I’ve been here for over six months so far, and I’m so excited because I get to be your priest for the first time in 15 years. I get to be your priest. We have difficulty with paradoxes, though. We struggle with paradoxes, like how can God give us something and kind of give us something?
We hear in the Gospel today that Jesus is inviting His disciples and says, “I want to wash your feet.” And Simon Peter says to Him, “Lord, you can never wash my feet.” (You can never take such a humble role). Jesus says, “No, I need to wash your feet.” Simon Peter says, “OK then, Lord wash my feet, my whole head.” The Lord says, “No, I don’t need to wash your whole body, I just need to wash your feet.” We have difficulty with that because Jesus is saying to him, “You are holy. You’ve already been baptized, but I need to wash your feet. There’s still some sin within you.”
We discovered this paradox, this scandal of God being fully divine, becoming fully human, that He wants to become the servant, kneel before them, and wash their feet. It’s difficult for us to understand the paradox of God.
As we enter into this Holy Thursday, we celebrate the priesthood. In the same priesthood, you have me, this priest, Father Michael, right? Really holy sometimes, really not holy sometimes, really great ideas sometimes, really not great ideas sometimes. Fully human, fully divine, God is always working within us. I think about the first time that I asked and said, “Hey, we need a camel and some sheep for Christmas, and there was this bewilderment, “What are you talking about?” I said, “That would be cool to have that here. To have this donkey here for mass would be beautiful, and a couple of weeks from now, on Good Shepherd Sunday, you might see a sheep.” There are some things that I may ask of you that seem at first not to make sense. These don’t fit Father; why? But if you think about it for a little while, it doesn’t make sense, and actually, it’s pretty beautiful, but we struggle with paradox.
In just a few moments here, the church invites the priests to wash the disciples’ feet. You have all been baptized. We don’t have anybody coming into the faith that’s being baptized right now, so I’m presuming everybody here has been baptized, so what I invite you to do now is to show me your feet. Really take your socks off, and we’re about to do the foot washing, so take a moment just get your feet ready to be washed. I’m being serious it’s like you’re cue.
Two of the great privileges I have of being a priest are being at the altar when I celebrate the Eucharist and taking the gifts of bread and wine and transforming them into the Body and Blood of Christ. Take this matter, and it’s transformed into the divine; it is no longer bread and wine with the very essence of the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. It’s a paradox. It’s hard for us to understand. When you were baptized, you were completely cleansed and free of all your sins, and so was I. We go into this world as babies, we’re baptized, we go into the world, we’re free of sin, and what do we do? We sin. Why do we do that? But Jesus says, “I want to cleanse you.” Now that you’ve already been baptized, you don’t need to be rebaptized, but I do need to cleanse you, and the sacrament we have for that is Confession.
The second great place of wonder and awe that I have in the sacraments is in Confession. Just sit there and hear the sins of all the people of God that come before me. The paradox of Confession is as priests, we sit there and hear the worst of humanity. But as people make their confession, as they confess their sins to us, I look at that person, and I see the best of humanity. Sometimes people ask me, “Father, when I go to Confession do you look at me differently?” The answer is no, I don’t look at you differently, but in a certain sense, yes, I do look at you differently, not in an awkward way like I can’t believe this is, I know what they did. But I look at you differently with greater love. I can’t believe you were willing to come to me as a priest and to share your deepest darkest sin. I can’t believe you trusted me that much to allow me to love you despite what you’re struggling with.
As we do foot washing, the feet are not known to be the most attractive part of the body. So, when you come forward to wash your feet, it’s like exposing your sin. It is the exposing of our vulnerability. It’s exposing the parts of ourselves that are maybe not as beautiful as the rest of us. The paradox is the priest looks at those feet with great love, washes them, and blesses them. Just as you come forward to Confession, the priest receives you with great love, washes you, and blesses you. If you don’t have any serious sin in your heart and come forward to receive Communion, you receive Communion with great love by God and are cleansed.
It’s hard for us to understand that paradox of love. How could God love us while we are still sinners? How could the priest in Confession love us while I still have this sin? How can I, as a priest, be a loved being by God even though I still struggle with sin? That’s the paradox of our love and the paradox of our faith we celebrate today in the institution of the Eucharist and the institution of the priesthood.
I just invite you as your priest, and I want you to know that no matter what you have ever done in your life if you ever come to me in Confession, I will love you, I will bless you, and the power of Christ. I will forgive you and look at you with even greater love after that moment.
We come now to celebrate this feast. We come to enter into this mystery to have our feet washed, and we, like Peter, might say, “No, Lord, wash all of me.” But He’s saying, “No, you’ve already been baptized I only need to wash your feet.”
After our feet have been washed, after our sins have been heard in Confession and absolved, we come forward to receive Him and its very Body and Blood, our Lord Jesus Christ, who comes to us in the sacraments to receive us, sinful though we may be, but to love us and to bring us deep into Himself.
I just invite you on this Holy Thursday, first of all, to pray for me as your priest. To really pray that I may be a good and holy priest for you. Secondly, to ask God to help us in whatever sin that we are struggling with to bring those sins towards Him today and have them be washed clean so that we may receive Him worthily in this wonderful sacrament of the Eucharist.
For God comes to in His very Body and Blood. The Body of Christ and the Blood of Christ. The Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ.
This perfect paradox of our faith.