Giuseppe Barbieri, C.P.
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Easter Morning Mass 2014
Easter Vigil Services 2014
Good Friday Services 2014
Holy Thursday Mass 2014
Wednesday Holy Week 2014
Tuesday of Holy Week 2014
Monday of Holy Week 2014
Easter Morning Mass 2013
Easter Vigil Services 2013
Good Friday Services 2013
Holy Thursday Mass 2013
Fr. Giuseppe Barbieri, C.P.
Easter Morning Mass - 2014
Giuseppe Barbieri, C.P.
I distinctly remember commenting last year on Easter Sunday how today’s Gospel is very busy, tumultuous and dynamic. There is a lot of running in the scene. On the topic of running, while I avoided being run over by one nun on the run last year, this year I barely escaped being run over by a van filled with nuns. In blatant disregard for the signs that warn “Slow. Pedestrians, deer” and we might add “priests”; 3 and a half nuns carrying soil for the garden came careening over the hill smiling and energetically waving as I dove off to the side of the road overcome once again by my instinct to survive. I say “3 and a half nuns” because behind the wheel was a postulant. In canonical terms postulants are half-baked nuns ... it’s only a matter of time. I know I’m going to pay for this at lunch … but just remember sisters that I’m holding the kitchen nuns hostage with fried chicken!
Today we celebrate the feast of feasts, the foundation of our Christian faith. This day we are called to joyfully proclaim the victory of life over death because Jesus, the Messiah is risen and lives forever. Having walked this earth and like us in all things except sin, dying a violent death and buried, He has been raised from the dead, “first fruits” of us all. And we are called in him and with him to eternal life.
Our gospel begins with the words “on the first day of the week”. John is paraphrasing the Book of Genesis where the first day of creation is called simply “the first day”. In this way he wishes to tell us that the resurrection of Jesus is the fulfillment of the first creation, it is a new creation: the Holy Spirit which hovered over the primordial waters at the beginning now presides over the resurrection of Jesus, the event which is the dawn of the day that knows no sunset.
On that “day one”, when it is still dark with the night that began with the betrayal of Judas, Mary Magdalene goes to the tomb. It was still dark for her; it is the darkness of the desperate and of those who do not believe. The dark means to indicate that she is in a situation of non-faith. She has yet to come to believe in the resurrection that her Master had surely spoken to her about. Mary does not go to the tomb to anoint the body as the other gospels relate, but she hurries to the tomb because she could not let go of the Jesus she had followed and loved so much. Yes, she was a sinful woman but in her encounter with Jesus she is recreated and given a new identity, her true identity. She was no longer the same person just as none of us are left unchanged after encountering Jesus the Life. Jesus had taken care of her, igniting in her the possibility of a new life and now she wants to take care of Jesus who had been abandoned by all …
But she is shocked by the unexpected; the stone was removed from the tomb. She runs to Peter and John to tell them her interpretation of the empty tomb: “they have taken the Lord from the tomb and we don’t know where they put him”. Here ends the first part of her story, it will be taken up again by the tomb when the Risen One will call her by name. At this point the story of the 2 disciples begins. They run together but the Beloved disciple runs faster than Peter and gets to the tomb first. One disciple arrives at the tomb first fueled by the love with which he is loved but the other enters the tomb first because he was elected by the Lord to be the ‘Rock’ of the Christian community.
Peter sees the burial cloths but for the time being does not understand, he remains in the darkness of unbelief. Things are different for the other disciple who saw and believed. What did he see? No object in particular but it is the absence itself, which – interpreted in love – reveals to his heart a presence. In love with Jesus, the heart of the beloved disciple is opened to the good news which Peter will proclaim later in Acts (2:24): “God freed him from death’s bitter pangs and raised him up again, for it was impossible that death should keep hold of him”.
The Resurrection promises me that this life will cross the threshold of death, a life that is indestructible because in the death and resurrection of Jesus love has overcome death forever.
It is love that helps us see the truth. Love, not seeing, is believing.
Easter Vigil - 2014
Giuseppe Barbieri, C.P.
