It is God who always takes the lowest place. In a world drunk on its own power, with tyrants and kings in the Middle East who enact violence against their own people, and Presidents and Governors and judges in our country where the dignity and preciousness of human life is in doubt or dispute, it is for us to rejoice in the majesty of the living God who takes flesh in the silence of a young girl's womb in a town far from the centers of the world's power, who makes himself fully present in the smallest piece of bread, and who kneels down, taking the form of a slave whose task is to wash your feet.
He did not call the great and powerful. He calls weak and inadequate men that he might be, in us, present, present to all men and women, and to act for them on his behalf. Pope Benedict call this God's bravery; he gives himself to human beings. He is conscious of our faults and our weaknesses, yet still considers men capable of acting and being present in his stead – this audacity of God is the "true grandeur concealed in the word 'priesthood'". That God thinks that we are capable of this; that in this way he calls men to his service and thus from within binds himself to his priests, and to his people.
For me, this is my 29th year as a priest of Jesus Christ. And each year I have a greater appreciation of the magnitude of his gift. As that appreciation increases, so also increases the knowledge of my own unworthiness. But this also increases the conviction that our lives must be centered in him. There is no greater encounter than to know Christ Jesus, to spend time with him and learn from him. For St. Gaspar del Bufalo the glory of the priesthood was to apply the grace, to make present the gift of the life-giving precious blood, both in the mercy poured from his side in the sacrament of Confession, and the gift of his body and blood in the Most Holy Eucharist.
This is not a re-enactment, or a celebration of some past memory. We are not simply passing on a story. This is not merely a moral exhortation or an example of service; we are not encumbered by the limits of time and space: In the mystery of God's time, it is Jesus Christ himself who on this night washes your feet and breaks the bread. In the past year as my own family struggled with the mystery of life and death, on a human level it simply appeared as a brother and sister. But at one moment I was able to turn to Kathy and say, "Jesus is here. He has come to bring you home" as I was able to give her communion for the very last time and anoint her with the precious and sacred oil. And as she lifted her hand to make the sign of the cross, in her weakness the very presence of Jesus Christ was palpable.
This figure was a gift to us from St. Augustine: By ourselves we have no power to live, subject as we are to death and decay. In his majesty as God, he did not have in himself the power to die. So, we enter into the sacred mystery of a marvelous exchange. Though he was in the form of God, it was not equality with God that he exploited for our sake, but he humbled himself and took the form of a slave. In this marvelous exchange, he who did not have the power to die would die for us, so that we who did not have the power to live, might live in him.
How then can we fail to give honor and glory to his name? How then can we fail to raise our voices in adoration and praise? How then can we fail to treat this most wonderful sacrament with the greatest of reverence and respect?
So in these strange days, these holiest days of the year, we keep the feast. We attend to the sacred mysteries. We listen to his word and listen to him.
That may mean making some extra time for prayer, sitting quietly with the Lord in the Eucharist As Pope Benedict said during his visit to New York in 2008, we do not need to be "afraid of silence."
This is not any day. It is a day filled with silence. There is no blessing or dismissal. We have not finished. We have begun. On this night the tradition is for absolute silence. In the silence we can focus. We can listen. We can attend to his voice. Rest here in silence, adoring his presence.
Give your time to him. God is never outdone in generosity.
This is the night wrapped in wondrous mystery when Jesus gave us his most precious gifts. If we give him our attention in a special way during these holy days, he will give us everything we need; He will give us himself.