Holy Thursday 2017: Service and Love

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Image: “The Washing of the Feet” by Ghislaine Howard (2004)

Service and love – two key themes for reflection on the feast of the Lord’s Supper, that we celebrate today, this Holy Thursday.

To love without service is not really love, because love calls us out of ourselves and into the other. To serve without love might work for a little while, but it inevitably brings difficulties, because the mere doing of tasks that do not come from a place of love eventually bears nothing.

It is my personal prayer for each one of you, and in holding the memory of Marie Madeleine whose feast was 5th April, that love and service be part of your daily activity. My own heart is filled with love and gratitude at being able to serve in my own way, through these blog posts. With blessings for you, this Triduum, and toward Easter.

Sincerely

Geralyn

FCJ Mission and Identity Promoter

Holy Feast: Holy Thursday 2016

Holy Thursday. The feast of the Lord’s Supper.

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“Did you know that Holy Thursday is a special feast for the FCJs?” I commented.

My daughter replied, “That’s clever!”

“Why is that clever?”

“Because the FCJs were founded on a holy day.”

I probed a little further for her to tell me what Holy Thursday is about. The body and blood of Christ. Jesus’ gift.

I asked if she could explain it to me as if I hadn’t heard of this person called Jesus. “What words could we use to describe it that were universal?” We thought about it together and we both agreed on:

Love and friendship
Communion and community.

It’s about fellowship and companionship and relationship.

As we enter this holy space of the Triduum, perhaps you too, might ask yourselves how you would explain Holy Thursday to someone who hasn’t even heard of Jesus.

Happy Feast to all, and especially to the FCJ family.

image

Jesus in daily life with this painting on an urban wall.

From the Archives: Awaiting the Triduum: Holy Thursday, Good Friday and the Feast of Easter

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If you will allow me, I have written here a personal reflection. It is 6 pm local time and in a little while, I will make my way to the church to celebrate Holy Thursday. Those who are acquainted with the FCJ story will know that Holy Thursday is an especially significant feast, marking the foundation of the Society.

It was last year that I did the Nineteenth Annotation of the Spiritual Exercises, a grace of the Spirit and a fruit that my work with the Sisters of the Asia-Australia Province has brought. It was during the Third Week that I had made a profound personal connection in the reading (prayer) material.

In the gospel passage for Holy Thursday, we hear that Jesus “took off his outer robe” (NRSV). He then picks up the towel and begins to wash the feet of his disciples. (John 13:4) My experience with biblical exegesis is basic at best, but what I did pick up on was that the word in the original Koine Greek is the same word that John the evangelist uses in his discourse on the Good Shepherd in chapter 10. Please note that I have yet to recover the sources from which I gathered the information that lead to such a conclusion, but significant enough for now is what it means to me. When Jesus lays down his outer garment, it is symbolic (as John’s gospel likes to be!) of his coming death, where he would lay his life down on the Cross. Jesus, after all, is the Good Shepherd, which by the way, is another section of our faith tradition that is found only in John’s gospel!

Fast-forward then, to the present moment. Something was stirring inside of me – I could not (cannot) let go of that connection between Jesus washing the feet of his disciples (the role of the servant) and laying his life down for us. From this perspective, they are both one and the same. What’s more is that Jesus calls us to do the same: ‘”So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also out to wash one another’s feet.”‘ (John 13:14)

But still the stirring would not go away. I did what any person of my generation would do these days when I wanted to do some research: I googled it. I typed in “Jesus takes off his outer robe”, and sure enough, I came upon a reflection by L’Arche founder Jean Vanier.

I have included the following section and have highlighted what spoke to me as I read it, bearing in mind that there are only hours in the Easter Triduum, only hours between one feast to the next. Only hours between celebrating the institution of the Eucharist with a living, breathing, foot-washing Jesus, and the one who we will crucify (as is traditional among the congregation to voice the role of the crowd in the Good Friday service). It is only hours from that horrific and disturbing account of death and when we celebrate new life on Easter morning!

So here is Jean Vanier, with layers and layers of wisdom and depth:

We had also welcomed into that house, Eric. Eric had lived for 12 years in the psychiatric hospital. He was blind, he was deaf, he couldn’t walk, and he couldn’t feed himself. He was a man with an immense amount of anguish — a man who wanted to die. In the psychiatric hospital the nurses rather avoided him because he wasn’t gratifying, he could do nothing.

He came to our community, and in him there was this terrible desire to die. He vomited everything that he ate. He was just in immense anguish and immense pain. (I mentioned this afternoon Moses with his pain.) But with Eric it was even more painful. His anguish and his desire to die were evident.

I said that, for us in L’Arche or in Faith and Light, our mission in welcoming Eric is to help him to move from the desire to die to a desire to live. We want him to move from a feeling of being no good to a sense of his value and his worth — from a feeling of guilt to a feeling of trust.

I said this afternoon that the only way…[is through] the transforming power of love. Through that love which reveals that you are beautiful; love that understands your pain and your needs; love which celebrates; love which empowers and calls you to be and to be yourself; and a love that forgives.

But for Eric, how will this be revealed to him? He is blind and he is deaf. So the only way of communication with Eric is through our hands. These are the incredible hands that we have been given by Jesus — hands that give security; hands that give peace; hands that manifest love. But hands that also can hurt; can take; can abuse.

I had the privilege of giving Eric his bath every morning. … This was a fragile little man of 16. And through our hands (because it was not just me, but those of our community together) we revealed to him that he is beautiful.