It’s over. Lent is finally over. The penances, our successes, our failures in carrying them through, the associated pride and guilt are forgotten and we can breathe a sigh of relief. I know of at least one person here tonight who can now go back to drinking his coffee and opening the fridge to get his favorite soda (Dr. Pepper to be specific) and with that first sip after 40 days he will sing “Alleluia!” In my usual discretion I will not mention his name, and I’m sure his wife Cathy will share in his joy.
Good Friday - 2014
Giuseppe Barbieri, C.P.
With her assistance, I would like to look upon the One whom they have pierced through the eyes of Our Sorrowful Mother.
In the Passion narrative in the Gospel of John we just participated in, we heard the following phrase:
Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.
The expression “standing near the cross of Jesus” is unique to the whole NT. “Standing near the cross” is the place of the person who contemplates the Son of God who has been “lifted up”, it is the place of the disciple who sees the mystery of both God and the human person in the cross, it is the place of Mary. Most of the disciples have run away but the women are there, “standing”, a powerful sign of steadfast fidelity and expectancy. Women understand love in a very unique way: love’s power and vulnerability; its wisdom, its folly and audacity.
If Mary was there, standing at the foot of the cross on Calvary then she was obviously present in Jerusalem those days and if she was in Jerusalem, she would have seen everything first hand. She had assisted at the Passion of her Son: from the cries of the crowd “We want Barrabas” to the words of Pilate: “Here’s the man (Ecce homo)”. She saw her son leave the Pretorium having been whipped, crowned with thorns, stripped naked and wracked with pain as he died on the cross. Mary witnesses the soldiers divide his clothing and throw lots for that one tunic. A tunic that she may have sewn herself with a mother’s love. She too drank from the bitter chalice to the dregs. As we see her there, we can hear the words echoing back to us deep from within the Book of Lamentations: “Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by? Look and see if there is any sorrow like my sorrow” (Lam 1:12). Bl. Dominic Barberi - the Passionist who received John Henry Newman in the Church wrote: “Mary’s sorrow is an abyss the depths of which no one can fathom.”
The French philosopher Blaise Pascal wrote that “Christ is in agony until the end of the world and he should not be left alone in the meantime”. In a way that cannot be fully understood by us the Passion of Christ is in our very midst and continues today, every day. The Apostle Paul gives us a glimpse into this mysterious reality when he writes: “In my own flesh I fill up what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ for the sake of his body, the church” (Col. 1:24).
When I was in Colombia back in 1995, just a month or so after my arrival, I had accompanied the Papal Representative to the north of the Country in the Diocese of Apartadò near the Panamanian border. The Holy Father had transferred Bishop Isaias Duarte Cancino from the Diocese of Apartadò to the Archdiocese of Cali and we went up for the farewell festivities. The evening before the Bishop’s departure we celebrated a Mass and participated in the farewell dinner with the authorities and faithful of the town. The next morning, just a few hours before our departure, I went down to breakfast and the Nuncio and Bishop Duarte were talking. The Nuncio tells me that the Bishop has just been informed that there had been a massacre a couple of km’s away from the house, the bishop was going to the site and we would accompany him. As we arrived at a banana plantation we came upon a horrific site. Among the nervous soldiers, the armoured cars of the Colombian Army and helicopters hovering over the plantation, there emerged among the lush vegetation 24 young bodies, face down with their hands tied behind their back with yellow nylon rope. They had all been shot in the head. Their breakfast rice bowls lay strewn next to their lifeless bodies. The school bus they had ridden on had been torched and was still in flames. In all that apocalyptic scene, what struck me the most and will never forget, is the Bishop who, crying, turned towards me and said, “it has been like this for 7 years”. In Ramah is heard the sound of moaning, of bitter weeping! Rachel mourns her children, she refuses to be consoled because her children are no more” (Jer. 31:15) His last pastoral act in that diocese was to bless those young bodies and we left.
Now the natural question is, why were these young innocent campesinos killed? The reason I heard is this: A rival plantation owner would organize such a massacre on a neighbouring plantation, causing the purchase value of the land to drop. The price would go down and the rival would come in and buy the plantation, expanding his property in an attempt to create a sort of monopoly. There is a lot of money in bananas. Human greed can come to the point where 24 young human lives are expendable, less valuable than land or bananas. The Son of God was sold for 30 pieces of silver, the price of a slave. In the hands of Judas it became blood money. Today we speak of blood diamonds but black gold (oil) or just about anything else can corrupt our hearts. As a side bar, but not peripheral to our discussion, it is good for us to know brothers and sisters those things which could potentially corrupt our hearts. Are we seduced by a pretty face; money; power; the need to be constantly affirmed, loved and uncontested?
