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Holy Thursday Homily

Holy Thursday Homily
March 24, 2005
Fr. James Smith

There is so much to say on Holy Thursday. One could just go on and on and on. We celebrate this Holy Thursday the institution of the Eucharist, and with the Eucharist, we celebrate the beginning of the Ordained Priesthood. There is so much a person could say. I promise I won’t say it all.

What I want to say more than anything else right now is, “Thank you.” Thank you to all of you. I know I can speak for Fr. Lammers as well in this.

Fr. Lammers, I’ll probably be speaking for you quite a bit this evening, if that’s ok?

Thank you for allowing us to fulfill the command of Christ, a command that he gave as he washed the feet of his disciples. “As I have done for you, so you must also do.” This washing of the feet, that we do tonight, is a symbol of what we as priests want to do all the time, with our lives. We want to be totally at the service of the People of God, of you. As Jesus has shown us such wonderful love and mercy, we want to show you the love and mercy of Jesus.

The priesthood is not about what we do. People often define priests as the guys who celebrate mass, hear confessions, anoint the sick. But you see, doing those things doesn’t make us priests. We do those things because we are priests. I say, “This is my body,” and, “This is my blood,” because I am speaking in persona Christi, in the person of Christ. I say, “I absolve you from your sins,” because I am speaking as Christ’s ambassador in the ministry of Reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:20). Being a priest comes first. Being a priest is more about who we are than what we do.

So who are we as priests? There is a simple definition that I like to use that sums it up pretty good I think. A priest is a man called by Jesus to be the presence of Jesus to his people. We are called to be the presence of Jesus for you.

I know that there are many times when I have failed to do this, either because of stupidity or arrogance or laziness. For those times, I am sorry. I truly am sorry.

The priest is called to be the presence of Jesus for the Church. This truth means that there is a very intimate link between the priest and the Eucharist. Just as when the bread and wine is consecrated through the laying on of hands and the prayers of the priest, consecrated to be the real and abiding presence of Jesus Christ in the world, so the priest, through the laying on of hands and the prayer of the bishop, is consecrated to be the presence of Christ in the world.

I think about this when I read the General Instruction of the Roman Missal*, the instruction book on how priests are supposed to celebrate the Mass. I remember this especially in the section in which it talks of taking care of the Eucharistic bread and wine.

(* It says that the wine isn’t supposed to turn sour into vinegar and the bread is to be kept from becoming moldy or too crusty.)

I think about that in terms of priests. Without taking proper care, a priest can become sour and stale and pretty moldy, too.
Not here at St. Peter’s though, you’re too good to your priests.

As I was praying over these readings, something kept coming out to me that summed up the entire meaning of the priestly ministry. It’s two words that were repeated in all three of the readings from scripture that we’ve heard this evening. In the first reading, God says, “I have set this feast aside as a perpetual memorial for you.” In the second reading, we hear St. Paul recount the words of institution of the Eucharist, “This is my body that is for you.” Jesus says in the gospel, “As I have done for you, so you must also do.” For you, that’s the reason why we’re priests.

A priest is called by Jesus to be the presence of Jesus for you.
I always laugh whenever I’m at my desk and someone calls and apologizes for interrupting my paperwork. “Sorry to bother you, Father.” I can guarantee you that whatever I’m working on at the moment, I’d rather be talking to you. You never bother me.

I remember an episode of M.A.S.H. when Fr. Mulcahy, who was the chaplain of the unit, kept trying to write this perfect sermon. The archbishop of the military was coming to visit him, and Fr. Mulcahy wanted everything to be perfect for his visit. He kept getting interrupted, though, and it turns out that when the service started, Fr. Mulcahy shows up in his pajamas and house coat because he had been up all night counseling a wounded soldier in the sick bed. What he did that night said more about who he was as a priest than anything he could have said in his sermon.

This is my hope, and I know it is the hope of Fr. Lammers as well. We hope that we can say more about the love our Lord has for you by the way we live our lives than by anything we might be able to say in a homily.

Ultimately, all of this Holy Thursday celebration comes down to a very simple message:
Jesus is here.
Jesus is here.
Jesus is here.

We remember tonight what happened 2,000 years ago, but we don’t remember it as if it happened 2,000 years ago. What is more important is that we remember what is happening here, now. We remember tonight, and over this Easter Triduum, what Jesus is doing for us now. We remember that Jesus is here.

Jesus is here now for you in the scriptures that we have read.
Jesus is here now for you in your priests.
Jesus is here now for you in the Eucharist that we receive.
Jesus is here washing your feet in service.
Jesus is here praying for you in love.


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