“If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet.” (John 13:14)
I have presided at the Mass of the Lord’s Supper before, but never as the pastor of a parish. On this day in which we gather to celebrate the institution of the priesthood and the Eucharist, I was surrounded by four brother priests, two deacons, and roughly 1,700 parishioners who crowded into our church, some arriving 90 minutes early, to do what the Lord commanded us to do. I didn’t write a homily. I took my cue from Pope Francis and preached off the cuff (with some prepared mental notes). I don’t remember what I said just barely two hours ago, but I will endeavor to reconstruct what I preached during an emotional evening in which I washed the feet of a wonderful group of 12 people selected by our deacon that included a blind man, a man in a wheelchair, several of our sick, and a young man who was once in seminary with me. Indeed, very emotional:
Two days ago, all the priests of the Archdiocese of Miami gathered with Archbishop Wenski at the cathedral for the Chrism Mass in which we renew our priestly promises and bless the oils that we use to anoint and sanctify the people of God. This morning our Holy Father talked about the importance of priests anointing God’s people with the oil of gladness as an essential part of our priestly ministry: “A good priest can be recognized by the way his people are anointed: this is a clear proof. When our people are anointed with the oil of gladness, it is obvious: for example, when they leave Mass looking as if they have heard good news.”
He challenged his priests to go out to the outskirts to find the people of God where they are at: “We need to “go out”, then, in order to experience our own anointing, its power and its redemptive efficacy: to the “outskirts” where there is suffering, bloodshed, blindness that longs for sight, and prisoners in thrall to many evil masters…This I ask you: be shepherds, with the “odor of the sheep”, make it real, as shepherds among your flock, fishers of men.”
This part of the “odor of the sheep” is what stood out for me during the pope’s beautifully constructed homily. As a priest, I am called to go out and to be among the people not to sit behind a desk and manage a parish. I must be among the flock, carrying the wounded lambs, searching for the lost ones, and washing the feet of the poorest among us. As a church, as a parish, as a people of God, this must be our first priority: to seek out those who are lost, those who have fallen away and share with them the oil of gladness that we have received. The Holy Father spoke at great lengths this morning about the pouring forth of oil that has its roots in the Old Testament with Aaron the high priest. In Psalm 133, the oil is poured upon Aaron’s head and runs down his beard and his robes. We too have been anointed with that oil at baptism with the sacred chrism that takes away the odor of sin and leaves with a sacred fragrance. But the oil gives us much more than fragrance, the Holy Father tells us, it goes to the edges of the robe and pours forth to anoint the people entrusted to a priest’s care.
Without personal merit, the Good Lord and the archbishop have entrusted all of you to my care and I pray that during the last five months that I have anointed you with this oil of gladness. The thing is that the fragrance that I sense in this church tonight, this fragrance of faith and holiness, is what sustains me as a priest. Your prayers, your rosaries, your novenas, your holy hours, all the things you do as a holy people of God and as individuals to show your love for your priests lifts my faith and makes me want to be a better priest and a better shepherd of souls.
There is no better life than the life of a priest! Every day I break open the word for you and feed you what Jesus gave us 2000 years ago on this very night. I am so blessed to belong to such a vibrant and faith-filled community. And so now, I will do what the Master did so that you might do the same. We must wash each other’s feet. This means that we must go out and start knocking on doors and telling people that we are so very proud of our parish, that we are so very proud to be Catholic that we want them to experience the same joy that we experience. So as we walk with Jesus during this Holy Week, we must do what he did and go to the outskirts where those ignored by society live…and bring them back home! “If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet.” (John 13:14)