If it is as we believe, that the Church is the body of Christ, then if one member suffers the entire body suffers.
Standing in the presence of the cross, the greatest temptation is to turn and run away. It is very human to do so, we have probably all done it and yet John invites us to reflect on the importance of “standing there”, “standing near” the one who is crucified, remaining there, no matter what. Standing there by the person we love even when our anger over their infidelity or betrayal seems to have the best of us; standing there by the old person who no longer has anything to give or to say and can only receive; standing by our young people even when they seem to not listen, lacking in all enthusiasm. Standing by that person who is crucified by his choices, by his life, by circumstances, by the mistakes of others. Do we know, like Mary, how to “stand there” next to our family members, our friends, our sisters and brothers in community?
We certainly do not need to have experiences like the one I had in Colombia to have an experience of the cross in our days and much closer to home. Innocents die every day here in the US and I’m not just referring to the tragedy of abortions. We are not beyond violence and hate crimes. These days there is a woman in Kansas mourning the loss of her father and her son: victims of a hate crime.
The body of the church suffers in this Country and in many parts of the world today and many mothers, like Mary are there, burying the children they bore, held at their breast, taught to walk and talk and pray. The remedy to all evils – even to our indifference, St. Paul of the Cross reminds us -, is still remembering the Passion of Jesus Christ, often and lovingly.
If it is true as Blaise Pascal said that Christ is in agony and on the cross until the end of the world – in a way that we cannot understand but is nonetheless true – then where could Mary be if not standing there by the cross? We should not leave Mary or her Son alone in the meantime. May she help us stand there and may the Passion of Jesus Christ be always in our hearts.
Holy Thursday - 2014
Giuseppe Barbieri, C.P.
Out of all the liturgies celebrated throughout the year, this one, the Mass of the Last Supper is probably one of the most popular and participated in. In a sense it caters to our enjoyment of a good show. Everyone likes a little pageantry: 12 men representing the apostles will have their feet washed as the priest kneels and moves from foot to foot. If we are friends or relatives of the apostles, seeing them up here either moves us or we giggle a little out of their embarrassment as they take off their shoes. We might see dad or granddad in a way that we have never seen him before. The assembly stretches and strains to get a good view … even the nuns – but just for the briefest of moments and barely noticeable - lose their sense of composure and peek beyond the corner of their veils too look on.
Wednesday of Holy Week - 2014By Fr. Giuseppe Barbieri, C.P.
“Morning after morning he opens my ear”. What a lovely phrase. I think the prophet Isaiah is giving us an insight to his personal experience of prayer. Every day his prayer is renewed, like the new day. “Day unto day takes up the story and night unto night makes known the message” (Ps 19). “Even at night my heart instructs me” (Ps 16:7). Prayer is fundamentally – even before we open our mouths or raise our thoughts – listening. The first commandment really is: “Hear O Israel”. Listen. Similar to a flower opening up, to a sun flower turning towards the Sun, or a fallow field, rich and dark waiting to receive the seed and bear fruit in due time, this prayer has to do with an openness, an availability, a receptivity, a welcoming of the word which is continuously spoken morning after morning. “If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts” has been a constant theme during Lent. “Blessed are they who hear the word of God and keep it” (Lk 11:28).
Tuesday of Holy Week - 2014By Fr. Giuseppe Barbieri, C.P.
Yesterday we were introduced briefly to Judas. Today he is a much more central figure of the narrative. Jesus is deeply troubled as He reveals that one of the 12, a friend, an intimate, will betray him.
I’m having a déjà vu experience … it’s like I was just up here. For someone who was supposed to have been on a silent retreat I feel like I have been doing a lot of talking … certainly in this space. 40 days ago the beginning of our Lenten journey may have seemed very long. We have accompanied the Lord, step-by-step, in His suffering … We have concentrated our spiritual energies on prayer, penance, and acts of charity as required by Lent and a spirit of penance. By the grace of God, we survived the Vigil service with no serious injuries and we rejoice and are glad for this Day which the Lord has made.
