Posted by: Fr Chris | April 15, 2022

It is ia privilege to be here: Holy Thursday

Holy Week is called the week that changed the world. All of human history is found here. Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday stand alone in what is called the Triduum, the Three Days. Tonight Jesus institutes the Eucharist, which we are now celebrating and the priesthood that will provide the Eucharist. Tonight Judas leaves the banquet, with the Eucharist still in his mouth, to complete his betrayal of Christ for the miserable price of thirty silver coins, the reward for turning in a bandit. Tonight and tomorrow Jesus enters fully into His Passion. He gave himself to the apostles in the transformed bread and wine, tomorrow He gives Himself to all of us, to the whole human race, in order to save us through the shedding of His blood.  Tonight He is put on trial illegally, at night, with no chance to prepare a defense, in violation of Jewish law. Tonight He is hit by the Jewish soldiers, and thrown into a dark pit, left alone and abandoned, in violation of the law. He Who spoke the law to Moses on Sinai is left exhausted and weak, having shed the first of his precious blood in the garden of Gethsemane. Tomorrow he will be hauled off to the Roman procurator, a bloodthirsty tyrant feared by all, but a Roman who will find himself perplexed by this Jewish rabbi who dares to banter with him. He will suffer the agony of scourging and humiliation, be dragged through the streets, and finally crucified between two thieves. Instead of James and John who wanted to sit at his right and his left, it will be real bandits who die with him. And then of course will come the burial and sorrowing of tomorrow night, until we move towards the resurrection. These are the events that change the world, when the Son of God fulfills the promise made centuries before, that humanity will be restored to its original destiny, its original goal, of walking alongside God as did Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden.

So here we are on the first night, gathered for the Divine Liturgy, waiting to hear the proclamation of salvation history in the Eucharistic Prayer of Saint Basil the Great. But within that great prayer, we will hear the very words of Jesus spoken from his own pure lips, when he said those momentous phrases: This Is My Body. This Is My Blood.

Since the very beginning, the Catholic Church has firmly taught, without reservation, that Jesus meant what He said. When He spoke, He told the apostles that they were to do this In Memory of Me. He used two Hebrew words: Basar, and Zikkaron. Basar: Body – the entire person, the very personhood of the person, not just the physical body, but everything that is Jesus Christ, His Body, His Soul, His Humanity, His Divinity, His very essence as Son of God and Son of Mary. Saint Ignatius of Antioch was a disciple of Saint John the Beloved himself, and he wrote in the early 100s I desire the bread of God, which is the flesh of Jesus Christ, who was of the seed of David; and for drink I desire his blood, which is love incorruptible.” When Protestants deny the reality of the Real Presence, when they deny that the consecrated bread kept in this tabernacle is indeed Christ, when they deny that Jesus Himself descends to the altar through the power of the Holy Spirit, they are denying the faith of the apostles who walked with Jesus and the faith of the people who learned from their very lips what the apostles taught.

Being here tonight is a privilege. Zikkaron, do this in remembrance of me, in memory of me, is not to “remember” like we do in English. It is to be THERE, in the upper room. At Passover Jews are not sitting at a table – they are in Egypt, waiting for their deliverance from bondage. At the Divine Liturgy, at the mystery of the Mass, we are not in a eucharistic service of memory. Jewish and Christian theology clearly teaches that we are spiritually at the original event. It is an enormous privilege given by God to the Catholic and Orthodox Churches to allow the faithful to be present, to hear the words repeated, to worship, to adore.

If we had put out a big sign in front of the church announcing in capital letters JESUS CHRIST WILL ARRIVE THIS EVENING AT 7 PM, what would the locals have thought? Had we sent an invitation to all of the television news stations and to the newspaper with those words, what would have been the reaction? They would have sent at least a few crew members to see what was happening, especially announcing it during Holy Week. But indeed, He is coming, in a few minutes. Here we are, at the Last Supper, at Calvary, at the empty tomb, at Pentecost, in every Liturgy that is offered at this altar.    

