Monthly Archives: April 2017

The liberating power of washing feet and sharing the Body

Notes for a Holy Thursday homily, in Honduras, translated and edited from Spanish

Exodus 12: 1-8, 11-14
1 Corinthians 11: 23-26
John 12: 1-15

Today, in the Celebration of the Lord’s Supper, only the second reading speaks of the Eucharist. We begin with the retelling of the Paschal Meal.

Jews celebrate, even today, the Passover, the Exodus from the slavery of Egypt, with a sacramental meal. It is not a drama – for them, the Meal is a way of living again the liberation from the Egypt. They recall the mercy of God who heard the cries of the people and intervened to rescue them. The Passover Meal is a way to celebrate the liberating presence of God.

The Last Supper of Lord Jesus was probably a Passover Meal. With his disciples, Jesus celebrated the liberation of the people of Israel from Egypt in the midst of the occupation of Israel by the troops of the Roman Empire. The Passover was a very tense time in the days of Jesus. Recalling their liberation from the Pharaoh, many Jews of his time awaited their liberation from the foreign Roman troops. Some wished to throw them out violently.

Jesus came to liberate his People – but not by killing others but by handing over his life for all. In the Last Supper he gave his disciples his body and blood, under the forms of bread and wine, to show his commitment, his handing over of his life even to death, a death that he would suffer in less than twenty hours. The liberation from slavery, on God’s part, is an act of handing oneself over on behalf of others.

DSC01489But, after the Supper, Jesus gave us an example of his style of liberation. He washes the feet of his disciples.

This too was not theater. It was an act of service, of making himself nothing, of putting himself in the midst of the servants and slaves. In the days of Jesus, only the slaves would wash others’ feet – and those feet were assuredly dirty, from walking on dirt roads and in streets full of dung and refuse.

When he lower ourselves before another person, kneeling at their feet, we recognize that we are not those who are the big guys, the powerful, those who matter. We are the lesser ones, the lesser brothers (and sisters) as Saint Francis of Assisi called his friars. We put the needs of others before our own. We recognize that God wishes a community where there is the connection of love, of tenderness, of mutual support.

Why. Because we have a God who loves us, who has lowered himself, and has handed himself over, even to death, for us.

And doing the same as He does, we can experience true liberation.

 

Speaking words of encouragement

The Lord has given me the tongue of a disciple
to speak a work of encouragement to the downcast.
Isaiah 50:4

Yesterday I visited the elderly and sick in two villages. What a blessing for me.

It is part of the ministry of the deacon to care for widows, orphans, and the ill. I don’t do as much visiting the homebound as I could, partly because one of the major ministries of our communion ministers is to visit the sick in their communities. I do work with them in their continuing formation but I try not to replace their ministry to the sick.

This Holy Week we have about fifty parishioners in mission to most of our villages, visiting homes and praying with the people there. I’ve come across some who are invigorated by the experience of sharing the Gospel in a simple way with people.

I have also worked with the communion ministers so that we can get communion to the elderly, the sick, and the home-bound during Holy Week. But there were a few villages that were left out – and so I arranged visits in two villages.

So often these visits are a time of grace for me – as I enter the lives of the elderly, the sick, and the poor. Yesterday was such a time of grace.

In the first village I visited a woman about 70 years old who can’t walk to church and so I was glad to share a time of conversation and prayer as well as Communion. She was very up-beat, despite her weakness and aches and pains. Later, in another part of the village, about ten minutes in car from her house, I visited a ninety-two year old man who lives with his evangelical wife and often walks to church. He was much less talkative than the woman, probably partly because he is hard of hearing, but it was a gift to share Communion with him.

Both of these lived in poor houses with dirt floors. But there I found Jesus (and did not merely bring Him there in Communion).

I later went to another village where a young catechist took me around. The four women I visited were all very talkative.

I had visited the first woman a few weeks and go and she was bed-bound at that time. This time she was walking about. We sat down in the kitchen while her daughters and grand-daughters were busy mixing dough to bake bread.

In several places I made a special effort to speak to those who were caring for the elderly, encouraging them and letting them know that their work can be very hard but it is very important. As I speak with them I often tell them how important it was for me to care for my Dad at home in the last years of his life. I feel it is very important to give them “a word that will rouse them.”

This morning, while reading the third Servant Song of Isaiah (50: 4-9), I thought of how visiting the sick and ill has opened up for me a part of myself that I have not really appreciated. I am continually amazed how God’s compassion and God’s words of encouragement pass through me. This has become an important part of my life here and is one of the graces of being a deacon.

Where I got back to Plan Grande I went to the church to put the remaining hosts into the tabernacle. As I walked into the church I was moved by the light falling on the statue of El Nazareno, Jesus carrying his cross, before the altar.

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This helped make sense of my few hours visiting the elderly and the sick.

 

Truth is freeing

“If you remain in my word, you will truly be my disciples,
and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
John 8: 31-32

Madeleine L’Engle once wrote: “Truth is eternal. Our knowledge of it is changeable. It is disastrous when you confuse the two.”

In our search for God, it is easy to confuse our notions of God with the God who is beyond all words – but who keeps giving us glimpses of the Truth who God is.

Remaining in God’s word, for me, means opening my heart to God and all God’s people so that I can hear God’s call wherever it may lead me.

And so, I continually ask myself, am I a disciple who listens with an open heart or do I think that I know it all?

This is a source of humility and great hope for all of us who seek God.

God of Truth, you show us small signs of the truth which you are, but you are greater than our minds and our hearts.  Keep us open to all these signs and keep us always free of the temptation to think that we have all the truth.


Adapted from my contribution to the Lenten Booklet of the Associates of the Dubuque Franciscan Sisters.

The stench of the tomb

Are we willing to love, facing the stench of the tomb?

This past week I presided at a funeral in a rural village. The wife of a man active in the local church had died, just three weeks after their son had died in an accident.

When I arrived the people were in the small church gathered around the casket.

I walked to the front and as I walked past the casket I sensed a foul odor. I proceeded to the front and prepared for the service. Only occasionally during the service did I smell the odor.

When Jesus tells the men at the tomb of Lazarus to move the stone, Martha objects: “Lord, by now there will be a stench; he has been dead for four days.”

But Jesus persists: “Did I not tell you that if you believe you will see the glory of God?”

And Lazarus comes forth.

Where is the glory of God manifested in today’s Gospel (John 11: 1-45)?

DSC00526We could easily – and rightly say – it’s in the raising of Lazarus to life. For, as St. Irenaeus wrote, “The glory of God is the living human being.”

Our God is a God who calls us forth to life – here in this world and in the fulfillment of God’s will in heaven.

But I wonder if the glory of God is not shown when we lovingly confront the stench of death, when we recognize that that stench is not the final word, when we call others to live in the face of death.

Is the glory of God shown in those who are not afraid of death and the stench of death – but lovingly embrace God and all God’s people?


Detail of Lazarus in a painting in the church of Santa Maria Novella, Florence, Italy.

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