Here is the text of the homily by Patriarch Fouad Twal of Jerusalem for today’s Mass of the Lord’s Supper.
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Excellencies, dear Fathers and Sisters, dear Pilgrims, and to all our faithful: a Happy Feast.
On this Holy Thursday, we gather here in Jerusalem, just a few hundred metres from the Cenacle, with Christ and His disciples, at the moment chosen by Jesus to institute the sacraments of Holy Orders and the Eucharist.
As Saint John Vianney, the Cure of Ars said, “The priesthood is the love of the heart of Jesus.” This beautiful, clear expression helps us call to mind with affection and gratitude, the immense gift of the priesthood and the consecrated life, not only for the Church, but also for humanity “A good pastor, a pastor after the heart of God, is the greatest treasure which the good Lord can bestow on a parish, and is one of the most precious gifts of divine mercy.”
Now we are at the dawn of a new pontificate with Pope Francis, the Pope of the poor, who, following the example of the Master himself, began his pontificate with a beautiful gesture of humility and simplicity by asking the faithful to pray for him. We know how daunting his task is: the Vatican, the Church and priests have been the focus of media attention, because of divisions and scandals, and often also due to malicious intent. On this Holy Thursday, let us take to heart in our prayer, of asking God’s help to purify our Church, our hearts and our intentions.
In times gone by in the East, the washing of feet was common because of the dust from the roads. When a traveller returns from a trip, one was often presented with a basin of water to wash the feet or to be washed by the lowliest servant. On the evening of Holy Thursday, when Jesus and his disciples arrive at the place for their meal, it is he, the Master and Lord, who acts as the lowliest of servants toward his disciples. Peter initially resists, but Jesus endows this “act” with a particular meaning. It is not simply an act of humility and devotion, but the symbol of spiritual purification, without which Peter would not take part in salvation (v.8). Finally Peter understands this gesture better and asks to be “completely washed”. Dear friends, there is a bit of Saint Peter in each one of us. He had more confidence in his own thoughts and actions than to believe in God’s plan … and he was as ready to die for the Lord as he was to deny Him out of fear or shame.
Let us also pray for our Church, for our Holy Land and for the entire Middle East, that the Lord may wash us of all the dust of divisions, infidelity, injustice and the thirst for power.
“For I have set you an example, that you should also do as I have done to you” (v. 15). Jesus instituted a practice to be regularly renewed. He presses us to rediscover a deep and real humility in our lives, especially in this Year of Faith.
This faith that we share has its summit in the Eucharist. The washing of the feet and the institution of the Eucharist in the Cenacle are deeply bound together. In the Eucharist, Jesus puts himself at our service in an even greater way than washing our feet. He nourishes us with his own flesh and his own blood. He washes our interior and cleanses our souls. He consoles us; he gives us strength to carry out our daily tasks and to follow him as one of his disciples. Here in the Middle East, to be a disciple of Christ is a vocation of the cross. Our hearts bleed to see Syria sink ever further into violence that can have no name other than the folly of men. Our Middle East is suffering cruelly in its innermost being. And I say, that politicians will continually fall short in bringing about democracy and justice while our Holy Land is in the state of conflict that is tearing it apart: peace in the Holy Land is the key to peace in the Middle East.
In the Middle East, we are a Church of Calvary whose hope is in the resurrection and whose strength lies in the Eucharist. Jesus gives us the strength to continue living in this “valley of tears.” Abide in me as I in you” (Jn 15:4) With him, and in communion with the many friends of the Holy Land, we are not alone. As pastor of the little flock of Christians who live in the Holy Land, who suffer in this Promised Land, who cannot even worship the Real Presence of our Lord in the holy places, including the Cenacle, I invite you to remember the first Christian community of Jerusalem, who was very modest, but who found courage, strength and hope only in the presence of Christ. We too can bring our worries, our fears and our sufferings in the Eucharist.
Dear brothers and sisters of the Holy Land, dear pilgrims of peace, “more than ever, our troubled world, which began the new Millennium with the spectre of terrorism and the tragedy of war, demands that Christians learn to experience the Eucharist as a great school of peace.” (Mane Vobiscum Domine, 27). Yes, the real help exists in prayer and the recognition of our Lord in the Eucharist.
I appeal to you, Christians of the Holy Land and pilgrims, to become true worshippers who partake regularly of the Eucharist, to have the force to build a just society for an enduring peace. The marvelous work of charity of the Christian communities, parishes and Caritas in Jordan in their aid of Syrian refugees already bear witness to what can be achieved.
During Pope Benedict’s visit to Lebanon and the signing of Apostolic Exhortation “Ecclesia in Medio Oriente” in Harissa on September 14, 2012, he said: “Churches of the Middle East, fear not, for the Lord is truly with you, to the close of the age! Fear not, because the universal Church walks at your side and is humanly and spiritually close to you!”
I wish you that you all go with joy and humility to meet the Lord in the Holy Eucharist and to experience and live as He calls you with His words: “And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age” (Mt 28:20).
+ Fouad Twal, Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem