Patriarch’s Holy Thursday Homily 2016
JERUSALEM – His Beatitude Patriarch Fouad Twal celebrated the Mass of the Lord’s Supper at the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre on Holy Thursday, March, 24, 2016. Please find below the text of his homily.
The Sacraments of Reconciliation, the priesthood and the Eucharist are manifestations of Mercy of the Father
Dear Priests, with my blessing and gratitude, happy feast!
Your Excellencies and dear friends,
Dear brothers and sisters
Dear pilgrims from around the world,
Today, the Church invites us to commemorate the mystery of the Eucharist and the institution of the priesthood, to celebrate Christ’s presence among us and fulfill his desire to serve our brothers.
The Sacrament of Reconciliation, the Eucharist and the priesthood: these three pillars of our Christian faith are based on a single truth, the love of our God without limits, who wants to save us and that through these three sacraments, He “does not leave us orphans; He will come to us.”(cf. Jn 14:18) and “remains with us until the end of time“(cf.Mt 28:20). These three sacraments are signs of God’s mercy, “the ultimate and supreme act by which God comes to meet us.”[A] These are living signs of a God who never tires of waiting for us, to raise us up and to remain with us.
I – The Sacrament of Reconciliation: let our feet be washed and become instruments of God’s Mercy
The washing of the feet expresses the mercy of Christ in its most concrete aspect, when He gets down to our feet to reach beyond where sin has made us fall, to wash and heal us.
God Himself descends in a meaningful act, that Peter did not understand and that we are struggling to understand because it is beyond our comprehension. The Master became a servant!
“Do you understand what I have done for you?” asks Jesus (Jn 13:12). And without waiting for an answer, he clarifies the significance of his gesture. “If I, your Lord and teacher, have washed your feet, you also 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” (Jn 13:14-15).
Through this gesture that goes against all protocol, Jesus makes visible the infinite mercy of God, the madness of a love that knows no limit and who is not afraid to look and tend our most horrible ugliness. If God cares about washing our feet, how much more does he want to cleanse our hearts!
Brothers and sisters, in this Year of Mercy, let us finally draw nearer to God and let us approach the Sacrament of Reconciliation without fear. God knocks at the door of our hearts (cf. Rev 3:20). We receive the forgiveness of God, that we may continue to walk on the path of holiness and in turn become instruments of this Mercy, “effective signs of the action of the Father.”[B] “As I have done for you, you should also do” (Jn 13:15):
- To wash the feet of our brothers is a difficult act to perform, a gesture that embodies all the acts of mercy, which cost a great extent for us to accomplish.
- Washing the feet is to accept to go down, to humble oneself, to bend to our brothers and sisters in their suffering, distress, isolation, exile and needs
- Washing the feet is a moment to look at oneself, to look at the other who is waiting for me and in much need of me.
Brothers and sisters, living and sharing the love of God, is not a bed or roses, and true love has a cost. There is no love without sacrifice and without the gift of self. “For Love is strong as death…Its arrows are arrows of fire, flames of the divine. (Song 8:6). Living true Love implies that we allow God to take away every branch in me that does not bear fruit (cf. John 15:2-6), and to put away the old self and former way of life, corrupted through deceitful desires, (cf.Eph 4, 22).
Now we will wash the feet of some seminarians to reaffirm our desire to follow the humility of the Master and His teaching. We take some pictures and we think we have fulfilled the commandment of love. We repeat this action once a year, but we are still very far from absolute fidelity to His teaching of service, of mercy and mutual forgiveness. Think of the poor in hundreds of thousands, the sick and the refugees waiting for a tangible act of solidarity, for a just and all-embracing policy, and awaiting to be welcomed and to be accepted.
Christ stooped to wash us, He gave us Mercy that we be merciful and to forgive “seventy times seven” (Mt 18:22). Sympathize, pray and make tangible acts of charity towards our brothers and sisters.
