A husband was feeling romantic one day. He tenderly asked his wife, “Do you love me?” The wife, too busy with the household chores, did not mind him. The man insisted, “We have been married for thirty years, and you rarely said you love me.” Again the wife did not bother to answer him. The man was hurt. “Perhaps, you do not love me anymore because you do not want to say ‘I love you.” The wife stopped, looked at her husband in the face and said: “Every single day for thirty years, I cook your meals, I wash your clothes, I clean the house, I sleep with you, I take care of your children, and all these I do without pay. If this is not love, then what is it?”
The wife was right. She was expressing her love, not by words, but by action, and not only for a day, but every day for many years. On the other hand, the husband wanted to hear words of love. But love is not an ordinary word; it is an action word. Without action, love remains an empty word. This is the problem in the world nowadays. Too many words are said about love, but nothing is done to show and prove that. Rather what we see among many people today are ambition, pride, arrogance, materialism, greed, lust – all manifestations of selfishness, the direct enemy of love.
Today, we hear in the Gospel of St. John that Jesus “loved his own in the world and he loved them to the end.” On Holy Thursday, the day before he suffered and died, Jesus showed his followers the depth of his love. He just did not say it – he showed it; he proved it.
First, he gathered them in the Upper Room for supper. It was his last supper with them. He did not only eat with them; he fed them. He gave them food to eat. By experience, we all know that nourishment is the best expression of love. The mother nursing her infant at her breast is the perfect picture of this. But Jesus did not only feed his followers. He himself became the food and drink: Taking the bread, he said to them, “This is my body. Eat it.” And taking the cup filled with wine, he said, “This is the cup of my blood. Drink it.”
The Eucharist is the sacrament of God’s love for us. This love is not meant to remain in the confines of the Upper Room; it is meant to be shared. That is why at the Last Supper, Jesus gave a deeper meaning to the Eucharist when he rose from the table and washed the feet of his apostles – his second act of love that evening. He removed his outer garment and bent down to wash the feet of his disciples. And he instructed them: “If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet. As I have done for you, you should also do.” The love we receive in the Eucharist should move and inspire us to render humble service to one another.
A few months before he died in 1979, Bishop Fulton Sheen was interviewed on television. A reporter asked: “Your Excellency, you inspired millions all over the world. Who inspired you?” Surprisingly, it was not the Pope, nor any other bishop or priest. He said it was an eleven-year-old Chinese girl. When the Communists took over China in the late forties, they imprisoned a priest in his own rectory. Looking through the window, he was horrified to see the soldiers enter the church and break open the tabernacle, scattering the Blessed Sacrament on the floor. The priest knew the exact number of the sacred hosts: thirty-two.
But a young girl had been praying in the back of the church and she hid when the soldiers came in. That night the girl returned and spent an hour in prayer – an act of love and reparation for that act of hatred and sacrilege. She then entered the sanctuary, knelt and bent over to receive Jesus in Holy Communion by picking up a sacred host with her tongue. This was what she did every night: she spends an hour in prayer and receives the Eucharist with her tongue. On the thirty-second night, after consuming the last host, she accidentally made a slight noise, enough to awaken a soldier. She ran but the soldier caught her, and hit her with his rifle butt. The priest heard the commotion, but it was too late. From the window of the rectory, he saw the girl die.
Bishop Sheen said that this story inspired him so much that he promised he would spend at least one hour each day before Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. That daily holy hour was what inspired him and gave him the power all through the years in his life as a priest.
The Pope declared this year as the Year of the Priests. On Holy Thursday, Jesus instituted the sacrament of the Priesthood when he instructed his apostles: “Do this in memory of me.” This is his third act of love that evening. It is through the priests, human instruments appointed by God that we receive the abundance of God’s love in the sacraments of the Church, especially the Eucharist. The priesthood and the Eucharist are intimately and essentially united. The Eucharist is continually offered by the ministry of the priesthood; and the priesthood gets its power and inspiration from the Eucharist. The one cannot do without the other.
Holy Thursday is a day of love – the day when Jesus showed us the depth of his love. He instituted the sacrament of the Eucharist where he gives us his own body and blood as our eternal food, and makes present to us in the here and now the eternal and one sacrifice he offered on the cross. And to make sure he continues to be with us as our eternal nourishment, he instituted the sacrament of the Priesthood. Through the ministry of priests, the Eucharist is celebrated until Jesus comes again in his glory. And finally, he washed the feet of the apostles to teach us by example that the love we receive in the Eucharist is meant to be lived in humble and loving service to one another, the essential fruit of the Eucharist and the mark of a true follower of Christ. Let every Eucharistic celebration arouse in us the irresistible desire to love and serve God and His people with the same love and service that Jesus has shown us.
Fr. Mike Lagrimas
St. Teresa Church
New York, NY 10002