"If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet." (John 13:14)
Around Tuesday afternoon, I had already in my mind figured out the central theme for my homily for this Mass of the Lord's Supper. I wanted to speak in general terms more or less about how at ordination, priests are anointed with the oil of gladness to share with their people. Well, first thing this morning when I woke up, even before offering up my morning prayer, I reached for my iPad so that I could read Pope Francis' Holy Thursday Chrism Mass homily to his priests and wouldn't you know it, some of his first words were: "The Lord has anointed us with the oil of gladness." Later that morning, I was buying incense for tonight's Mass at the Daughters of St. Paul and jokingly told one of the sisters, "Sister, I think the Pope is stealing my material." Obviously, this is the work of the Holy Spirit! There is a central message that the Spirit wants all of priests: from the Pope to this lowly priest to share. Tonight we gather to celebrate the institution of the priesthood and of the Eucharist. Jesus offered us the great example in tonight's gospel when he bowed before his disciples and washed their feet. As the Holy Father pointed out, Jesus took on the task of a slave. He gave us a shining example of how to serve others. The Eucharist, like the priesthood, becomes the sacrament of total self-giving. Just as Christ offers himself at this altar every time we gather to celebrate this sacred mysteries, so too we are called to offer ourselves as our Lord did.
As a priest and a pastor, this evening takes on special significance for me because I get to do what the Lord did with his disciples. I get to express my love for all of you in a very real way in just a few minutes when I will kneel before 12 of our brothers and sisters and wash, dry and kiss their feet. As a priest, I was anointed with the oil of gladness, the Holy Father points out, so that I may anoint you with the oil of gladness. And this oil, this sweet, sweet oil contains such a divine fragrance. Just like the incense that we offered at the beginning of Mass that rises to the heavens with our prayers, this oil should give off the fragrance of love. "Jesus loved his own in the world, and he loved them to the extreme." As priests, we model our lives after our Master, Jesus Christ, and lay down our lives for each of you. We anoint you with the oil of gladness, and when we fail you, you lift us up with your prayers and squeeze out every ounce of oil from our hands so that we may bless you. What a joy it is to be a priest of Jesus Christ! What a joy it is to serve each of you! What a joy to be able to anoint you with this oil of gladness! Each of us, who through baptism were anointed with the same Sacred Chrism that my hands were anointed with, yes, each of us carries the fragrance of the Son of God because we were made one with Christ in his ministry as priest, prophet, and king. Jesus came not to lord over us as a king who rules, but to serve us as a servant king. The King of Kings knelt down like a lowly slave to wash his disciples feet in a supreme act of love and as an everlasting example for us to follow. And as my mom so beautifully pointed out to sum up this evening: this act of love of washing each others feet is not the work of slaves, it is the work of kings!
Praised be Jesus Christ, our Shepherd and High Priest!