Thursday, 9 April 2009

Holy Thursday Year B

What can we say of Jesus’ washing the feet of the disciples? The early Church interpreted it as a symbol of baptism and later as the sacrament of reconciliation. Today, a common interpretation brings together three themes, namely, the Priesthood, the Eucharist and Service. In the first place, Priesthood and the Eucharist are inter-related. Without the Priesthood there is no Eucharist and without the Eucharist, there is no Priesthood. [1] Both the Priesthood and the Eucharist must flow into service. The example of Jesus calls for humility and thus we are invited to embrace the humility of the God made Man, the humility of God Himself.

Today I would like to link humility with beauty because the humble action of Christ can be seen in the context of beauty. There is beauty in the action of Christ in washing the feet of the disciples. In some way I am embarrassed because the linkage of humility and beauty seems to be a justification for what we are doing with respect to our renovation project. But, give me a hearing and perhaps you will see where I am coming from.

I received an email the other day from a parishioner. It was about the fear of retrenchment. This parishioner’s husband was the “oldest” in the office and as the oldest, when the axe falls, he would be the first to go. I suspect this scenario is not alien to many of us.

Why am I telling you this? Well, first of all, when the economy is in a crunch, the first to go is the inefficient (theoretically, but it is not always the case in the present government... but that’s neither my concern nor criticism). The economy which affects a very large section of our everyday life is governed very much by the law of the practical. What is most practical when there is only so much money is to get rid of the older staff and to hire younger ones. For the same amount of output that is desired, the saving is made from paying lower salary. Experience is important but still most multi-nationals are primarily governed by this criterion. They go to where they can get the cheapest labour.

Whenever the criterion of practical reason is applied to the fullest, the disabled, the poor, the aged, the sick will all fall through the cracks. Euthanasia, which is seemingly governed by a compassion for the sufferer, is actually acting out this principle of practicality. What’s the point of hanging on to dear life when you cannot enjoy it at all?

So, what can protect us from such practical harshness?

It is beauty. Beauty has with it an element of the impractical. Beauty is not useful. It is inspiring but not necessarily useful. But, beauty draws us out of ourselves, out of our practical world into another realm. Beauty belongs to the realm of the Sacred. Interestingly, the Priesthood deals with the Sacred. In a world technologically advanced, the realm of the sacred is getting smaller. When the boundary of the sacred recedes before us, the priest is either loved [2] or maligned because he is no longer practical. [3] But his function is needed to protect us from the inhuman brunt of practical knowledge. Practical knowledge is good because we need it to organise the world we live in but if this world that we live in is not in touch with the sacred, it becomes harsh. It looks at people as useful or useless... it proceeds recklessly along the path of utility.

Today, the washing of the feet is inviting us to service, if you like, humble service. But it is also inviting us to contemplate the beauty of truth who is Christ the Lord because humble service, good as it may be, can also be infected by practicality. Mother Teresa was able to serve the poorest of the poor not because she was humble but because she saw the beauty of Christ AND because she embraced Him, she embraced those whom society would reject as not useful.

It is sobering then that we come today to witness not just the humility of Christ in service. We come to witness Christ who beautifully serves those whom He chose for His own. It is an invitation for us to gaze at Him and right after Mass, this is exactly what we will do during the Solemn Adoration and after midnight, the Silent Adoration in the chapel. Hans Urs Balthazar says, "We can be sure that whoever sneers at Beauty's name…can no longer pray and soon will no longer be able to love”. (Preface to the Glory of the Lord).

Our service must be marked by humility. But it is decidedly inspired by the beauty of Christ. Let us gaze at the Beauty of Christ so that we may pray better, love better and serve better.

[1] This has grave implication for the promotion of vocation to priesthood. If we accept the premise that the ministerial priesthood belongs to the definition of Church, then it cannot be that Christ has stopped calling for more priests for His Church, His Body.
[2] The so-called “so priest-centred” phenomenon is coming from here. Lay people are not as necessarily priest-centred as they are in desiring that their conduit to the sacred not be cut off.
[3] In this, we can see the ferocity of the anger against paedophilia. First of all, it is heinous to take advantage of the young and helpless. We may be more conscientised or have become more aware of the crime against the young... but the fact is, sexual predation has always existed in the past. This does not excuse the actions of the paedophile but the ferocity against the so-called “priest-paedophiles” may be seen from this perspective that it is because the “sacred” is no longer relevant for the “everyday life” that it explains why we are angry with this “useless” priest for intruding into our lives. When mediation with the sacred is important, I suspect that’s also when the less perfect behaviour of the priest is tolerated. The function of a priest is either important or he is ignored.