Thursday, April 13, 2006

"The Purifying Force of His Goodness"

Thanks to a gifted reader for this translation of Benedict XVI's homily from the Mass of the Lord's Supper, held at St John Lateran.


“Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them until the end.” (Jn 13:1) God loves his creature, man; he loves him even in his falls, and does not abandon him to himself. He loves him until the very end. He pushes him with His love until the end, until the very end: he descends below from his divine glory and takes on the clothes of a slave. He descends even into the extreme baseness of our fall. He kneels down before us and renders us the service of a slave; washes our dirty feet, so that we become admissible to the divine banquet, so that we become worthy of taking a place at his table – a thing that of ourselves we could never and must never do.

God is not a distant God, too distant and too big to occupy himself with our trifles. Because He is great, he can interest himself even with insignificant things. Because He is great, the soul of man, the same man who was created for eternal love, is not an insignificant thing, but rather, great and worthy of his love. The holiness of God is not only an incandescent power, in front of which we must draw back floored, it is the power to love and for this it is the power to purify and to heal.

God descends and becomes a slave, he washes our feet so that we might remain at his table. In this is explained the whole mystery of Jesus Christ. In this is made visible the meaning of redemption. The bath with which he washes us is his love ready to confront death. Only love has the purifying force that draws us out from our dirty state and elevates us to the heights of God. The bath that washes us is God Himself who gives himself completely to us. – in the depths of his sufferings and of his death. Continually he is this love that cleans, in the sacraments of purification – baptism is the sacrament of penance – He is continually kneeling down in front of our feet and he renders us the service of a slave, the service of purification, he makes us able to receive God. His love is inexorable it is truly until the end.

“You are clean, but not all of you” (Jn 13:10). In this phrase is revealed the great gift of purification that He offers us, because he desires to remain at table with us, to become our food. “But not all of you” – there is also the hidden mystery of refutation, that, with the Judas event is made present and, particularly on Holy Thursday, on the day in which Jesus makes a gift of himself, we must reflect. The love of God knows no limits, but man can place a limit on it.

“You are clean, but not all of you”: What is it that makes a man unclean? It is the refusal of love, the not wanting to be loved, the not loving. It is the pride that thinks itself not in need of any purification, that closes itself to the saving goodness of God. It is the pride that does not want to confess and to acknowledge that we are in need of purification. In Judas we see the nature of this refusal even more clearly. He valued Jesus according to the categories of power and success: for him only power and success were real, love did not count. And he was avaricious: money was more important that communion with Jesus and his love. In this way he became also a liar, who played a double game and broke away from truth, one who lives a lie and in this way looses the sense of the ultimate truth, of God. In this way he was hardened, he became incapable of conversion, of the faithful return of the prodigal son, and he threw away his destroyed life.

“You are clean, but not all of you”. The Lord today places us on guard in front of that self-sufficiency that places a limit on his limitless love. He invites us to imitate his humility, to entrust ourselves to it, to let ourselves be “infected” by it. He invites us – inasmuch as we feel lost – to return to his house and to allow his purifying goodness to pull us up and to make us enter into the communion of eating with Him, with God Himself.

Allow me to say one last thing about this inexhaustible gospel verse: “I have given you an example…” (Jn 13:15); “You also must was each others feet” (Jn 13:14) In what does the washing of each other’s feet consist? Concretely what does it mean? Behold, each good work done for the other – especially for the suffering and for those who are little esteemed – is a service of washing feet. To this our Lord calls us: descend, learn humility and the courage of goodness and also the willingness to accept refusal all the while entrusting yourself to goodness and persevere in it. There is another more profound dimension. The Lord takes away our dirtiness with the purifying force of his goodness. Washing each others feet signifies above all else untiringly forgiving each other, always beginning again even though it might seem useless. It means to purify one another supporting ourselves up close and accepting that we be supported by others, purifying one another by giving to each other the sanctifying force of the Word of God and bringing each other to the Sacrament of divine love.

May the Lord purify us and for this we have the courage to enter into his meal. Let us pray to Him that he give us all the grace to be able, one say to be always guests at the eternal nuptial banquet. Amen!

AP/Andrew Medichini