Washing of the Feet

In 05 Homilies by Fr. Reid on 2016/03/04 at 12:00 AM

In our Gospel story tonight, as He prepares to wash the feet of his apostles, our Lord makes an ominous statement about how not all of the apostles are clean. He was, of course, speaking of Judas, who was about to betray Him.
Even though our Lord was preparing to show Judas the same love He was going to show the other 11 apostles by washing their feet, our Lord knew that Judas was willfully going to refuse His love.
Judas had already given his will over to sin and evil, hardening himself to our Lord’s love and mercy, and preparing himself to commit the most heinous and infamous act of betrayal history has ever known.
This past Sunday I spoke about the burden of sin. While in moments of temptation sin promises pleasure and freedom, once we give ourselves to sin, we are wounded by it. Sin makes us another Judas – at least to some extent.
Most times we don’t even realize the severity of the wounds our sins cause us, but mark my words, dear brothers and sisters, none of us ever gets off scott free from our sins.
In addition to damaging our relationships with our Lord, with His Church, and with one another, sin changes us – and always for the worse. In addition to the shame and guilt with which sin burdens us, sin hardens our hearts, and it can quickly enslave us.
As we are enslaved and fall prey to the same sins over and over, sin begins to distort our vision of reality, so that we lose our understanding of the severity of our sin. In the worse cases, we can even begin to believe that our sins are not really sins at all.
Without a doubt, sin is the most tyrannical of slave masters, robbing its victims of their strength of will and clouding their minds so that they readily jettison their beliefs in the sound teachings of the Church and the salvation obedience to those teachings promise.
You see, when we submit our own will to the will of God, we find true freedom. But when we direct our will toward selfish and sinful desires, we become enslaved to sin.
Thus, in our fight against the tyranny of sin, I mentioned last Sunday that there must be no compromise, no surrender, and no turning back. We must never accept sin or compromise with it. This is because the stakes are high!
If we are willing to submit to the teachings of the Church and fight the sins that plague us, then we have the hope of eternal salvation. But if we willfully give ourselves to grave sins and refuse to repent of them, we run the risk of eternal damnation.
Alas, our human nature – broken as it is by our sinfulness – is too weak to fight sin alone. Knowing this to be the case, our blessed Lord has given us two interrelated remedies to aid us in this battle for our souls: the priesthood and the sacraments.
Tonight we celebrate the institution of the priesthood and the Eucharist, which is the most blessed of the Church’s 7 sacraments.
Indeed, while all of the Church’s sacraments provide grace corresponding to their respective purposes in the supernatural life of the soul, the Eucharist preserves, increases, and renews the sanctifying grace first received at Baptism.
So what material food produces in our bodily life, Holy Communion wonderfully achieves in our spiritual life (cf. CCC 1392).
The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches us that Holy Communion separates us from sin. As we are united to Christ in the reception of His body and blood, we are cleansed from past sins preserved from future sins (cf. CCC 1393).
Moreover, the Eucharist strengthens our charity, which tends to be weakened in daily life; and this living charity wipes away venial sins. By giving Himself to us, Christ revives our love and enables us to break our disordered attachments to creatures and root ourselves in Him (cf. CCC 1394).
Furthermore, by the same charity that it enkindles in us, the Eucharist preserves us from future mortal sins. The more we share the life of Christ and progress in His friendship, the more difficult it is to break away from Him by mortal sin (cf. CCC 1395).
Of course, without a priest to confect it, there can be no Eucharist. Whereas the priest brings the Eucharist into being, the Eucharist forms the identity and purpose of the priest. Thus these two great gifts are actually mutually dependent on one another.
But the priesthood isn’t a remedy for the burden of sin only because he confects the Eucharist! Our Lord has given His priest more power than that. Every validly ordained Catholic priest is truly a weapon that God fashions for the battle against sin and evil.
As the spiritual father of his people, the priest is called to shepherd his flock from the snares of the evil one through sound preaching, teaching, and pastoral care. According to St. Paul, priests are “stewards of the mysteries of God” (cf. I Corinthians 4:1).
We see this most fully lived out in the administration of the sacraments. As we consider the burden of sin, we see how priests embody and dispense the mystery of God’s mercy through baptism, confession, and the anointing of the sick.
These sacraments, along with the Eucharist, are the most effective means of fighting the tyranny of sin and alleviating man from sin’s terrible burden. It is in these sacraments that we see the powerful weaponry of the priesthood unleashed against evil.
Of course the most important part of priestly ministry is the offering of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. For it in this action that we most fully see the priest as the living embodiment of Jesus, Who is both priest and victim.
The Council of Trent taught that the Sacrifice of the Mass is not merely an offering of praise and thanksgiving, or simply a memorial of Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross.
The Mass is a conciliatory sacrifice that is offered for both the living and dead, for the remission of sins and punishment due to sin, as satisfaction for sin, and for other necessities. Thus, by offering the Mass, the priest helps relieve the burden of our sins.
Through the Mass, reparation for our sins and our lack of love for God is made, and the guilt of repented venial sins is removed so that we can be more fully reconciled to God!
All of this happens through the priest, who, standing in the person of Christ the Head, makes present, in an unbloody manner, the redemptive sacrifice of our Lord on Calvary.
In the person of the priest, the same Christ Who offered Himself on Calvary makes the very same sacrifice on the altar. And so at Mass, we are all at Calvary!
And our Lord makes this sacrifice willingly. Indeed, the heart of our Lord’s sacrifice is the voluntary gift of self. He was not compelled to suffer and die; He chose it.
Thus, the priest – by willfully choosing to become an alter Christus, an other Christ – helps to repair the damage we cause by the misuse of our free will by dispensing the incomparable riches of our Lord’s saving grace through the Mass.
As we consider this truth, can there be anything sadder than a priest who becomes a Judas by a lack of fidelity to our Lord and His Church, or a priest who willfully chooses to walk away from this most privileged of vocations to follow selfish desires?
My brothers and sisters, once again tonight we are reminded of the immensity of our Lord’s love and mercy, for in the twin gifts of the priesthood and the Eucharist, Christ gives His very self to us.
As we begin our solemn Triduum, may we pray for a greater love and devotion to our Lord present in the Eucharist amongst all Catholics. Through frequent and worthy reception of Holy Communion, may our wills be strengthened so that we can always say no to sin and say yes to our Lord’s most adorable will.
And may I ask as well that you pray for all priests, because we really need it. Pray that we may be faithful and courageous stewards of the mysteries of God.
Pray especially for those of us who are lukewarm or lazy, for those of us who are disobedient and break our vows, for those of us who are far from Christ, and most especially pray for those of us who willfully walk away from Christ, from His Church, and from the beautiful life of sacrifice we are so privileged to live.
28 March 2012

© Reverend Timothy Reid

Fr. Reid is the pastor of St. Ann Catholic Church, Charlotte, NC

Homilies from June 17, 2012 onward have audio.
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