HOLY THURSDAY LITURGY AT MEDICAL MISSIONS APRIL 21, 2011
This evening we celebrate Jesus sharing his body and blood in the Passover meal of bread and wine with his closest friends. “This is my body; this is my blood.” This evening we celebrate Jesus washing the feet of the disciples as they celebrate the Passover. “Jesus, wash me and not only just my feet but my head and my hands as well.” We focus our attention in this supper room on these images of Christ’s love for us as a way of fostering the faith which has kept these images alive. I suggest them as consoling images. Without these images the atmosphere of betrayal, of indecision and of cover-up in that supper room threatens to give the lie to the entire Christian enterprise.
It is, I suggest, this same kind of atmosphere, that of betrayal, indecision and cover-up, which envelops our local church during this 2011 season of Lent and Easter. The sexual abuse of minors by clerics and the lack of honest disclosure of all the facts leave many of us Catholics feeling angry and dispirited. The local diocesan clergy are not alone as the cause this crisis. Nationwide religious orders like the Jesuits are deeply negligent. We failed to screen and form our members properly. We responded to reports of abuse by protecting the abusers and with little understanding of the abused.
To whom do we go? We hesitate to give church leaders our trust. In this angry and dispirited time I suggest that we remember that Jesus himself understands betrayal. The supper room’s images of nourishment and humble kindness also include other images. There is one of Jesus’ disciples whom he invited to follow him, one whom he entrusted with leadership and responsibility. This man, Judas, betrayed him. None of the other chosen disciples, though they clearly knew the danger in which Jesus found himself, paid any attention to the possibility of betrayal. One disciple, we think it John, even knows the identity of the betrayer. They let betrayal happen under their noses. And then the chosen leader of the group, Peter, engineered his own personal cover-up and denied that he even knew Jesus.
Through all this Jesus himself continues to trust in the God whom he calls his Father.
In seeking how to handle betrayal by those whom we trusted, we remember other Christians in other circumstances who suffered under the sinfulness of the Church. Our African-American brothers and sisters suffered the sin of slavery, a slavery not just condoned by the Church. Organizations in the Church held slaves as well.
We remember the Jews persecuted by Christians especially in European pogroms.
We remember the poor in some of the countries of Latin America where Bishops stayed silent while their political leaders murdered innocent people, a silence to protect the position of the Church in civil society.
We remember especially the women and children whose voices went unheard in all these circumstances.
The slaves, the Jews, the murdered innocents! The legacies from these sufferings continue to poison the world in which we now live. These legacies allow people to speak rationally when they say they want no part in a Church that has such a history.
No hero emerges to accompany Jesus on the evening of the Last Supper. The isolation of the Jesus in his suffering must be complete. In later times of crisis the Church is saved by saints who stand out and imitate the Lord Jesus in their proclamation of the gospel of human dignity: people like Oscar Romero, Ita Ford, Peter Claver, Pierre Toussaint, Franz Jagerstatter and his wife and children, the men and women engaged in the work of reconciliation in Rwanda. And generally, too, in the light of their common suffering some slaves maintained their spirits by singing the songs of the Israelites on their journey from the slavery of Egypt. Some suffering Jews remembered their history, such events as the tears of Babylon and the rebuilding of Jerusalem. Today, in Latin America people remember the suffering of the innocent as united with the torture and death of Jesus.
How difficult for us today to see the saints that are emerging from this current crisis. But saints will emerge from among those who have suffered. Saints will emerge from among those who foster reconciliation. Saints will emerge from among those who tell their stories and help us create safe environments for our children. This request is so little, so presumed, and yet for some children and teenagers it is the wholeness of life.
But back to this evening:
Aside from the Lord Jesus little or no promise graced the supper room whose images we now so reverence. Only a fool would have predicted that these followers of Jesus would be seeds for a Church. May Jesus and the grace of his Father continue to use our weakness for the divine glory.