God calls but he also cares – Holy Thursday
What would happen if someone were to see Tom Brady serving Gatorade on the sideline to the trainers? Everybody would be amazed. Why is he doing this? He is possibly the greatest quarterback of all time, and here, we see him serving Gatorade to men and women whose function is to take care of the players. It seems a bit startling. He would be the highest-paid "water-boy" in the history of football.
Something even more impressive and startling happened Holy Thursday at the Last Supper. Being Lord and leader of the band of apostles, Jesus got down on his hands and knees to wash the feet of the apostles. Jewish custom had it that the servant of the house would wash the feet of the guests upon arriving. The servant would wipe off the dust and grime of Jerusalem, so the guests could enjoy their meal, feeling clean. Sometimes, if the house had no servants, the master of the house would himself perform the task. Here, it is Jesus, Lord and Creator of the Universe, who humbles himself to take care of the apostles.
Jesus gives us an essential lesson about vocation. God calls, and he also cares. He calls to a mission. Every time there is a vocation or calling to a specific individual in the Old Testament, God always connects the vocation to a mission. Abraham is called to go to a new land and father a new people. Moses responds to God's call by leading Israel out of Egypt. Isaiah receives the call to prophesy in difficult times and help maintain national identity. God calls, but he also cares. He takes care of each person that he calls.
The Last Supper demonstrates the call and care of God for each vocation. Jesus, who has called these twelve men together, takes care of them. He kneels and washes their feet. It is a gesture of humble service that echoes through the centuries. In Christianity, leaders are called to serve.
The call takes place within the context of community. The men are not called to be alone. They are called to be together and to work together. The Second Vatican Council taught that "the office of pastor is not confined to the care of the faithful as individuals, but also in a true sense is extended to the formation of a genuine Christian community." (Presbyterorum Ordinis, 6) Community is an essential part of every vocation, not only religious vocations. Priests can be diocesan or religious. Diocesan priests do not necessarily reside in community. However, they share in the pastoral ministry of the bishop, and their priesthood flows from him. This communion imitates the community begun by Christ with his disciples. It is a community, not of equality in dignity, but an overflow of love and unity in the mission.
Some people balk at the presence of hierarchy, an order of dignity, within the Church. However, they fail to notice that on a spiritual plane, the hierarchy dissipates into the background as the emphasis is on the greatness of love and appreciation that is present. Jesus presides at table, but he begins by leading through washing their feet.
The call takes place in the context of service. Service is an essential element of the priestly vocation.
St. John Paul II pointed out that the priest has a human character and "comes from the human community and is at its service, imitating Jesus Christ" (Pastores Dabo Vobis, 5). The mission of the ministerial priesthood is always at the service of the community. The priest does not exist unto himself but is always at the service of God and his people. Just as Jesus chose to serve the apostles, the priest is called to serve his collaborators. He is called to kneel and wash their feet. This gesture is played out at the Mass of the Last Supper. It is a decisive moment, both for the community and for the priest.
In a similar fashion to the moment of consecration, he is acting "in the person of Christ," "in persona Christi." Through the priest, Jesus makes himself present once again and washes the feet of his believers. The humble action of the priest shows God's humility, who chooses to come and serve, rather than lord over the people.
Jesus models selflessness. Today's world encourages young men to be individualistic and focused on themselves. Jesus proposes something different with his example. "Jesus encourages selfless generosity, to pave our way toward a much greater joy, the joy of partaking in the very love of God who awaits us, all of us, at the heavenly banquet." (Pope Francis, Angelus, 1 September 2019)
The world seeks to exalt the individual and his cares and likes. Jesus shows with his own life the beauty of the Gospel passage from Matthew: "Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted." (Mt. 23:12) Jesus humbles himself and will suffer greater ignominy on the cross. His humiliation will be turned to exaltation forever when he rises from the dead in victory over death.
The world teaches us to seek ourselves and our happiness. Jesus teaches us to seek him. Our happiness arrives when we are not looking for it. Our joy comes when we embrace the cross in our lives.
The paradox of the Gospel comes from the fact that it shows faith's beauty while discovering the truth of human existence. The Gospel does not go against our human reality but challenges what we perceive to be reality. God's call implies sacrifice and self-giving but promises as well immense joy.
Link to the video: https://youtu.be/6yQub9sURqw
Link to the podcast: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/formation-matters/id1547116925?uo=4