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Homilies - Bishop Brendan Leahy

Holy Thursday, 2021 - St. John's Cathedral


This evening we begin the very special time of the year – the Easter Triduum. This evening at the Lord’s Supper there is almost too much to take in. We celebrate so many gifts of love that Our Lord offered us in his last hours on earth…

At the Last Supper, out of love, he gave us the Eucharist, the source and summit of our Christian life.

At this Passover meal, out of love, he instituted the priesthood, which is a service of love, and which gives us, among other things, the possibility of having the Eucharist.

It is on the evening of the Last Supper that he prayed his final prayers for us, his last will and testament summarised in his prayer for unity: “may they all be one as you Father are in me and I in you”.

And, of course, we remember that it is at the Last Supper Jesus gave us the key to life when, out of love, he offered us the New Commandment: “As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another”' (Jn. 13:34-35).

He offered us all of this because he wanted us to be able to continue his mission and bring heaven on earth. He wanted us to “live the Trinity”, live our life on earth modelled on that of the Holy Trinity.

Yes, there are so many wonderful gifts to think about this evening, to be thankful for. And so many things we could say. We could talk about miracles of the Eucharist. Or we could reflect on how Holy Communion is medicine for our souls, the medicine of immortality. Or we could call to mind how the Eucharist contains all the spiritual riches of the Church. So many “big” things could be mentioned…

And yet we almost get a shock when on this evening the Gospel doesn’t provide with a big speech but rather tells us an experience, a very real down to earth example. Jesus gets up from table, removes his outer garment, bows down and serves, washing the feet of Peter and the apostles.

And, of course, this is the great point. Yes, Jesus has given us great gifts but the greatest miracle, the greatest gift, the greatest medicine is his life, his example. And so he says, “If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet. I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do.”

Tomorrow, Good Friday, he’ll be showing the full measure of his love, his service as he lays down his life on the Cross. But today he is showing us how this is to work day by day in our lives. He is showing us our programme of life.

St. Peter never forgot the lesson he learned on that first Holy Thursday. He had objected to Jesus washing his feet. But he learned so much when he thought back on this evening. In his letter written years later Peter said: “above everything else have love for one another”. Above everything else. When he says “above everything else”, he means that it must be at the basis of everything we do or say. He had come to understand this so deeply from Jesus. It’s not perfect homes, or highly successful careers or even religious practices that matter most. No. It is the love contained in the Eucharist lived out day by day following the example of Jesus.

This is constant conversion. How easily we get caught up in projects, in plans, in ideas, expectations of what others or ourselves should be like or what we should be doing, or the way things should be…and miss the one thing necessary we have to do: to love one another.  St. Augustine tells us to see love is to see the Trinity.

And in this year when we are invited by Pope Francis to re-focus on family life in the light of his Apostolic Letter, Amoris Laetitia, written five years ago, we remember what the Pope wrote there: no family drops down perfect from heaven. Our lives are a work in progress, maturing each day in love for one another and so in living the Trinity. We can think of so many examples – family members supporting each other, a parent looking after a child with a disability, an addiction centre with addicts and staff building community together, hospitals and care centres where there is so much care of one another.

The apostles as we know were not perfect people and yet Jesus started his revolution with them. He wants to continue it in and among us. This Holy Thursday let’s ask him for the grace to be able to live on earth as in heaven, thankful for the gifts given to help us and putting into practice his example.