When the Story Becomes Our Own

Holy Thursday


Each year on Holy Thursday night we mark the start of the Paschal Triduum with the Mass of the Lord’s Supper and the annual ritual of the washing of feet. It’s a weeknight and there’s no obligation to be here. But we are here, you and I. So before all else, thank you for being here. But even if showing up is half the battle, we know it can never be enough. Maybe at times it is all that is asked of us, to show up. But we know the experience becomes a whole lot more significant and worthwhile if we are able to immerse ourselves in it, if there were measurable consequences to our being present. It’s not the same if we can come and go as we please. Jesus certainly showed us that living a full life and becoming his disciples demand more of us than just showing up.

In those last days Jesus spent in the company of his disciples, we can bet each of them was intentionally present body, mind, and spirit in varying degrees, present to Jesus, and present to those harrowing events as they unfolded. It all began with the Passover meal, which was probably not their first Passover together, although it would be the one they would remember best. But they didn’t know it then as yet.

The event is recounted in the gospel we just read; that they sat together at table; that Judas already intended to hand Jesus over; that no one but Peter had a problem with Jesus washing his feet; or if they did, none of them spoke up; that when Jesus was done washing their feet, he told them to follow his example, that they ought to wash each other’s feet. Now I am curious to know more and dig deeper, especially about the rest of the disciples who were there, although no one said nor did anything else the gospel writer considered worth mentioning.

When Jesus spoke to each of them, he must have looked into each of their eyes. When he put bread and wine in each of their hands, he must have called each of them by name. When he washed and dried each of their feet, he shared with each of them a unique and profound experience of friendship. It could not possibly mean the same when we do it, since those whose feet I washed didn’t spend the last 3 years with me like Jesus’ disciples did with him, listening to him in private conferences, witnessing his miracles firsthand, asking questions, conversing, interacting with him in the most ordinary of circumstances. Reenacting an event is a form of acting, giving the impression the original event is unfolding right before us, but leaving out important details our senses might miss. There’s always more to any story. And with specific details, the story becomes our own.

The liturgies and rites of the Paschal Triduum are intended to make present to us events in history that can never be repeated. But Jesus is present in our midst body, mind, and spirit, as he was present long ago in that upper room with his disciples. But can we say we are present to Jesus in turn, and to his passion, death, and resurrection as the liturgies and rites unfold before us? Because we can just be reenacting, just going through the motions. If the story is still not our own, still just historical events far removed from us in time and place, we are no more than spectators, and we will return home tonight and to our lives missing out on a unique personal encounter with Jesus.

These days of solemn sacred remembrance invite us deeper into the mystery of our salvation; into the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus; and into the very heart of our compassionate God. We are not exempted from our responsibilities at home, or school, or work. We will still need to prepare meals, do laundry, walk the dog, and speak to our loved ones. But if we willingly immerse ourselves in the events of Holy Week, if we observe and ponder with our hearts and minds the liturgies and rites of the Paschal Triduum, if we stop to look into Jesus’ eyes, hear him call us by name, feel his hands wash and dry our feet, and receive in our own hands with deep gratitude his most precious body and blood, we will be doing so much more than going through the motions.

I invite you in the days ahead to quiet your hearts and minds. Focus on Jesus and his passion. Limit your consumption of mindless entertainment. Talk to Jesus as you would talk to a friend. Bring him the burdens you carry. Listen to what he has to tell you. Take a quiet walk with him. Feel his loving presence. Experience God’s mercy. Jesus waits to spend time with you. Will you spare a moment to spend time with him?

Rolo B Castillo © 2019