Lectionary Readings: Ex 12:1-8, 11-14 / Ps 116 / 1Cor 11:23-26 / Jn 13:1-15
While the secular world sees Valentine’s Day on February 14 as a day of love, I consider Holy Thursday the Catholic Church’s day of love.
“…He loved them to the end,” (Jn 13:1) today’s Gospel records. Love has been at the core of Jesus’ teachings because “God is love.” (1Jn 4:8) However, the theme of love became so concrete during the last days of Jesus’ earthly life. Love was put on full display. Yet, before enacting on love, Jesus gives a new commandment, “….love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another” (Jn 13:34)
Jesus gives the new commandment right after the washing of the feet, as Jesus knelt, literally, “emptied himself, taking the form of a slave.” (Phil 2:7) and washed all of his disciples’ feet, the first symbol of selfless love. To truly love is to have within oneself total humility, taking on tasks that perhaps not a lot of people would want to do.
Jesus does this to those whom he will grant them priestly faculties just moments later at the Last Supper. “This is my body, which will be given for you; do this in memory of me. […]This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which will be shed for you.” (Lk 22:19-20) The second symbol is that of the Eucharist in which Jesus gave totally of himself as food for all. Notice how the term, “for you” appears in both species. The Eucharist is therefore, a sacrament of love. When we receive the Eucharist, do we strive to understand that? Do we allow ourselves to conform to what the very being of the Eucharist is – the true presence of Jesus Christ, true God and true Man, who “is love”?
Each year with Holy Thursday we are reminded of this agape love – unconditional love that Jesus was able to exert throughout his ministry. The rhetoric of love is put on full display ultimately with Jesus’ sacrifice of the cross, which the Church commemorates at the Celebration of the Lord’s Passion tomorrow. “…He loved them to the end,” even to his last breath. Let us not mistake in understanding that this love is only extended to a select few… the love of Jesus is a love that encompasses all, even the sinner – including Judas Iscariot, the betrayer. Yet, the question that is placed is, “Are we willing to accept that love that Jesus has for every one of us? Are we willing to conform ourselves to the mystery of the Lord’s death and resurrection?”
The Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper begins the most important time of the Liturgical Year, known as the “Paschal Triduum,” and the Lectionary readings and Liturgical texts will constantly make reference to this rhetoric of love. While the world is so caught up in a relativistic, subjective definition of love, we as Christians look up to one objective definition of love that is found in what we celebrate during the Triduum.
But you know what? To love like Jesus is a challenge, I understand and experience that… but can’t we try, strive to go through the “narrow gate” (Mt 7:13)? Jesus never said that to live in love, to live in charity, would ever be easy. However, as St. Paul puts it, “…faith, hope, love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” (1Cor 13:13) Once we can love God, and love neighbours, we can live out the other virtues. Virtues such as compassion or forgiveness cannot be put into motion without a love nudging us to do so.
Love is without limits. Without it, the Church cannot move forward; the Church cannot breathe. Without love, she cannot grow, and is transformed into an empty institution, made up of appearances and actions without fecundity. In his bodily actions, Jesus tells us how we should love, that is, until the end.Pope Francis’ Homily at Casa Santa Marta, April 26, 2018
Love is at the very foundation of the Church. Do we realize the audience whom Jesus gave the new commandment to at the Last Supper? To priests – and therefore, the Curé of Ars, St. Jean Marie Vianney is right when he says, “The priesthood is the love of the heart of Jesus.” To priests: the commandment of love is at the core of the priesthood. To lay people: the commandment of love is the foundation of the Church, in which all of our ministries and vocations must be built off of.
The more we are called to serve the Lord through the Church, the more greater our call to love is. But be careful: We Christians may become too busy proclaiming the love of God, we potentially fall into the danger of not authentically living out the commandment of love, and without love, we may become a “resounding gong or a clashing cymbal.” (1 Cor 13:1) St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus put this in more practical terms saying, “Without love, deeds, even the most brilliant, count as nothing.” (Story of a Soul, Chapter VIII)
Let us not let these important days of the Triduum pass us like any other Triduum. We must reflect on the definition of love that Jesus provides for everyone of us, the love that underlies not only the Liturgical functions of this Triduum, but underlies the very core of our Christian ministry. We ask for the strength and courage to strive to live that agape love that Jesus did.