II – The Eucharist
The second pillar of our faith, that I would like to refer to in this Chrism Mass, is the Eucharist. This sublime and compelling gesture in itself, cannot be dissociated from the first act of the washing of feet. It is an act of infinite love, humility and mercy. During the Sacrifice that we repeat at every Mass “until He comes” (1 Cor 11:26), Jesus Christ our Lord is so small, so humble in this bread, to be able to remain our midst. The Eucharist as a Sacrament of Reconciliation is the sign of an inordinate love of God that dwells above everything, yet loves to remain with us. His love once again exceeds the limits of our understanding and only the eyes of the heart, enlightened by faith can accept.
Brothers and sisters, dear priests, how great is this mystery! It is just a few meters from here, on Golgotha, that the Holy Body of Jesus was sacrificed and His Blood was shed in remission of our sins. It is always this same Body and the same Blood that we receive and consume at every Eucharist. We are made present at this unique and eternal moment in this very place where Christ gave his life as a sacrifice for us. What a privilege and responsibility.
In every consecrated host, God gives himself, asking us in return to give of ourselves to others. Our whole life has to be an offering “pleasing to God” (cf. Phil 4:18). At the end of every Mass, the Lord invites us to move from the table of the liturgical celebration to the table of service in our neighborhoods, in our parishes and in refugee camps now spread around us.
Brothers and sisters, in “the evening of our life we will be judged on love alone.” Take the opportunity during this Jubilee of Mercy, which is “an extraordinary moment of grace and spiritual renewal”,[C] to stop worrying about ourselves and turn to one another: “It is time to return to the basics and to bear the weaknesses and struggles of our brothers and sisters”,[D] as the Holy Father tells us. Following our Master, we are all called, we priests and faithful servants of our Lord, to become the bread to be eaten, to fully give of ourselves in the sometimes exhausting exercise of Mercy. If doing good to others costs us much, it is a sign that we are fruitful, it is a sign that we have truly given of ourselves!
III. The Priesthood
“Do this in memory of me” (Lk 22:19). My dear priests, Happy Feast! It is your day, it is your celebration! We think and pray for all our priests in the Holy Land.
Dear priests, never forget that your vocation is divine, with a mission to embody the Mercy of God who is a loving Father, a God who never fails to look for his lost sheep, the sinners and his lost children.
Through the priesthood, you were made servants of God and of your brothers and sisters. You are called, in the image of the Master, to feed and nourish the hungry children of God, not only with bread but with the “Bread of Life” (Jn 6:35). You are called to be Christ, to heal both physical and spiritual wounds through the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Our whole life must embody the Mercy of God!
When the priesthood was instituted, Christ has placed in our hands all authority, and commands us to repeat this act of offering, this single and unique sacrifice. Today, Christ renews us in our vocation and reiterates: I give all power, to you as you are, with your limitations, your miseries and your fragility, I give you this power to replace me, to act in my name, to forgive sins, to condemn or to save!
“What a responsibility the Lord has given us, telling us to repeat these gestures: to wash not only our feet, but also our confused heads, our defiled spirits and our hardened hearts.”
These three gestures of mercy, the Washing of the Feet, the consecration of the bread and wine, and the institution of the priesthood can only be embodied in an assembly, in a population of believers, young and old, a people who dare walk against the current, a people who believe in justice and the Resurrection, people who believe in Him in whom we place all our trust. Because of our vocation, we who are made in the image of our Triune God, a communion of Love between three Persons, our vocation is in self-giving and in fraternal communion.
It is here that our priestly ministry fits, God needs people who are credible witnesses, to serve, support and nourish the faithful. It is here that our vocation applies, as Christians to become living signs of Mercy.
The year of Mercy is a year of conversion and sanctification, the year of service… Serve, accept to bend down to serve, feed, heal and care for our brothers and sisters: this must be our life program.
“Live and enjoy what you do,” the Bishop told us at the time of our ordination. This invitation is now more compelling and significant than ever.
Dear priests, take this celebration as an opportunity to give thanks for having been chosen for this mission, and we pray together for all the faithful, and in particular for our confreres who minister in areas of war and death!
[A] Misericordiae Vultus, 2
[B] Ibid, 3
[C] Ibid, 3
[D] Ibid, 10
Photos: Thomas Charrière & Andres Bergamini, Holy Thursday 2016