News & Events
Mass of the Lord's Supper
St. Andrew's Cathedral
March 24, 2016
"The mystery of Jesus Christ and the gift that we are invited to receive has only one response God is interested in. That we open our lives to receive more ... more of his mercy, and love, and compassion so that we become, as St. Augustine said, Christ himself."
~ Bishop Gary Gordon
This evening, in this Mass of the Lord’s Supper, we celebrate the meaning of God so loved the world that He gave His only son. We celebrate this mystery of God so loved the world in the face and the person of Jesus Christ, the face of mercy.
And what we find is, in a way, the opening of this beautiful time of Easter. Good Friday, the Easter Vigil, Easter Sunday. And the opening of this Great Triduum, the source and the summit of our Christian lives, Christ’s death and resurrection, is found in two great moments. Both are the giving of his life.
In Greek, we would call it the kenosis of God: God’s self-emptying of His self into our selves. This is quite a mystery, so let me try and explain it in a simple way.
It is found in this Gospel today, where Jesus washes the feet of the disciples. Here is the Son of God—God from God, light from light, true God from true God, begotten not made, one in being with the Father, through whom all things came to be—and he is at the feet of his creatures. Washing their feet.
This is the example of love he wants us, his disciples, and the world, to get. It is the revelation of love, a love that has no limits. And it is not a reciprocal love, it’s not a love where you love me, and I love you. I know we always have this feeling that we are coming to church to do something for God, we’re going to go and pay homage, and worship, and pray. No. It is all about Jesus Christ giving, and us receiving.
But there is something God wants in return: He wants us to open our lives to receive more. We see this in the example of Peter. You’ll never wash my feet! Peter is satisfied with the love that he has, and the communion he has with Jesus. He doesn’t want any more. And Jesus says, You’ve got to open yourself up, Peter. You’ve got to open your heart up, Peter. There’s more! And this is what we celebrate in the mystery of the washing of the feet, and more so in the Eucharist. He has become the bread that is broken, and the cup that is poured out, so that we may receive his very life, body, soul, and divinity.
And what does Jesus want in return? Only our willingness to open our hearts up to receive more of God’s love, so that we, as St. Augustine said to a group of newly baptized people, become Christ.
So are you ready to receive more tonight? We have to ask ourselves that question. Are we open to receive without giving anything back? Being open to receive without giving anything back is the only desire that God has for us. To be open to receive love, upon love, upon love, which becomes mercy, upon mercy, upon mercy.
Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, in his Indiction of the Year of Mercy, wanted you, me, and the whole world, to know there is no limit to forgiveness and mercy and love of God for us. We are invited as we enter this Triduum, to receive even more. And it begins with allowing God to wash our feet.
Last year when we were getting ready for this Mass, I said to Fr. John, “I want to wash all the feet.”
“Well, you can’t do that, Bishop. There’s too many people.”
“But I want to do that, Fr. John! I’m the Bishop, don’t I get what I want?”
He said, “No, Bishop.”
But that is what I want to do. That’s what I would do. Wash everybody’s feet. And even more.
Let me leave you with a little illustration. About eight years ago, when I was the Bishop in the Yukon, I was asked by a community if I would go to celebrate the Mass of the Lord’s Supper. I said, “Sure. I’ll go there.” It was three communities I would cover for the Easter Triduum—Fr. Harrison is there now. It’s a ten-hour drive from Whitehorse, and Easter was early that year, so it was a little snowy and you know, North. Not Victoria! I got there about 4:30 PM, and got the fire lit in the basement of the church, and things began to warm up. I got the bucket and towels, and set everything up for Mass. And I waited. 7:30 PM. I waited. 7:40 PM. I waited. At 7:45 PM, somebody showed up. One person.
You know the blessing when only one person shows up for Holy Thursday Mass? I only had to wash two feet! Things got better on good Friday. It went up to three people. That was a significant increase.
And eight years ago, friends of mine wanted to make a film to promote the northern missions and vocations to the missionary life. It’s called Apostle of the North. You can find it on YouTube.
This friend of mine, who wanted to do this film, is a professional filmmaker. I got to know him because he used to do prison ministry for me in Vancouver. He was the only Catholic I could get to go to the Willingdon Youth Detention Center, and he went every week for 12 years.
He contacted me and told me he and his buddy wanted to do this film. I said, “Well, I don’t know—but OK.” It was summertime, and we were out at the Liard River in a place called Lower Post. It wasn’t scripted, or planned, or organized. He was just shooting, and I was just talking. We were talking about the mission of the Church and of the priesthood, and of the necessity of having priests so that people can be fed with the Eucharist, with the Body and Blood of Christ, and how difficult it was when communities only got to have the celebration of Eucharist once every three or four months.
I said, “You know, the goal of the Roman Catholic priesthood is martyrdom.” And he said, “I don’t think you’re going to get too many takers for that.”
I said, “That might be true, but it is the goal of the Roman Catholic priesthood. Every priest should be looking for a way to become an image of Christ as a sacrificial lamb for God’s people. And if they get to actually shed their blood, it’s even better.”
Well, those few words, the goal of the Roman Catholic priesthood is martyrdom, landed on this filmmaker’s ears, and it somehow sunk into him.
A couple years later, his wife got sick with cancer. I was coming into Vancouver, so I phoned him up, and offered to go over and say a prayer for his wife. “Oh, that would be really nice, Bishop Gary, but you know, she’s Jewish.”
I said, “Well, I can pray in Jewish too, you know!”
“Oh, that would be nice, you come on over and pray.”
So I got over there—and he was gone. This was pretty typical; he’s a filmmaker and often called away, so he wasn’t there. But there I was, having flown in from Whitehorse and driven to this house: it was a long trip, and I needed to use the bathroom! His wife said to me, “You can’t use the bathroom; the toilet’s broken. He’s been going to fix it for the last three weeks!”
I said, “I’ll fix it. Don’t worry. I know how to do that.” And I did. Those are the kinds of things I like to do, as a bishop. Those are the things I like to do as a priest.
Well, my friend’s wife passed away, and he was a wreck, as you can imagine. He phoned me up, and said, “I’d better come up North.” So he came up and spent a couple weeks. I said to him, “You’ve got to go away and clear your head. Why don’t you go to Madonna House for a couple of months and just chill out.”
So he did, and while he was there, something landed on him, by the grace of God. He came back, and he phoned me, and he said, “You know, I think I’m supposed to be a priest.”
I said, “I don’t think so; you’re a Green Beret, you’re a guy who jumps out of planes, you’re a movie maker.”
“No, I think this is what God wants.”
“What’s put this your head?” I asked.
“Ever since you said those words the goal of the Roman Catholic priesthood is martyrdom, I can’t get this out of my head. Bishop Gary, you’re absolutely right. I think this is what I have been looking for all my life.”
I introduced him to a spiritual director, and they discerned and prayed—and last December he was ordained a priest.
The mystery of Jesus Christ and the gift that we are invited to receive has only one response God is interested in. That we open our lives to receive more. There’s nothing we can do for God. God’s got it all. But there is only one thing that God is happy with. It’s that we are able, and open, and wanting to receive more of His mercy, and love, and compassion, so that we become, as St. Augustine said, Christ himself.
So that we become what we receive, and we imitate what he did when he washed the feet of the disciples. I can assure you, if Jesus was here today, he would know how to fix your toilet. Service, sacrifice, sacrifice, and service. To receive more, more, and more of this Infinite Love is what we are made for, for all eternity.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.