"Before the feast of the Passover, Jesus, knowing that his hour had come, the hour to pass from this world to his Father, he, who had loved his own who are in the world, loved them to the end" (John 13:1) Every time I read these words from John's gospel, I am moved. Long before the disciples made the preparations for the Last Supper, the evangelist set the table for us to enter into the greatest mystery of love.
For members of a secular institute, these words of the beloved disciple carry great meaning because this extreme love is addressed first of all to "his own who are in the world". More than 2,000 years after that last supper, we are today his disciple-missionaries in the midst of the world... and He loves us to the very end by washing our feet, by dying, by rising again!
To the Very End... By Taking a Basin of Water
It is easy to imagine the emotion of Jesus seeing his disciples gathered around him. He takes off his garment, girded himself with a cloth, took a basin of water and began to wash the feet of each of his disciples. In a contemplative silence, kneeling at their feet, Jesus takes the time to look at each of his own. He washes their feet to prepare them for the great mission of going "to the crossroads" to invite all those they find to the wedding feast (cf. Matthew 22:9). What an emotion he felt for Andrew, James and John, the first people he met on the lakeshore. What special tenderness he feels for Judas, knowing that tonight his heart is tortured and he will soon leave... And Peter - poor Peter! - who always asks for more and yet has already received so much!
Two thousand years ago, Jesus was washing the feet of Philip, Bartholomew and Jude. But he also washed the feet of Mario, Frank, Marcia and Jane. Jesus was washing your feet to prepare you for the great mission that is yours. As he said in the Upper Room, "Do you understand what I have done for you? (...) You must wash one another's feet, for I have given you an example: so that as I have done for you, you should also do" (Jn 13:12.14-15). This is the call to the mission of solidarity, an even more urgent call especially in these times of pandemic.
This year I will miss very much this moving gesture of washing and kissing the feet of men and women.... It is probably one of the most significant gestures each year in my life as a priest. But, because of the pandemic, we are all obliged to live our service and solidarity in a more concrete way. Being close to others is done every day by calling a person we know to be alone and isolated. Reaching out becomes an errand that we accept to do for an elderly person. Becoming a listener allows us to support men and women who are experiencing anguish, anxiety and fear. And the miracle is revealed when these gestures are not limited to Holy Thursday; every day is given to us as a Holy Thursday grace to be renewed daily... even in the post-covid-19 period!
To the Very End... In the Total Giving of One's Life.
Who hasn't been moved by the beauty of the crucifix of the Basilica of San Marcello in St. Peter's Square on March 27th? This simple but beautiful cross, dating from the 15th century and having survived a fire, invited us to meditation. Like the cross on Golgotha 2000 years ago, this crucifix called for great silence...
Raindrops were falling on the corpus of the crucifix in Rome... But in Jerusalem, it was his blood that Jesus shed for mankind. "One has no greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends" (John 15:13). These words, which became reality through his gift on the cross, still resound in the world.
As members of secular institutes, we have heard them as a true call to go to the very end, to the extreme in our love. Like the Master, we have accepted in advance the part of the cross as our participation in the great witness of love. We are there, in the heart of the world, as witnesses that death will not have the last word, because hope still lives!
In a letter to the Poor Clares of Assisi on March 25, Cardinal Marc Ouellet, Prefect of the Congregation of Bishops, evoked the memory of Saint Teresa Benedict of the Cross (Edith Stein). This woman accepted to participate in the cross of her brothers and sisters. She wrote these words on September 14, 1939: "Can you hear the groans of the wounded on the battlefields? Do you hear the moans of agony of the dying? Do the wailing, thirst and pain of humans move you? Do you want to be close to them, to help them, comfort them, and heal their deepest wounds? Embrace Christ. If you are united with him nuptially, his blood will flow through your veins, his blood that heals, redeems, sanctifies, and saves. In union with Him, you will be present in all places of pain and hope."
These words cannot leave us indifferent... Let us embrace Christ! Our yes to the lowly and the poor, our yes to the mission, our yes to the Gospel calls us to a more and more total giving of ourselves every day, to the very end. And then the cross will become the source of life!
To the Very End... By a Promise of Life
On Easter morning, it is a woman, Mary Magdalene, who "goes to the tomb early in the morning. It was still dark" (John 20:1). In the lives of our loved ones, often all we see is the darkness of despair and helplessness, even if the light is already there.
This woman - like us - seeks Him whom her heart loves... but He is not there. Distraught, she runs to the disciples to tell them what she has discovered. They start running towards the tomb. Will they be able to see what she does not see? Will they meet the one they've been waiting for? Returning home empty-handed, without believing these "women's stories", they lock themselves in the Upper Room.
But Mary Magdalene is the woman of stubborn hope. She stays close to the tomb. Even in tears, she waits because she believes. And suddenly an encounter changes everything. "Woman, why do you weep? Who are you looking for?" (John 20:15). Hearing her name, she rushes to embrace him, as if never to lose the love of her life again...
But Jesus invites her to much more than just an intimistic reaction. Instead, He sends her to the disciples to tell them the good news of the resurrection. She becomes the apostle of the apostles to proclaim the victory of life over death.
In these difficult times, when many are tempted to shut themselves in, to close themselves in, we are called to love to the very end because we are bearers, like Mary Magdalene, of a promise of life. Men and women of faith, hope and charity, we are responsible for proclaiming this gospel of life to every person, by 100,000 means! Having met the Risen Christ, let us dare to proclaim Him as the One who makes all things new! He is risen! His resurrection is the pledge and promise of new life for all men and women on earth! It is up to each one of us, members of secular institutes, to proclaim this Good News!
Let Yourself be Embraced by Christ!
We sing it at the Easter Vigil: "O night of true happiness, you alone could know this hour when Christ rose from hell. Of you it was written: "The night shall shine as the day. The night itself is light for my joy." These words resound to us like a glorious chorus.
In the midst of a world that seems extinguished, despite the Spring that shines with all its fires, we are called to be these watchmen who sing for joy at the first light of day. May our hope be strengthened from day to day by allowing ourselves to be embraced by Christ. He will whisper softly in our ears and in our hearts: "Do not be afraid, go and tell my brothers and sisters that they must go into Galilee; there they will see me" (Matthew 28:10).
Let us set out for the Galilee of our world. He is there, waiting for us! And so it will be a joyful and glorious Easter every day!