved, let us love one another, because love is of God; everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God. Whoever is without love does not know God, for God is love. In this way the love of God was revealed to us: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might have life through him. In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as expiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also must love one another. No one has ever seen God. Yet, if we love one another, God remains in us, and his love is brought to perfection in us."

Here, in this poignant scene recorded by the beloved disciple, we encounter Jesus, before he shares a final meal with his closest friends; before He who knew no sin, would suffer and freely stretch out His sacred arms to embrace the entire world and join heaven to earth, showing the depth and substance of true love.

Love is a verb!

Shortly after this event we read of the continuation of this great Act of poured out Love. First Jesus inaugurates the great meal that is itself the very heart of the holy exchange, The Sacrifice, the Holy Oblation of Love. He gives Himself as food for those who will make the journey with Him back to the Father and invites them to bring the whole world with them.

Then, this Innocent One walks the way of suffering and mounts the altar of sacrifice on Golgotha in order to fully pour Himself out - every last drop of blood and water flowing from His wounded side – on behalf of us all, beginning creation anew, overcoming sin, paying the debt of justice and defeating the devil and last enemy, death.

As we enter into this "Triduum", the great three days, the one day, we are invited to make this mystery our own. No mere spectators in this Act of Love we are to become participants. We who bear the name "Christian" are called ourselves to pick up that basin and towel, to climb upon that Cross and to learn –and to live- this way of Love in service. We are called to witness the stone that is soon to be rolled away and demonstrate our belief in its eternal promise by living like the God who washes feet.

When we do, we make the mystery real on an earth that still awaits the fullness of redemption.

Our faith and love are meant to be active and incarnate.

We live Loves´ eternal promise by living like the One who washed, who still washes, His disciples feet.

We give ourselves away for Him by giving ourselves away in Him for others.

Let us choose on this Thursday called Holy to follow the God who washes feet on the way of poured out love. Let us love in word and in deed. Let us continue the work that He began.

Love is a Verb

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