Holy Thursday, Year C

We have two homilies for Holy Thursday, Year C. The first was delivered by Father Hanly then transcribed by us. The second is a written homily by Father Hanly which he then delivered at Mass.

Two Homilies:

The Way God Loves

The Way God Loves

In this beautiful homily for Holy Thursday, Year C, Father Hanly walks us through the Last Supper to help us learn how to love as God loves.

Readings for Holy Thursday, Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper, Year C

  • First Reading: Exodus 12:1-8, 11-14
  • Responsorial Psalm: Psalms 116:12-13, 15-16, 17-18
  • Second Reading: First Corinthians 11:23-26
  • Gospel: John 13:1-15

Recording

Transcript

Holy Thursday, as you know, is a celebration of the Passover, when Moses led the children of Israel out of the deepest, darkest slavery of Egypt and into a new hope and the beginning of a new covenant and a new way of living.

He led them from slavery into freedom. And though the walk was very long, forty years, and they suffered much and they experienced much, they became from a group of dissolute slaves to a community of people.

And so, from that day on, Moses told them that they each year should celebrate the feast of the Passover, celebrate it for what it really was: a covenant with God.

They were saved from the final shame in Egypt when an angel passed over their houses and left them free from the terrible death that came upon the Egyptians because they would not allow God’s people to leave.

And they were saved, as they say, by the blood of the lamb, for they had eaten a lamb in each home and took the blood and put it across the lintels as a sign that they would be protected by God Himself.

Today we come together, many, many centuries later, and yet we sing the songs to the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, who brings us freedom, who brings us a new way of looking at things, a new way of hoping for things.

A new way, not an old way but a new way, that is born each morning in our hearts when we lift our minds and hearts to God, and a new way that we take to bed at night when we ask our Father to see us through the night.

We have become Christians because of the Jews.

And, of course, as everyone knows, in order to become a good Christian, you must learn to become a good Jew.

Because the Jews are our roots, the Jews are the tree and we are the branches that Jesus the Jew has offered himself, that we, too, with the whole world, might understand that the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Moses, the God of Jesus, is the God of all peoples.

It’s very important, the little ritual that begins tonight’s reading, and it’s a strange ritual.

At the beginning of the feast, and especially the Passover, the host would wait at the door for his guests.

And the guests would come in one by one and they had walked a long journey so their feet were dirty.

And it was the custom for someone to wash their feet before they entered the house.

And, of course, the one who got to do this job was the lowest person, a slave. And even among slaves there was a pecking order of responsibility and who was higher than the next and, of course, it was the lowest of the lowest slave that took on this responsibility.

And after that, the head of the house would pour ointment on the person who was one of the invited guests and it was a sign of his great respect and his great caring for the person and recognising that the person was very special and that they were happy to bring him into the house.

At the Last Supper, Jesus, without saying anything, the first thing he does is he gets up from the table, he takes off his outer garment, and then he begins to wash the feet of his disciples.

And so it is that Peter, of course, was very angry.

Why?

Because Peter knows what he is doing. He is taking the place of a slave. He’s taking the place of the lowest one in the whole company of people who came to celebrate the freedom of their passage from slavery into freedom.

And Peter just burst out and said, “You’re never going to wash my feet. I will not let you wash my feet.

“I will not let you put yourself on the level of a slave, for we know that you are the Son of God, you are the one we hoped for, you are the one who will deliver us from all slavery and give us a world of freedom that will never be taken from us.”

And Jesus looked at Peter and he said, “Peter, if you do not let me wash your feet, you will never know who I am, you will never know why I came, you will never know anything about God.”

And, of course, Peter, who loved Jesus more than he had loved any person in his whole life, he said, in a burst of enthusiasm: “Not only my feet, but my head and my shoulders, my whole body. Just do not even think that you would separate yourself from me.”

And so it happened that Peter began to learn what it really was to become a Christian.

And we wonder why Jesus does this thing. Why this humiliation? Why this degradation, if you will.

And then we know the mystery, the mystery that we know by heart: “God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son” and let the world do what the world would do to him to test one thing: how deep was his love.

For it’s all about love. It is about loving and caring and forgetting yourself. And at the heart of all Christianity is to forget yourself and reach out to other people. And this is the message that Jesus is telling.

Jesus doesn’t kneel as a slave, but he kneels as a man who respects the feet he washes. He’s not making a charade or a game.

He knows that Peter and Paul and John and these humble little disciples, these are the people of God. He knows that these people, these men and women, were created, and God does not create junk and garbage, God only creates lovely, wonderful, good people.

And that is the way God does it.

And that is what God expects of us to do, to begin to respect each other, not because it’s nice to do it as a Christian, but Jesus washing the feet was saying to the men:

“The first thing you have to do is recognise your own dignity.