Father Artur and I went to see the movie Father Stu. Now unfortunately Stuart Long was raised in an atheist family that used the most incredible combinations of foul language that I have ever heard in my life, and they put all that in the movie. So children can’t see it. That’s unfortunate, because it is a journey of a man who went from being a boxer and would-be actor to conversion to the Catholic Faith and to the mystery of being called to be a priest. Yet God allowed him to be afflicted with a disease much more painful and aggressive than the one I have, inclusion myositis, and served only three years as a parish priest, and then four years were spent ministering from a chair in a nursing home. When the bishop of Helena prayed about whether or not to ordain a man who was already afflicted with a fatal disease, the phrase that came to him over and over again was this – There is power in suffering, move him forward.

As I said last night, Americans run from suffering. We immerse ourselves in avoiding pain of all kinds, and quite honestly our society now encourages those who are supposedly terminally ill, or severely ill, or chronically ill, or whatever the most recent phrase is, to go and commit suicide rather than quote suffer. We as a culture in the western world of North America and Western Europe, because we have lost our way spiritually in abandoning the Faith for which Christians in Africa and Asia suffer death every day, no longer believe this sentence – There is power in suffering, move him forward. To be honest, a lot of churchgoing Christians in North America do not accept that. I think that one reason why the American Catholic Church cannot produce enough vocations to the priesthood is that we are running from something that the bishop who ordained Father Stuart Long said: A priest is ordained to be like Christ, the Suffering Servant who hung on a cross.  All priests suffer. It is the price of being able to stand in front of an altar and repeat the words of Jesus Himself. It is the price of being asked to administer the sacraments. It is the price of being asked to be shepherds in the spirit of the Good Shepherd. There is power in suffering. There is power in suffering.

Saint Ignatius of Antioch prayed that he would “not merely be called a Christian but actually prove to be one” and that is something that every priest is called to do. That is what we who are members of the Body of Christ must work at doing.

We are supposed to live, pray, work, love, suffer, so that we would BE Christians. And we can only BE Christians if we are participants in this Eucharist, if we are people who knowingly receive the life-giving Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. Saint Augustine tells us

approach with fear and trembling to take part in this feast, knowing that God himself is at work in you. Recognize in this bread the body that was hanged on the cross. Recognize in this cup of wine the blood that gushed out from his pierced side. Take and eat the body of Christ, since in the body of Christ you have become Christ’s members. Take and drink the blood of Christ. To counter your tendency to disunity, eat that body which is the bond of your unity. So as not to appear to be without value in your own eyes, drink that blood which is the price that was paid for you. When you eat this food and drink this wine, they will be transformed into your substance. Equally you will be transformed into the body of Christ, if you live in obedience and faithfulness.

It is a privilege to be here.

It is a privilege to be invited to this altar.

It is a privilege to be able to be united with Jesus Christ and be transformed into Him by receiving His Body and Blood.

It is a privilege to walk away carrying Him inside of us.

It is a privilege to stand or sit with Him being dissolved into our bodies, being carried in tiny particles through our blood, coursing into our organs, touching us from head to toe.

It is a privilege to be a member of the Catholic Church to whom this opportunity is given.

It is a privilege, an enormous privilege and gift, one that we can too often treat as our right, instead of a generous act of love. There are people who rarely have this chance, due to the shortage of priests in their country, or persecution by a hostile government, who weep tonight, on this night when Jesus first gave Himself for us, that they cannot receive Him. There are places in the world where a radio broadcasts the Mass from the Vatican and people kneel down and prostrate at the words This is My Body, This is My Blood, worshipping the distant consecrated Christ on the altar of Saint Peter’s basilica, and imploring God for the opportunity to receive the Lord once more before they die.

It is a privilege to be here tonight. May we not run from the suffering that comes our way, but rather unite it to what Jesus endured for our sake so that we will find the healing that we are in need of and the strength and courage to go forward. May we come forward tonight for Holy Communion especially alert, especially conscious of what will be placed on our tongues. May we come forward in gratitude, in joy, in peace, in love, and spend time quietly letting Jesus speak to us while He is physically in us. And may we always, always, be grateful for the gift of faith that has brought us here.

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