The Passion and the Priesthood: Realizations

Holy Sacrifice of the Mass

I’ve been reading the daily Mass readings each morning throughout Lent, along with various commentaries on the Scriptures for the day, and have been gaining some really wonderful insights.  But this week – Holy Week – is becoming very meaningful to me this year.  This is not due to anything great on my part, but only because I have been allowing God to work on me interiorly.  And I’ve come to some really interesting insights.

I know it’s nothing new at all, unless you count that it’s new to me.  But today, as I ready for the great Triduum that begins with the Mass of the Lord’s Supper tonight, I wanted to write these thoughts down.

One thing that has occurred to me is that I am in the Passion story.  And I don’t play just one role, but many.

First, we hear in the Gospel accounts this week (both Palm Sunday and yesterday, which has been known at times as Spy Wednesday) about Judas’ betrayal of Christ.  And I realized as I heard it on Sunday that I am Judas.

I betray Christ each and every time I choose sin over Him.  I betray Him again and again, every single blessed day.  I betray Jesus when I snap at my children before making sure they are at fault for something.  I betray Jesus when I talk about someone behind her back.  I betray Jesus when I am uncharitable towards others.  I betray Jesus when I choose to waste my precious time instead of using it wisely within my vocation as a wife and mother.

Again and again, I choose sin.

But I am also Saint Peter, who, when he realizes that he’s betrayed the One he loves so much, weeps bitterly.  When I see the Crucifix in the confessional, when I see the thorns on my precious Lord’s sacred brow, I weep.  For it is I who have put those thorns there.  I have nailed Him to the cross.  I have scourged His back.  And I am sorry.

So, like Saint Peter, I ask for forgiveness.  And like Peter, I receive it through the grace of Christ.  Kneeling in the confessional, I hear the most beautiful words there are in the world:

“God, the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of his Son has reconciled the world to himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins; through the ministry of the Church, may God give you pardon and peace, and I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”

And I weep again, with joy, because I know it’s true.  And I rejoice because of God’s great mercy!

I also realized something else today.  It’s about the priesthood.

Tonight, we will celebrate the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, and once again, I have been asked to be one of the people to have my feet washed by the priest.  (I wrote about that experience last year, here.)  As I was preparing the house for Easter today (also known as last-minute cleaning), I had EWTN on, and they were showing the Mass of the Lord’s Supper from Rome.  (The video below is from 2009.)

I watched him moving from priest to priest, washing their feet in imitation of Christ.  And I thought of why Jesus washed the Apostles’ feet that night.

Before the feast of Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come
to pass from this world to the Father.
He loved his own in the world and he loved them to the end.
The devil had already induced Judas, son of Simon the Iscariot, to hand him over.
So, during supper, 
fully aware that the Father had put everything into his power 
and that he had come from God and was returning to God, 
he rose from supper and took off his outer garments.
He took a towel and tied it around his waist.
Then he poured water into a basin 
and began to wash the disciples’ feet 
and dry them with the towel around his waist.
He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, 
“Master, are you going to wash my feet?”
Jesus answered and said to him,
“What I am doing, you do not understand now,
but you will understand later.”
Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.”
Jesus answered him, 
“Unless I wash you, you will have no inheritance with me.”
Simon Peter said to him, 
“Master, then not only my feet, but my hands and head as well.”
Jesus said to him, 
“Whoever has bathed has no need except to have his feet washed,
 for he is clean all over; 
so you are clean, but not all.”
For he knew who would betray him;
for this reason, he said, “Not all of you are clean.”

So when he had washed their feet 
and put his garments back on and reclined at table again, 
he said to them, “Do you realize what I have done for you?
You call me ‘teacher’ and ‘master,’ and rightly so, for indeed I am.
If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, 
you ought to wash one another’s feet.
I have given you a model to follow, 
so that as I have done for you, you should also do.”

Part of what He did was to establish the priesthood that night.  He ordained his Apostles as the first bishops of His Church.  And He gave them an example of what their lives would be as priests and bishops: servitude.

And I realized that our culture, overall, totally misses what the priesthood is about!  It’s not about power, it’s not about status, and it’s not about prestige.  Yes, our priests are loved and revered; they bring Christ to us in a very real sense through the Sacraments (and especially through the Eucharist), but they hold no earthly powers.  Their lives are not their own, and they live a life of total servitude.

Pope John Paul II on Holy Thursday 2001

Who can look at this picture of Pope John Paul II and think, “Here is a powerful man!”?

Who can see a priest that drops all to hear confessions, or leaves his visiting family members during a long-awaited visit to give Last Rites, or who cancels his plans to attend a function for a funeral and think, “Now that’s status!”?

Who can watch as the parish priest crawls across the floor on his knees, washing the feet of 12 parishioners and think, “Ah!  There’s a life of prestige!”?

A priest has no personal life.  He turns everything over to the service of Christ through the service of Christ’s children – us.

He has no house of his own.  He has few possessions.  He has no time that is purely his own, for at any moment, one of his children might need him.  Like our own fathers when we were small, if someone in the parish is in trouble, he comes to our aid.

Our culture seems to miss this when they see the priesthood.  They see the trappings of the Church and mistake it for belonging to the pope, the bishops, the priests … when, in fact, it is for all of us.  They see that a priest is beloved and showered with affections and mistake that for worldly prestige.  But that affection we give, that love we have, is all because we know that Father has given his entire life for us.  He has sacrificed everything to follow the Master.

And how can we thank him enough?  How can we thank a priest for giving us Christ, day after day?

We cannot.

Tonight, as I sit in my chair and ponder Saint Peter’s reaction to the idea that his beloved Teacher would debase Himself and wash his feet, I, too, will wonder at the humility of our priests.  I will fight tears as I look at my own beloved priest and think, “Father should NOT be doing this!  I should be washing his feet!”

And I will thank God for the men that give all to Him for a life of servitude.

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