We are to touch people with a deep respect — to touch them with tenderness. Our hands, and not just our voices, may become vehicles of the love of Jesus. The Word became flesh, that our flesh may become word. Our flesh, through the power of the Holy Spirit, can reveal to people their value — that they are cherished and loved by God.

Our hands are, in some mysterious way, a source of revelation of communion. Jesus, as he knelt down in front of the feet of his disciples, knows that tomorrow he will be dead. But he wants to have with each disciple a moment. Not just to say goodbye.

Up until now he has just talked with the group. When you talk with a whole group you don’t have that individual contact with each person. Jesus wants that contact with each one of these people. He wants to touch them — to touch their feet; to touch their bodies; to touch them with tenderness and love. Maybe to each one he says a word; maybe looks each one in the eye. There is a moment of communion.

So there is communion through the Body of Christ, where Jesus says “do this in memory of me.” But there is also this communion as he kneels at their feet. And later he will say “I have done this as an example for you. And what I have done to you, you must do one to another.” So this is a gesture of communion, of tenderness.

For the full article, please click here. And as we move into Holy Thursday, Good Friday and the Easter Vigil, let us remember that wherever we are, whoever we are and however we are, we are to touch people (and let people touch us) with deep respect and reverence, the same kind of reverence shown to the body that is then laid in the tomb.

G. Anderson, 2013.

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Editor’s note: I wrote the above reflection last year, but it remained unpublished. Here it is now, as it was then, for your consideration. All viewpoints are strictly my own.

Blessings for your journey into Easter, from all of us at Keeping Company and the FCJ Mission and Identity Team.

Holy Thursday 2014: Welcoming the Outsider, Restoring Relationship

Holy Thursday has a special place in the hearts of all who know and love the charism of the Faithful Companions of Jesus. For the sisters, it is also the feast or foundation day, as Patricia Grogan fcJ describes:

As [Marie Madeleine] dwelt on the great love of her Lord on the mysteries of his paschal meal, passion and death, she gave him her heart, her soul and her entire being, consecrating herself at the foot of the cross to the work for which God had been so long preparing her. In this hidden way, in the silence of her heart, the Society of the Faithful Companions of Jesus was born.| P. Grogan fcJ, God’s Faithful Instrument, p.75

With this in mind, I offer the following for your reflection.

I wrote recently about this year’s Palm Sunday being a Palm Sunday like no other. The same is also true for Holy Week.

Earlier in the week, I was speaking to a friend who visits refugees at a detention centre. He mentioned in passing that he had taken in food for them, so I asked why, thinking, “Don’t they have enough to eat?”

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Image: Upper Room, acrylic on canvas. Copyright Gail Meyer.

We celebrate the Eucharistic meal at every Mass. It is familiar to us who practise our faith, but it can also mean that we forget its significance and meaning in its origins. The Gospel reading for Holy Thursday says that it was during supper (John 13:2) that Jesus got up and began to wash the feet of his disciples. It is during this meal that Jesus 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. (John 13:14-15)

The Washing of the Feet, as many have rightly interpreted, is about humility and selfless service, aspects found in the Eucharistic meal. But it is also about justice, about restoring right relationship among people. Ron Rolheiser offers the following:

The Eucharist, among other things, calls us to justice, to dissolve the distinction between rich and poor, noble and peasant, aristocrat and servant, both around the Eucharist table itself and afterwards, outside of the church. The Eucharist fulfills what Mary prophesied when she was pregnant with Jesus – namely that, in Jesus, the mighty would be brought down and the lowly would be raised up.

…The Eucharistic table is a table of social non-distinction, a place to which the rich and the poor are called to be together beyond all class and status. | Ronald Rolheiser, Our One Great Act of Fidelity (2011), p.73-74)

In response to my question, my friend explained to me that it originated with the bringing of fruit – fruits like rambutan or durian, reminders of home’s comforts; or grapes, a luxury item for them, though inexpensive for Australians. He then recounted an incident where he brought in steamed dim sims (dumplings) and the group enjoyed them with their own mix of fish sauce, garlic and chili.

As I listened to the stories my friend told me, I found myself extremely moved. It’s one thing to read the stories and reports of refugees and those detained inhumanely on Nauru and Manus Island, but it’s another thing to hear from someone who has been in contact with them.

He told me that he had met with a group of asylum seekers, who on their arrival to Australia would eventually become the last group to do so, since the day on which they arrived was the same in which the Abbott government brought in the ‘boat turn-back’ policy. My friend also told me how a husband, wife and their baby who was 8-months’ old on arrival recently “had their one-year anniversary”, and also how detainees face negative consequences for conversing with Australians at the compound’s fence.

I began to weep, my heart heavy with grief for these people and for the state in which we find ourselves as Australians. I do not write this to burden you but to show you the realities of what is going on around us. Whether or not you feel passionately about the issues concerning asylum seekers, it cannot be denied that such is a “contemporary cross.” And in line with the Chapter Decree of the Faithful Companions of Jesus, we are to be “channels of hope, love and mercy in our villages, towns and cities” by standing at the foot of these contemporary crosses.

The symbol of a cross was not always the hope of the resurrection Christians recognise today. It was a mark of shame, persecution and death. Jesus Christ changed all that. With this in mind, where do you see in your world, contemporary crosses? What can you do to change things from destruction into life? What hope can you bring to the world? In what ways, great or small, do you restore right relationship in your care for the poor, the marginalised and those on the outside?

As we journey into the holy mystery of the Easter Triduum, may we remember each other, not as this person or that, but as an equal member of the Body of Christ, as one part to a unified whole.

Keeping Company

Conversing with the refugees | Image source: DASSAN