“Your own dignity is not something that is given to you because of your small amount of intelligence and your small amount of gifts and because you’ve achieved something in an achieving world.

“Your dignity is given to you by God. You were created for all eternity to love, to learn how to love, to care, to reach out, and to, ultimately, touch God Himself.”

The washing of the feet is the beginning of when we say we enter a new life. A new life is a life with God Himself. He becomes the one that we walk with, the one that we greet each morning as we greet the day and the one that is the last one in our hearts when we go to sleep.

Dom Helder Camara was a bishop in South America for many years and he was a bit of mystic and he said, “The problem with human beings is that God is more humble than we are.”

We are not humble at all. We have to have our way. We have to have this, we have to have that, and if we don’t get it we get very angry. And if we’re really angry, we gather together in large numbers and we start our wars. And our petty thoughts that turn to petty evil and petty evil turns to monstrosities, one after the other.

This is not God. God is humble. We have this sort of idea that we should stand up and be proud and all of these kind of things. God is humble, God is humble, God is humble, that is all Jesus tells us.

And what does God’s humility mean?

Well, it certainly doesn’t mean He denies He’s God, perfect and all of these things.

His humility is found in His relationship with us because we are weak and He comes, respects our freedom and lives with us. We are needy people and He comes and He accepts the fact that He will share our neediness.

God’s wonderful humility is that, instead of destroying us for not keeping the rules and regulations, He, Himself, He measures Himself like us.

And so it is that we have the lovely Jesus who is our Saviour, and the lovely Jesus weeps as we weep, and suffers as we suffer, and dies as we all must die.

And he does these things why?

Because he wants us to know that this is the way God loves. God is a giver not a taker. God is someone who enters our life, not as one to overwhelm us, but to love us with a new kind of love, a self-sacrificing love.

Jesus will say to the people, “If you really believe, if you really care, you will give up everything and follow me.”

What he means is that God, the humble God, should become the centre of our lives.

And so on Holy Thursday we approach the humble God looking down at the table, seeing the bread and thinking of himself and to himself, “How should I like to be remembered among these my people from now on until the end of the world?”

And he takes the humble bread and he breaks it and he says, “This is me. Take it. Eat it. For it is going to offered up as I am going to be offered up for all of you.”

And then he sees the wine and he takes the wine and he says, “This is me. This is my blood and it will be poured out for you.

“And now, when you come together, today, tomorrow, for the rest of time, when you come together, this is the way you will remember me, the one who gives his body and blood out of deep and lasting love for you, and that saves your life.”

And that is what the washing of the feet means. It is the total emptying of anything except the willingness and the desire to reach out to others: to heal them, to care for them, to love them, to bring them out of the cold and into the warmth of God’s love.

And that is what we celebrate tonight, for Jesus kneels before us and washes our feet. And what Jesus does, God does. And what God does is washes our feet.

Now this is the way of love, not in pride or wonder in building great things. It is in the simple service that we give to each other every day of our lives to whoever enters into them and whoever goes away.

And this is the meaning of Holy Thursday and this is why we gather here together.

Because we know the way of Jesus is not the best way; the way of Jesus is the only way.

We must learn to wash feet and we must learn that the best part of us is when we’re forgetting ourselves and reaching out in love to our brothers and sisters.

And now we will begin that simple ritual of the washing of the feet, and we ask you to sing the songs.

Think deeply that it was Jesus who taught us that the ultimate humility is self-sacrificing love.


God’s Love

God’s Love

In his homily for Holy Thursday, Year C, Father Hanly talks about the extent of God’s love for us.

Readings for Holy Thursday, Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper, Year C

  • First Reading: Exodus 12:1-8, 11-14
  • Responsorial Psalm: Psalms 116:12-13, 15-16, 17-18
  • Second Reading: First Corinthians 11:23-26
  • Gospel: John 13:1-15

Written Homily

My brothers and sisters,

Holy Thursday, as you know, is a celebration of the Passover, when Moses led the children of Israel out of the deepest darkest slavery of Egypt and into new hopes, a new beginning, a new covenant with God, and a new way of living out their lives.

This ragged bunch of slaves, after forty years of wandering in desert places, led by Moses the Law Maker, in time became a community of people, the people of God, who ultimately changed the world. 

And so, from that day on, as Moses taught them to, they would faithfully celebrate the Feast of the Passover on the day of their entrance into the Promised Land. It was an annual celebration of the covenant of love they made with God.

Tonight, we come together, many, many centuries later, to sing songs, ancient and new, to Our Lord and Saviour, the “the Lamb of God” who has freed us from bondage.

And in tonight’s Mass, we shall pray together with him with the words “Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy on us, and grant us peace.”

