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Homilies - Bishop Brendan Leahy

Holy Thursday 2022

Holy Thursday 2022

Cuan Mhuire Addiction Treatment Centre, Bruree

There is a direct link between the Passover that we read about in the First Reading, the Last Supper and our Mass this evening. The First Reading describes how the Passover happened – those doors marked with the sign of blood would be “passed over”, in other words saved. The context of the Last Supper was the Passover meal when they were remembering that great event. Jesus, of course, is Our Passover. He saves us. And tonight at the Last Supper we aren’t just remembering all of that as if we were in a museum reading about the past. It is present. We are involved. At Mass we are contemporaries of the great events that saved us – Jesus’ suffering and death on the Cross. This is the great gift of the Eucharist and the priesthood that makes it possible.  Through the Eucharist, we are present at the Last Supper.

I was talking the other night to a Bishop who is now well retired and old but still very alert and very wise. He made a comment that struck me: the Eucharist and priesthood are great gifts but it’s a pity that while people think on Holy Thursday about how Jesus gave us his body, the Eucharist, the Mass, and instituted the priesthood, giving us priests that make the Eucharist possible, people don’t think as much that on the first Holy Thursday Jesus gave us the New Commandment.

Yes, as well as giving us the Mass and the priesthood, Holy Thursday is the night that Jesus summarised his teachings especially his teachings about unity and the New Commandment. If we want to be happy in life, he tells us, love one another. That’s easy to say but not so easy to put into practice. On Holy Thursday night Jesus explained how this works by showing us. He showed us three important steps we need to take in loving one another.

Loving one another starts by being the first to love, not waiting to be loved. So on this last night, Jesus got up from table and put on the servant’s apron and washed the feet of the disciples. This was his way of saying: love starts by loving, going outside ourselves, our worries, our problems and trying to help others, finding ways to love them.

Another point in loving is to love everyone. When Jesus washed the disciples, don’t forget Judas Iscariot was one of the disciples. Jesus knew he was going to betray him and that on account of that he would be crucified. But still Jesus included Judas and called him “friend”. He went on loving even him in that moment and washed his feet. It was an example to us – there’ll be people we don’t like, people who let us down, people we have difficulties with, but we have to find ways, at least in our heart, to love even them.

And, of course, there is forgiveness. The disciples weren’t perfect people. Jesus has to put up with a lot. Some of them were ambitious, often they didn’t understand Jesus, Peter was a little impetuous and didn’t want to let Jesus help him, Judas betrayed him… But Jesus kept forgiving them. Even on the Cross Jesus said, “Father, forgive them for they don’t know what they are doing”. We have to forgive others but first and foremost we have to believe that Jesus always forgives us. We need never be blocked in our mistakes or failures. We can always start again because Jesus takes away our sins and bad deeds once we hand them over to him.

What happens when we are the first to love, when we try to love everyone, when we forgive and start again? Others love us in return and this is the New Commandment Jesus is talking about – love one another. It can mean putting up with each other at times when we might be annoying, or offering a listening ear when someone wants to talk, or simply doing small things out of love for others. When we do that together, life moves onto another key. We begin to feel the presence of Jesus among us.

I’ll give you a little example. Some I know bought a return ticket to go to Dublin. She rushed to the platform but was disappointed to discover the train had just left. She went back to the ticket office to try and get a refund and further information but the lady in charge told her she couldn’t spend time on her with so many people in the queue. This person walked away feeling really angry but suddenly remembered this phrase: “you must love your enemy”. She said to herself: this is my opportunity to love my enemy. So she walked back to the lady at the ticket office, and when it was her turn she told her she was sorry that she had over-reacted and that she understood the reaction of the lady at the ticket office. The expression on that lady’s face and her tone of voice changed and she immediately started to deal with her situation.

Every time we come to Mass, we remember that Jesus gave us the great gift of the Mass to help us be stronger. Priests celebrate the Mass so that Jesus himself can work through them to change the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Jesus. But all of this is to help us live out the New Commandment that Jesus gave us on Holy Thursday. Love one another.