Holy Thursday, Mass of the Lord’s Supper, March 29, 2018
Fr. Forlano, St. Stanislaus Parish
A priest is someone who touches the holy every day. I celebrate Mass at least once and usually twice every day. I have rounds at the hospital twice a week and usually anoint 6 – 10 people each time I go. We hear a lot of confessions. A funeral is a major event in a family’s life, but it is not odd that I could celebrate 3 – 5 funeral Masses or services in one week. With less frequency, the same thing happens with weddings. For the couple, it’s probably the most important day in their life together. For me, in almost 15 years as a priest, I’m sure I’ve witnessed at least 150 weddings or blessings of marriages. As human beings, even the most sacred or important events can become just part of a routine when they are done repeatedly. We can take the holy for granted. When we are around something special day in and day out, we can forget how awesome it is. Familiarity might not breed contempt, but it could easily lead to looking at these important things in life with indifference or just reducing them simply to a task or a thing that I have to do. It happens in marriage as well. The newlywed couple is eager to serve his or her spouse. It is a joy to prepare a meal or even clean the house or paint a room because of the love for the other person, but after a few years (or less), life becomes a routine, the spouse is taken for granted, and all those tasks become burdensome.
Sometimes the Lord allows something to happen in our lives that reminds us what life is all about. This happened to me two Sundays ago. It was a usual Sunday. I had several Masses. I had the baptisms after the 11:00 Mass, and after the Spanish Mass, we had a committee meeting with the Hispanic Community – a meeting that lasted about 2 hours. It was around 5:00 p.m. when I finished that meeting. There was a message in my box. A call came in at 12:15 in the afternoon from a family seeking last rites for their mother. She was in the ICU at the hospital. I was celebrating the baptism at the time, so the receptionist couldn’t get me the message. I went right from the baptism to the Spanish Mass and then right into the meeting. I called the number back and got a voicemail and left a message and my cell number. I said that I would head over to the hospital, but please call if she has already been seen by another priest. As I was about to leave the office, my phone rang. The family still needed a priest. I was at the hospital in 5 minutes. The woman was surrounded by her family. She was in distress and breathing heavily with an oxygen mask. Her face was red – totally flushed. We said an act of contrition, I gave her absolution, anointed her, and gave her the apostolic pardon for the remission of all temporal punishments in this life and the life to come. As I said the prayers, the redness left her face. I then prayed the prayer of commendation of the dying. As I was praying the litany of the saints, the nurse indicated to the family that her vitals were dropping. I skipped to the prayer of commendation. The nurse took off the breathing mask. I then led the family in the rosary and in the middle of the decade of the Assumption, the woman breathed her last. We finished the Rosary, and then I prayed the prayers for the dead. The daughter said when we concluded, “Father, you got here just in time.” I said, “No. I didn’t. Your mother was waiting for Jesus.” That was not the first time I’ve experienced a death like that and the almost immediate calm that comes over a person after receiving the prayers and the sacraments, even when the person has been unconscious or unresponsive for several days.
That visit in the hospital reminded me that being a priest is about bringing Jesus to people. Bringing his saving grace to people. It is through the priest that we encounter Jesus today. Jesus instituted the priesthood and the Eucharist so that everybody, here and now, can experience his saving action, his mercy and love and nearness to us that allows us to live in freedom and pass from death to a newness of life. When Jesus says at the Last Supper, “Do this in remembrance of me” he does not mean simply calling to mind a memory of a past event, but in the celebration of the Eucharist, the saving presence and action of Jesus, his death on the cross, is re-presented, i.e., made present to us today. It was very moving to me to see Jesus’ love and care for this woman in her need, and that I was an instrument of Christ’s action – that he used me to communicate his grace. It is a reminder that the priesthood is not about me, but what Christ is working in the world through me. He allows me to give something that doesn’t come from myself. It is a reminder of the continuation of the Incarnation – that God continues to work through his body the church to communicate his life. Others experience the nearness of God through our weak humanity. Christ continues to depend on our flesh to communicate his grace and for others to encounter him. He continues to work through a human encounter.
We are saved by remembering. We are saved by the presence of God among us today. It is for this reason why the Church, which doesn’t ask for much, asks us to come to Mass every eight days. We need to be in his presence. We need to be reminded of his saving action. We need to be fed and sent forth. But Jesus needs you and me – all of the baptized – he needs our humanity. This shows his continued humility. He wanted to be with that woman as she was dying, but he needed me to get my body over to the hospital. He wants to come to us in the Eucharist, but that won’t happen unless I get myself out of bed in the morning and come over to the church. But when we are reminded of how God works – the humble way he works, how he stoops down to us to “wash our feet”, we become eager to participate in this mystery, to go and to see what the Lord will do. Jesus says to Peter, “What I am doing, you do not understand now, but you will understand later.” We understand when we become willing to wash one another’s feet – to let go of notions of superiority and go where the Lord asks us to go. We can love one another in this way when we remember how much God loves us.
Priesthood, Eucharist, and charity – loving as God has loved us – they don’t work apart from each other. We remember these mysteries today and how God continues to work in our lives. May we realize what Christ has done for us, now, and forever.