The beginning of our Resurrection faith is paradoxically founded on a missing body and an empty tomb: “They have taken the Lord from the tomb, and we don’t know where they put him” is the poignant cry of Mary of Magadala. It is her great affection for Jesus that drives her to the tomb. Her deep affection is also expressed materially: she wants to know what has happened to the body! She just has to see it! The Evangelist John is careful to note that she arrives at the tomb while it was still dark. “Night” and “dark” are important words for John and they carry a specific meaning. Dark and night are those situations characterized by either the power of evil or by non-faith. In this situation, it is the darkness of mere human reasoning and the restricted thoughts of a creature that cannot see the horizon of God’s plan. In simple terms, Mary Magdalene, arriving at the tomb while it was still dark is a way of saying that she has yet to arrive at a faith in the resurrection. For her, death still marks the end, for the time being.
It is a very busy, dynamic and tumultuous Gospel. Notice how everyone is running! The only other place I’ve seen more running is in a Passionist monastery of nuns on Holy Saturday preparing for the Easter Vigil! I am reminded of an experience I had the other day. I was doing Mary’s Walk when low and behold I see a nun running towards me down the path coming out of the woods. To this moment I still don’t know whether she was jogging, or running from something or running towards something. But out of an instinctual sense of self-preservation, I knew enough to get out of her way! After all, what would the boys back in Houston say if they knew I had been bowled over by a nun on the run! (The nun will remain nameless. Suffice it to say that her name, by any other name would still smell as sweet!) But I digress … Mary runs to tell the other disciples and Peter and the Beloved disciple run to the tomb. It is the beloved disciple who runs the fastest for he is a symbol of the witness with a pure heart, totally open to the mystery. He knew Jesus’ heart well for he had often reclined on the Lord’s breast. He does however stop at the door of the tomb to let Peter pass in deference to the Apostle who will be the custodian of the apostolic faith.
To believe in the news of the Resurrection is not an easy affair. For the next 50 days we will see the difficulty of the apostles, which is our difficulty too, of allowing our hearts to be converted to this earth shaking reality. Is this celebration a simple memorial of a remote historical event or is it something more? Today we celebrate not only the Resurrection of Jesus, but ours as well. What we celebrate is life overcoming death. Death has been conquered, it has lost its sting. The naked God, hanging on the wood seemingly conquered in abject humiliation and hurriedly deposed on a cold slab of stone is no longer here, He is risen! Not reanimated, not resuscitated, not alive in our memories but Jesus is truly alive, risen, present forever. Life, with Christ, has no end. In the 2nd reading St. Paul states it for us clearly: “Christ your life.”
This morning the Church finally returns to singing “Alleluia!”, expressing with this one word the depth of her inexpressible joy in the Lord’s Resurrection and we wish each other “Happy Easter”. Well beyond the chocolate Easter eggs, bunnies and the resounding church bells, Easter is love’s victory and the fullness of life. In the words of the Sequence: “Yes, Christ my hope has arisen … Christ indeed from death is risen.”
But to arrive at this faith we need to be in sync with the Beloved Disciple who loves, simply loves and because he loves he has new eyes, the eyes of the lover, the eyes of someone who is in love. It is he who saw and believed. The love of this disciple rendered him capable of seeing beyond the signs and of believing. The same signs, the stone rolled aside, the empty tomb, the burial cloths, said nothing to Peter. He too had yet to get it. No sign is capable of giving faith to anyone. No sign can oblige to belief. A little while later the Lord will say to his disciples, “blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.” The Beloved Disciple is presented to us as the disciple par excellence … one who believes without seeing.
The Resurrection promises me that this life will cross the threshold of death, a life that is indestructible because in the death and resurrection of Jesus love has overcome death forever.
It is love that helps us see the truth. Love, not seeing, is believing.
Easter Vigil, 2013- By Fr. Giuseppe Barbieri, C.P.
