Holy Thursday

Christ’s Commandment to Love

Holy Thursday Mass of the Lord's Supper

Joke: A little girl was taken to church for the first time. As she was coming out of the church the pastor standing at the front door asked her how she likes the Holy Mass. “I liked the music,” she replied, “but the commercials in between were too long.”

If this little girl comes to Mass today, both the music and the commercial are still lengthy but they are much better than to be quarantine at home. In 365 days/a year, today, Holy Thursday, the Mass of Lord’s Supper is the only occasion when such an instruction is given on preaching. It says: “The homily should explain the principal mysteries which are commemorated in this mass: the institution of the Eucharist, the institution of the priesthood and Christ's commandment to love.” What is Christ’s commandment to love? Why does he love us? How does he model that love? What is the institution of the Holy Eucharist? And what does it mean the institution of the priesthood on the celebration of Holy Thursday?

In his first encyclical, Pope Benedict XVI, our Emeritus Bishop of Rome, chose its’ title, “God is Love.” Since God has first loved us, love, Pope Benedict said, “is now no longer a mere ‘command;’ it is the response to the gift of love with which God draws near to us.” This response is clearly shown in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper of every year, except tonight, at the part of washing of the feet. Why does Jesus wash the feet of his disciples if it’s not to reveal his true love and his humility throughout his ministry? It is a response in action, not just a command in word. In this washing of the feet, the Lord Jesus reminds us, even though that we are all cleansed at our baptism, there is no guarantee that we will never sin again. The moment that we harbor hatred, resentment towards others and even doubt God, the moment that might block our vision to see God present in our Christian lives. These moments and many other moments that we dive ourselves into dirt, the dirt of sins, that God’s love does not only condemn us, but he also helps to wash that dirt off by water which symbolized the Holy Spirit. He wipes it with his apron on his waist which symbolized his divinity takes it on our human flesh. Finally, he seals it with a kiss, his true divine nature, which is LOVE.

“God is love,” perhaps, is revealed throughout Jesus’ ministry. His love is to forgive the sin of the prostitute that in return, she washes Jesus’ feet, not with water, but with her tears and wipes it with her hair. They are the tears of the conversion of heart; and her hair is her true repentance in response of wiping Jesus’ feet. His love is to heal the blind, to cure the sick, and to even raise the dead back to life again by his Word, his touch, his command, and above all, by his LOVE, his divine nature.

His great love does not only point out to his disciples’ dirty feet and not to condemn them nor to disregard them, but to remind them that they need to be washed. Throughout his life ministry, Jesus often points out the corrupted minds of the Levi, the Pharisees, and the scribes who often focus on the appearances rather than the hearts that the Lord sees. According to the appearances, the cripples, the blinds, the mute and the deaf are condemned as sinners; but the love of the Lord Jesus touches them, heals them, and restores them back with the love of the heart. By the washing of his disciples’ feet, Jesus strongly encourages us not only to acknowledge that we have sins against the Lord, but also to have courage to come to confession so to wash away our sins. Our forgiveness is not only given by the priest but by the Lord. When the priest gives absolution, he says, “I absolve you in the name of Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” By coming to confess our sins, we are restored our relationship with the Lord, with the Church and with one another. What great is our God who revealed the great act of humility? The question then: Do we have courage to acknowledge our sins against the Lord, his Church, and one another? Have we had courage to come to confess? Just as the apostles allowed the Lord Jesus to wash their feet, have we allowed him to wash us, to correct our false, to change our sinful habits, to calm us in our moments of impatience and angry, to heal us in our sickness and illness, and above all, to allow him to love us as who we are? With his great commandment to love that Jesus humbly washes his disciples’ feet, have we humbled ourselves to come to others, especially to our loved ones with love? The love of not pointing the finger, but of lovingly correcting and helping each other to be better.

In today’s second reading, Saint Paul reminds us what Jesus said to his disciples at the last Supper, “He took bread, and, after he had given thanks, broke it and said ‘This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’” For the cup, he says, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” Why did the Lord Jesus take the bread, giving thanks, broke it and shared with his disciples? Why did he do the same for the cup? God sees our humanity tired, suffering, thirsty, hungry, and experiencing all kinds of difficulties and challenges, even facing this pandemic of coronavirus that many suffering in the hospitals throughout the world. Some lost their lives because of this dangerous virus. He chose not only to come to us in our human flesh, but he also choose to come to us to feed us with his Body and his Blood to satisfy our hunger and our thirst. He instituted the Most Holy Eucharist at the Last Supper with his disciples to feed us with his Body and Blood from the bread and the wine to nurture us, to strengthen us, and to heal us from any illness and sickness.

In this institution of the Eucharist, why didn’t Jesus choose other food but bread and wine? Why didn’t he choose “Mexican credit card” meaning Totias, but unleavened bread? It is bread and wine because it is the ordinary food and drink. This unleavened bread symbolizes our human flesh adds nothing to God. However, Jesus took it to himself, accepted to be like all of us, except sins. He took it and totally accepted even at the point of dead, dead on the cross as a perfect and complete his totally offering to God the Father.

Our Eucharistic celebration would become meaningless if there is no action of taking the bread and the wine, giving thanks to God the Father, the action of breaking the bread and distributing the wine to others. In today’s Gospel, Jesus says to his disciples and to all of us, especially the priests saying, “I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do.” In this institution of the Eucharist, the Lord Jesus institutes his priestly ministry by giving a commandment to do to others as he did for them, the disciples.

In this Holy Thursday, at the most Holy Meal with his disciples, Jesus left us the commandment of love, his institution of the Most Holy Eucharist and his institution of the Holy Priesthood, what have we done to deserve all these if it’s not his ultimate love for his own image and likeness, our human beings? His humility to wash his disciples’ feet, to take away the dirt of their feet and the sins that we committed, what should we do to return to his love? Through the three actions of taking the bread and the wine, giving thanks, and breaking the bread and distributing the wine to one another, Jesus invites us to come to share in his divine nature at the Eucharist, are we willing to come to Mass? I’ve seen people continue to come to Church, even though they know that there is no Mass during this pandemic of coronavirus. In this most Holy Eucharist when the Lord Jesus institutes the priesthood of Christ, let us remember our Holy Father, Pope Francis, all the Bishops and clergies throughout the world celebrating this most Holy Eucharist alone that the Lord continues to grant us strength and courage through our priestly ordination to follow the footsteps of the Good Shepherd even to the foot of his Cross. May our Blessed Mother continue to journey with the priests and accompany them to her Son in the midst of this pandemic of coronavirus. May your holy faithful people throughout the world be protected from this coronavirus and soon help us to find the vaccine to stop this virus.


Weekday Homilies 2019

Homilies by Fr. Joseph Thang Nguyen

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