VATICAN CITY, APRIL 15, 2006 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the homily Benedict XVI gave during the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, on Holy Thursday, which he celebrated in the Basilica of St. John Lateran.
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“Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end” (John 13:1). God loves his creature, man. He also loves him in his fall and does not abandon him to his fate. He loves to the end. With his love he goes to the end, to the extreme: He descends from his divine glory. He strips himself of his divine glory and takes the clothing of a slave. He descends to the lowest of our fall. He kneels before us and offers us the service of a slave. He washes our dirty feet so that we can be presentable at God’s table, so that we will be worthy to sit at his table, something that on our own we could never and would never do.
God is not a remote God, too remote and great to be concerned with our trifles. Given that he is great, he can be interested in our trifles. Given that he is great, the soul of man, the same man created by eternal love, is not something small, but great and worthy of his love. God’s holiness is not only an incandescent power, before which we must be terrified. He is the power of love and, for this reason; he is a purifying and regenerating power.
God comes down and makes himself a slave, washes our feet so that we may sit at his table. In this is expressed the whole mystery of Christ. In this the meaning of redemption is made visible. The bath in which he cleanses us is his love ready to face death. Only love has that purifying force that removes our filth and raises us to the heights of God. He himself is the bath that purifies us, who gives himself totally to us to the point of touching the depth of his suffering and death. And he is constantly that love that cleanses us in the sacraments of purification — baptism and penance — he kneels continually at our feet and offers us the service of a slave, the service of purification; he makes us capable of God. His love is inexhaustible; he really goes to the end.
“You are clean, but not all of you,” says the Lord (John 13:10). In this phrase the great gift of purification is revealed that he offers us, as he wants to sit at table together with us, to become our food. “But not all”; there is the dark mystery of rejection, which with what happened to Judas is made present and must make us reflect in fact on this Holy Thursday, the day in which Jesus gives himself to us. The Lord’s love knows no limits, but man can put a limit to it.
“You are clean, but not all of you.” What makes man filthy? The rejection of love, not wanting to be loved, not loving. Arrogance, which believes it has no need of purification, which closes itself to God’s saving goodness.
Arrogance does not want to confess and recognize that we are in need of purification. In Judas, we see the nature of this rejection in an even clearer way. He judges Jesus according to the categories of power and success. For him, only the reality of power and success exist, love does not count at all. And he is avid: Money is more import than communion with Jesus, more important than God and his love. In this way, he becomes also a liar, he plays the game of double jeopardy with truth; he lives in lies and loses the sense of the supreme truth, God. Thus he is hardened, makes himself incapable of conversion, of beginning the confident return of the prodigal son, and throws a destroyed life away.
“You are clean, but not all of you.” The Lord warns us today in the face of that self-sufficiency that puts a limit to his unlimited love. He invites us to imitate his humility, to trust in it, to let ourselves be “infected” by it. He invites us to return home no matter how lost we feel and to let his purifying goodness raise us and makes us enter the communion of the table with him, with God himself.
Let us reflect with one more phrase from this inexhaustible Gospel passage: “I have given you an example” (John 13:15), that “you also ought to wash one another’s feet” (John 13:14). In what does washing “one another’s feet” consist? What does it mean, specifically? Every good work for the other — especially for one who suffers and one who is little appreciated — is a service of washing of the feet. The Lord calls us to this: to come down, to learn humility and the courage of goodness, as well as the willingness to accept rejection, trusting however in goodness and persevering in it.
But there is still a more profound dimension. The Lord removes our filth with the purifying force of his goodness. To wash one another’s feet means, above all, to forgive one another tirelessly, to always begin again, though it might seem useless. It means to purify one another by enduring each other mutually and accepting that others endure us; to purify one another, giving one another mutually the sanctifying force of the Word of God and introducing ourselves in the sacrament of divine love.
The Lord purifies us and for this reason we dare to sit at his table. Let us pray that he give all of us the grace to be able to be guests one day and forever at the everlasting nuptial banquet. Amen!
[Translation by ZENIT]