For the past 40 days we have accompanied the Lord in the desert, we have seen how the hostility of the religious leaders had grown daily against Him. They not only plot his death but they see it as a good and expedient thing: “it is better for one man to die for the people,” Caiaphas had concluded. We looked on astonished at the humility of the Son of God as he washed the feet of his disciples as any common servant would. We felt a little uncomfortable when he enjoined the disciples - and therefore us - to do the same, because service and humility are not automatic to our nature. We saw him stripped, scourged, taunted and spat upon with the brutality we humans are capable of. Our hearts trembled at the cry “Crucify him!” Along with the women of Jerusalem we wept for him, as he carried his own instrument of torture along what must have been a seemingly endless via dolorosa towards Golgotha.
Gathered at the foot of the cross He entrusted us to his sorrowful Mother before crying out in abandonment; a supplication that echoes the cry of every suffering individual who in every time and place will ask “why?” As all was accomplished and finished, we witnessed him give up his spirit. Looking upon the One whom they have pierced, we wept: for Him; for our sins and those of the world that lead him there. As the stone rolled across the entrance of the tomb, all seemed to end, in “a great silence and stillness. The whole earth kept silence because the King was asleep.”
This night the women approach the tomb in fear and doubt: “who will roll back the stone for us?” Which is perhaps a way of saying “what will become of us now that He is gone?”
It was very early, the sun had risen. It is the moment when the earth passes from darkness to light. It is the passage from death to life. The evangelist tells us it is the first day after the Sabbath, the first day of the week. When the Bible tells the creation story, after light was created, it affirms, “Thus evening came, and morning followed – the first day.” Today is literally, a new day in every possible way. It is as if God has re-created the world. The resurrection of Christ is new life. It is the beginning of what the poet Dante defines as “primavera sempi’terna”; an eternal spring.
The fear of the women at the tomb and our fear of death turns into amazement for “Jesus, the crucified is not here, he has been raised.” The women can now enter into the tomb for it is no longer a place of death but a passage way to fullness of life. To us the angel says “Do not be afraid.” With the resurrection of Christ we have crossed the threshold into a day that never dies. The sun never sets on this day because its light is Christ.
We tend to think that resurrection is restricted to the end of our earthly existence, to that moment when, “we will all be changed, in an instant, in the blink of an eye” and “the dead will be raised incorruptible” as Paul explained the resurrection to the Corinthians (1Cor 15,52). But resurrection already exists in our today and we learn to live in the light of that Paschal faith which tells us that neither sin nor death have the final word over life; that nothing, absolutely nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (cfr Rom 8, 39).
When I fail at something, when a conflict arises in a relationship, when I do something stupid and am sorely disappointed in myself, when I am confronted with tragedy, my faith in the resurrection means I do not remain wallowing in the dust or enclosed in a tomb of self pity or fear but that I continually rise up. Resurrection means believing that Jesus, the Risen One, is not distant but that He walks with me, that He transforms my life into a continual Passover, journeying from death to life, from the darkness of night to the light of a new day. The Father raised Christ from the dead, we heard in the Epistle, that “we too might live in newness of life.”
One of the Church Fathers, St. Gregory of Nyssa, describes the life of a Christian as a journey “from beginning, to beginning, over beginnings that never end.” That is indeed good news and that is why we wish each other “Happy Easter.”
Good Friday Services 2013- By Fr. Giuseppe Barbieri, C.P.
Sisters, I believe – as I’m sure you do – that our presence here this afternoon is the fulfillment of a prophecy: “when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all people to myself.” (Jn 12:32). I believe that is especially true of our common Passionist vocation. Our first and fundamental act of faith is that we have been chosen, since the beginning, even “before the creation of the world” (cf. Eph. 1:4) to be among those who gather at the foot of the cross to “look upon him whom they have pierced.” It follows then that the Church invites us not only to observe the Passion of our Lord “from a distance”, but to participate in the “spectacle” as Luke calls it, in the fullest sense the word “participation” can assume. In Latin it is to partem capere, to take part, partake, share in. If the beautiful old Negro spiritual asks: “Were you there when they crucified my Lord? Were you there when they nailed him to the tree? Were you there when they pierced him in the side? Were you there when they laid him in the tomb?” We should - at some point of our contemplative lives - be able to say “yes, I was.” It is a grace to be prayed for.
This participation in the Passion should certainly have its beginning in prayer, for if we take part in the Passion in that sacred space, we will recognize it every time it is repeated in our community, in our society, in individuals and in the world, for as Pascal wrote, “Jesus will be in agony until the end of the world, we must not sleep during that time.” The participation in the Passion we are talking about has something to do with that enigmatic expression of St. Paul to the Colossians (1,24): “I am now rejoicing in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church.”
Christ’s death on the cross is proof enough of God’s love for us, however it
takes a long time to know and to understand that truth in all its depth and
breadth. Perhaps only very slowly will the sight of Christ crucified on the
cross give up its secret to us and enable us to understand what Christ meant
when he said, “A man can have no greater love than to lay down his life for his
friends.” If we reread the text and replace ‘man’ with ‘God’ then we have: “no
greater love could God have than to lay down his life for his friends.”
We then experience not only a sense of awe that God should have to become man,
and as man die to provide the most astonishing proof of his love, but we begin
to understand the scandal, the obstacle in the hearts of the Jews and the
foolishness to the minds of the Greeks that a God could die in a most shameful
way in abject humiliation. “How is it possible” – observes one theologian (J.
Moltmann) – “that a just God be present in someone condemned by the law? How is
it possible that God be present in someone abandoned by God? In order to
understand the presence of God in the crucified One do we not need to strip
ourselves of all the we depict, imagine, desire and fear when we pronounce the
word ‘God’? "
The scandal of the cross is closer to us than we might think. When we have a good day, when we marvel at a beautiful sunset, when a beautiful child is born, when I experience a success, in short, any time that I take part in the good, the beautiful and the true, my heart swells with gratitude and I say “God is good! I love God!”. The opposite however is not always true: when I am confronted with tragedy, death or failure then the ultimate question arises. “If God is good, why does He allow this to happen?” Usually followed by: “What have I done to deserve this?” For many the only logical answer to their pain is: “there is no God.”
Through that well known phrase of Paul’s to the Corinthians (1Cor 1, 23-24), “we preach Christ crucified, - a stumbling block for the Jews, and an absurdity to the Gentiles; but to those who are called, Jews and Greeks alike, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” we come to the understanding that Jesus Christ crucified completely overturns the image of God that the religious person spontaneously constructs for himself: a powerful, glorious and often aloof and tyrannical God. Especially as Passionists, our own personal conversion attests to the fact that God concentrates his salvific presence there where no one would think to search for it: in the Crucified One. Divine love has definitively set up his tent, its dwelling place in that very unlikely sanctuary which is a crucified body. Jesus Christ crucified is the ultimate place of knowledge of the true God.
Humanity can accept the love of Jesus crucified but it can also dramatically reject it. At the Last Supper, quoting Psalms 35 and 69 Jesus said: “they hated me without cause.” (Jn 15:25) There are those who resist the light, those who love the darkness more. As religious we pray everyday for those “who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death” often the tragic consequences of the choices they make, I would add. As religious of the Passion we judge our own commitment at the foot of the Cross. Whom do we live for and how are we doing? Whether we have the enthusiasm of youth or the weight of years, whether we are svelte and wrinkle-free or are beginning to show the signs of “matronliness”, the ageless Passion remains the greatest work of God’s love for each of us. We each turn to Him as the Samaritan at the well, looking for the water that gives life learning to drink deeply from the cup he hands us.
St. Paul of the Cross had the unshakable conviction that evils flourish there where the Passion is forgotten. We are constantly reminded of that truth by what we see around us. When men and women do not have Christ in their heart, how can there be love?
Our service to the Church and to the world is to be living reminders of that love. May Christ renew us in that love tonight as together we look upon the One whom they have pierced.
Holy Thursday Mass 2013- By Fr. Giuseppe Barbieri, C.P.
We are all familiar with the saying “the devil is in the details”. For a monastic community, it is really quite the opposite, I think. It is God we look for, find, and even reflect in the small details of daily life. I think of St. Teresa of Avila who reminded her charges that “God walks amid the pots and pans.” As we reflect on the scriptures in the time we dedicate to personal prayer and lectio divina, we pay attention to precisely that, the little details for the Lord can reveal himself in what superficially seems insignificant. He asks us to not pass over His gestures, even the smallest ones, too quickly.