Tonight, we remember our history, and thank our Jewish brethren. They are our roots, “they are the tree and we are the branches.”

Jesus, our Lord as the Lamb of God, has offered himself so that the whole world might understand that the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob, the God of Moses, and the God of Jesus, our Lord and Saviour, is and will forever be, the true God for all peoples.

It is very important that we take note of today’s Gospel and the little ritual described there … the foot washing … which, to some, it may seem as strange today as it did to our ancestors so long ago.

In days past, at the Passover celebration, the host would greet his guests at the door, sit them down and wash their feet. An Act of Courtesy for guests who had walked the long distance on dusty paths to arrive at the banquet.

The washing, of course, was done by the household slave and not by the Master.

After the washing the host would anoint the guest with a fragrant and expensive ointment, a sure sign of his great respect and welcome.

At the Last Supper of Jesus, however, Jesus, without saying a word, rose up from the table, removes his outer garment and begins to wash the feet of his disciples.

The disciples are shocked into silence.

Peter, seeing his Master approaching him holding the basin and pitcher in his hands like a slave, was enraged. He says to Jesus: “Master, you will never wash my feet.”

Jesus responds: “Unless I wash your feet, you will have no part with me!”

Silence.

And then Peter, who loves Jesus more than life itself, falls on his knees and cries: “Not only my feet, Lord, but my hands and my head as well!”

And so it happened that Peter begins to realize what it means to be a follower of Christ, a disciple of the Lord, who must learn to serve others in the way Jesus serves them, and to love as Jesus loves.

But why is Jesus so demanding, so uncompromising. Where has all his compassion gone?

The answer?

Peter, too, must learn to probe the mysteries of God, the mysteries that we as children learned by heart: The Gospel of John says: “God so loves the world that He gives up his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life.”

When Jesus kneels to wash his disciples’ feet, he’s not putting on a show, he’s not kneeling as to slaves. Jesus loves his disciples and respects them as God Himself, who has created them, loves and respects them.

They, as we, are the “beloved children of God His Father, heirs of heaven, and worthy of his love and all his affection. Jesus loves us so much that he lays down his own life for their salvation.”

Dom Helder Camara, who was a bishop in South America for many years, and something of a mystic as well, used to say: “The problem with human beings is that God is more humble than we are.”

God’s humility is revealed in so many ways.

He comes to us as a weak and needy child. As weak and needy as we are ourselves.

He worries over us, he weeps over us, he forgives before we ask and heals the sick without a noisy fanfare that would draw attention to Himself.

God’s a giver and not a taker, who asks of us nothing for Himself but only for our forgiveness, our understanding, and most of all our love.

And why?

Because God has no alternative. God is love, and love forgives … full stop.

And because of this, we take His love for granted and insist that He answer all our prayers, our petitions, and all our constant demands.

Indeed, the words of Psalm 23 come to me whenever I begin to doubt God’s presence in my life and His concern for my well-being. But when I pray, I also bring along a basket full of favors and demands. And I know He will be patient and I know He will be kind.  

For as the words of the Psalm goes:

                      The Lord is truly my Good Shepherd

                      And there is nothing I shall want.

                     “Surely goodness and kindness shall follow me

                       all the days of my life.

                       In the Lord’s own house shall I dwell

                       Forever and ever.”   

If you do not believe me, come back tomorrow, on Friday afternoon, Good Friday, and you shall see and hear and wonder at why we call it Good.

FAQ for Homily for Holy Thursday, Year C

WHEN IS Holy Thursday, Year C, IN 2019?18th April 2019
What is the next homily by Father Hanly in this Liturgical Cycle?
Easter Vigil, Year C
WHO WAS FATHER HANLY?FATHER DENIS J. HANLY WAS A MARYKNOLL MISSIONARY
HOW CAN WE FIND OTHER HOMILIES BY FATHER HANLY?BY LITURGICAL CALENDAR OR BY TOPIC OR BY TITLE

Information about Father Hanly’s homilies for Holy Thursday, Year C

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If you would like to use our transcripts of either of these sermons (updated 2019), please contact us for permission.

Father Hanly's sermon for Holy Thursday, Year C, "The Way God Loves" was delivered on 1st April 2010. Father Hanly's sermon for Holy Thursday, Year C, "God's Love" was delivered on 28th March 2013. It is sometimes hard to accurately transcribe Father Hanly's reflections, so please let us know if you think we have made a mistake in any of our transcripts, and let us have your suggestions.

We hope that Father Hanly’s homilies, always kind, always wise, always full of love, will restore you to peace and harmony through a new understanding of what is important in this world. We believe these homilies are inspiring for everyone, not only for Roman Catholics or other Christians.

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