To Love and To Serve

Last night I attended Holy Thursday services, often referred to as the Celebration of the Lord's Supper, at St John Neumann, in Reston, Virginia. The Sacred Triduum, constitute the "High Holy Days" of Christians, and it begins at sundown on Thursday, and continues through the wee hours of Sunday morning, ushering in Easter.

It was a long service, which included washing of the feet and a final procession of the Blessed Sacrament out of the Church to its resting place in the chapel until Easter. This was followed by adoration for those who wished to remain until midnight, in a quiet and breathtakingly beautiful candle lit chapel. There was plenty of incense and ritual and traditional Latin chants, but with a more post Vatican II flavor. I marveled at the woman next to me, gifted with a beautiful voice whose pronunciation of Latin put mine to shame.

But it was the sermon that was most moving for me, and I believe I was led here, to this church that is not one to which I formally belong, precisely to hear this message. I have found the homilies here to be very good and inspiring, and the community is a very involved one indeed, and reminds me of my own community at Holy Trinity, in Georgetown...

I do not even know the name of the priest who delivered the homily. All I know is he is an Oblate of St Francis de Sales, and for 22 years, I taught at schools run by the Visitation nuns, who were co-founded by St Francis and St Jeanne de Chantal in the 17th century. Thus, I am steeped in this beautiful spirituality and its unique charism...

So here are some highlights as I remember them...

The Gospel for this evening speaks of love and betrayal. Jesus washed the feet of his disciples, including Peter, who did not want to be washed. But more importantly, Jesus washed the feet of Judas, knowing full well that he would betray him.

In washing the feet of his disciples, Jesus modeled service... Eucharist and service go together. Why? Because the root of this word is a Greek one, "Eucharistos," which means to give thanks and be grateful - and to show favor and rejoice. The message is very simple: We must serve with a grateful heart... 

(On this very day, several hours earlier, Pope Francis, for the first time in history, went to wash and kiss the feet of boys and girls in a detention center - several of which were Muslim - instead of washing the feet of priests in an ornate liturgy at the Vatican. By his actions, he spoke volumes and modeled so much for the world to see...)

Love and betrayal often go together. We are often disappointed in life. But we must remember that we disappoint others as well...

Then the homily took an interesting turn, and I sat up straighter...

The presider recalled the first reading in the liturgy from the Book of Exodus, and of the Hebrew people who had been enslaved by Pharaoh, a reading that was read by a young Latina girl in Spanish. I loved listening to her read this passage with my eyes closed, while most followed the English translation...

The homilist then spoke of all those who have been marginalized and disenfranchised - especially in the Church. There are so many who have been profoundly hurt by the Church and its actions - so many have felt alienated, abandoned, and disregarded... He did not make excuses for this - but acknowledged the mistakes and limitations of this very human Church...

And then, quite unexpectedly, he took off his vestments - this aged man, and he walked around the various corners of the community, kneeling on the hard floor, and washed the feet of a few individuals interspersed throughout the community.

It was only this morning, that I realized that they were all women...

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