This evening the Lord reveals himself to us through something as simple and seemingly insignificant as a towel. The Master, tying a towel around himself, revealing himself as servant is, for us, a profound revelation. It is the way He wishes to reveal His heart to us, a heart filled with the desire to serve, going on his knees before us, showing us not only the reality of his love for us but the absolute necessity that we follow him along the same way, to be counted among his friends, to truly belong to him. He washes the feet of the disciples, and that takes time, which this night He has precious little of. And yet he does so with the deliberateness of simple gestures because it is very important to Him to leave us this witness, this eloquent sign. Jesus asks His disciples and us: “Do you realize what I have done for you?” (13:12)
If it is true, as Jesus said to Philip, that to see Him is to see the Father (Jn 14:7), then as we see Jesus tonight at the feet of his disciples, we see the Father at our feet. To be honest, that image might not sit well with many of us. The Lord of heaven and earth at our feet as a servant? It questions our image of God. In one of his commentaries, Augustine writes “we pray to him as God, he prays for us as a servant.”
Jesus shows the Father to us, a God who is concerned with details, the here and now, with the things that we need daily, because His joy is to serve is. The Lord does not save the world with a magic wand but by inserting himself and hiding himself in the ordinariness of our daily life. John is pleased to describe the simple gestures in detail: Jesus gets up from supper; he takes off his garments and ties a towel around his waist. Jesus wants to complete every gesture with care and without hurry as if every action carried a specific meaning. He pours water in a basin which, for the disciple is like a new baptism, configuring them to His image, transforming them into servants.
Now, it’s very interesting that in our English translation of the Gospel, we are told that Jesus “took off his outer garments.” In other languages and in the original Greek, John does not specify “outer garments” but that Jesus took off his garments, period; leading us to believe that Jesus totally divested himself, he was naked under the towel which was something between and apron and a towel. Being naked under the towel tells us two things: first; it is a foreshadowing of the 10th station where Jesus will be stripped and will lay down everything for us. In the act of laying down the garments we hear the echo of the Good Shepherd’s voice: “I lay down my life for my sheep.” Second; by putting on the towel, an instrument of service, Jesus communicates that his garment of choice, is that which belongs to a slave. In that gesture, Jesus dons, He puts on, he clothes himself with service. But it doesn’t end there. After washing the feet of each of the disciples, he dries them by enveloping them with the towel, the instrument of service he is wearing. What the Lord is doing is investing each disciple with the same mandate to serve.
In the Gospel of John we do not have the words of the institution of the Eucharist as we do in the other gospels, or as we hear in the second reading from Corinthians. For John the Eucharist becomes not just “do this in memory of me” but “do this like me.”
The Church invites us on Holy Thursday to contemplate 3 mysteries: the Holy Eucharist; the priesthood; and fraternal charity. I believe the profound understanding of all three can be approached only through a contemplation of the humility of God: the God who serves us; the Lord who has accepted to hand himself over to us freely, completely and forever, bound and chained to us in the Eucharist out of a love we rarely understand or even accept. As for the priesthood, St. John Vianney expresses the humility of God with these words: “O, how great is the priest! … If he realized what he is, he would die… God obeys him: he utters a few words and the Lord descends from heaven at his voice, to be contained within a small host…” It is amazing to think that the Lord’s spirit obeys the invocation of the Church and the words of the priest.
Our forefathers in the faith, Gregory of Nyssa being one of them, believed that humanity could imitate God only in humility. The mystic Master Eckhart commented: “That virtue which carries the name humility, is rooted in the depth of divinity”. One of my all time favourite thoughts comes from a French theologian, François Varillon, who wrote: “I believe that I can say: God is humble. When I pray, I am turning to someone humbler than I. When I confess my sins, it is to someone humbler than I that I ask forgiveness. If God were not humble, I would hesitate to say that He is infinitely loving. It is this aspect of the mystery that I find convincing.”
As far as fraternal love, I have often asked myself, “what is the secret to good community life? When does it fail?” I find the answer in Philippians 2, in the passage leading up to the hymn in praise of Christ’s humility: “always consider the other person to be better than yourself, so that nobody thinks of his own interests first but everybody thinks of other people’s interests first.” I can think of no ascetical practice which is more difficult for our egos and more relevant for a community than this. Its source is the humility of God shown to us this night and it is a grace to be prayed for. For without Him we can do nothing.
 François Varillon, L’umiltà di Dio, Ed. Qiqajon, Bose 1999, p. 7.
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