April 9th Holy Thursday Reflection: Day 28 since churches have been closed

When was the very first Mass?  If you said on the night before Jesus died, you would be correct.  For on that first Holy Thursday evening, Jesus gathered with his friends to institute the Eucharist and thus give us the bread of life.  We have continued that tradition in what came to be known as “The Mass.” Although we cannot participate in the Mass this year because of the virus, we can remember this important moment that happened in Jerusalem some 2000 years ago.  And it all began that evening in Jerusalem in the Upper Room. 

Before entering the seminary, I made a private pilgrimage to Jerusalem.  It was important for me to begin my journey to priesthood in Jerusalem and even more so in the Upper Room.  For I believe…..that almost 2000 years ago…..Jesus sat in the upper room and did something really phenomenal.  He took bread and proclaimed, “this is my body.” He took wine and proclaimed, “this is my blood.” Then he said to those around the table:  “do this in memory of me.” And from that time on……in communities around the world….we have followed that command. 

Jesus, in these final hours before his death, was leaving behind a sign of his presence.  In that bread that became divine…….he was leaving a visible sign……of his invisible presence in the world.  A visible sign……of his invisible presence.  A visible sign to those facing illness…….that He was present with them.  A visible sign for those alone or ostracized. In the Eucharist Jesus gives a visible sign to all those facing challenges in their life---- to remind us that He stands with us.  In the Eucharist Jesus gives a visible sign to those who need God right now for whatever reason. Why? Because He wants us to know He is with us. 

Our God wants us to know……that He is still around.  And from that moment, at the Last Supper in the Upper Room, we have shared……in that visible presence.   And we will one day gather together once again as a parish community to share in this visible presence we know as communion.  How great that day will be. And it will be here soon.

But at that Last Supper in the Upper Room Jesus did something more than share the bread of life and the cup of salvation.  He also washed the feet of his disciples. He was showing his early disciples…..and he was showing us……that service to one another is how we live out the Eucharist we receive.

Many years ago, the very popular Cardinal Joseph Bernadine of Chicago contracted pancreatic cancer and was given only a short time to live.  At a press conference outside of Holy Name Cathedral in Chicago, Cardinal Bernadine embraced this news with faith-----and he told the people of Chicago that he had decided to spend what little time he had left comforting those who shared the same disease that he had.  I remember very well his courage.

Cardinal Bernadine often went around to others in cancer clinics around Chicago ministering to those who were ill.  He made such an impact on those whom he visited----and on the people of Chicago----that Time Magazine put him on the front cover of one its weekly magazines.  There----on the front cover of Time Magazine was a large picture of Cardinal Bernadine----and underneath the picture were the words----“Teaching us how to die.”  But as his hour of death approached…….Cardinal Bernadine---was not just teaching us how to die……he was really teaching us-- how to live----in serving and ministering to others….even as he himself was near death.

As Jesus approached his own death on the night before his crucifixion, He was teaching his disciples----and He is teaching us-----how to live.  He shows us how important it is to embrace service to one another and sacrifice for one another. It is not sufficient for us to simply receive the Eucharist inside St. Anne church…..we need to take the Eucharist outside the church in how we serve one another.

Think about how that is being done right now during this virus.  Using the telephone, email and Facebook families are supporting one another and neighbor as well.  Nurses are working overtime shifts and caring for the sick. Food is being collected and shared with the hungry.  So often in this crisis, you could say we are symbolically washing the feet of others.

This is what the washing of feet means…..that we are called to serve one another in living out the Eucharist.  As Pope John Paul II once said about the Eucharist, “Become what you receive.”

Jesus not only gives us His Body and Blood to strengthen us with God’s visible presence.  Jesus also gives us a model to follow in taking the gift of the Eucharist out into our community.  As Jesus tells us in the gospel of Holy Thursday: “I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do.” 

Let this day of Holy Thursday remind us of not only the bread of life; but let today also remind us of serving one another.  That means helping each other through this crisis, praying for those who are ill with COVID-19, and sharing with those in need. 

This virus cannot defeat us if we respond by being the people we are called to be in receiving the Holy Eucharist.  Remember, the day is coming when we will be able to receive the bread of life once again. When that happens, let us remember that we receive a visible sign of God’s invisible presence.  And living that presence out in our world……is a visible sign of our belief.

May you have a blessed Holy Thursday.

Fr. John