Thursday, April 09, 2009

"As I have done..."

Tonight the Paschal Triduum begins: three (really four) days of the most concentrated Catholic liturgical life--really, more than the calendar days can even handle. Most dioceses transfer the Chrism Mass (which would be celebrated today) to an earlier day this week. On reflecting, I don't know if that's good or less so: maybe the liturgy wants to overwhelm us with symbols and actions and the most meaningful prayers and rituals, so that we grasp at least in some way that this is more than we can grasp.
Be that as it may... nobody reschedules the "Evening Mass of the Lord's Supper" with its twofold focus on the "Mandatum" ("I give you a new commandment: Love one another as I have loved you") and the Institution of the Eucharist (and with it, the priesthood). And both are summed up in the washing of feet.
I wrote an essay on this Gospel scene a year or two ago; pretty typical. But I started to worry that some people, especially women, might take Jesus' example in the wrong way, and use it as a pious reason to let themselves be abused or trampled on by demanding people. Without a healthy sense of self-esteem, some might read Jesus' example as mere self-abasement. But Jesus explicitly recalls his own superior status: "You address me as teacher and Lord, and rightly so, for that is what I am." Jesus conducts this service of love, not from a position of neurotic self-hate, lack of self-esteem or other such motivations, but from a standpoint of remarkable self-possession and confidence.
The focus, the point, is all about love. This is what Jesus insisted on: love one another as I have loved you. What he did was give them a very graphic example of that love, love as the "sincere gift of self." Gifts cannot be extorted, no more than love can. And there are some sacrifices that only God can ask of (or inspire in) a person. That's what the whole Triduum is telling us: God so loved the world...

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