Father Swift's Holy Thursday Homily

Because it held my rapt attention and emphasized so elegantly the role of priests (and a lot of people requested it be posted), here is Father Swift's Holy Thursday homily. I think in a time of so much uproar over religious leaders it is so important to remember and be thankful that we have such wonderful priests right here at home.


Father William Swift

Today, Holy Thursday, we celebrate a feast that is power-packed with important matters. We celebrate the Lord Jesus kneeling and washing the feet of his friends. We celebrate the institution of the Holy Eucharist. And we celebrate the origins of the Priesthood. What to settle on for a few minutes reflection on the most “Holy” day.

I, after some thought, finally settled on emphasizing the Priesthood. We are still in the midst of the year Pope Benedict called the Year of the Priest. And, as many of you know, just last September we joined in celebrating the 65th anniversary of my ordination to the priesthood – and what a wonderful celebration we had. With all that it seemed just in order that we do concentrate on the priesthood itself.

Fr. Charles Irvin, a retired priest of the Diocese of Lansing, in Michigan, publishes a periodical in which is offered, among other things suggestions, illustrations, prayers, etc. for the homilist. Therein he recalls a prayer of St. Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits:

“Lord, teach me to be generous;
Teach me to serve you as you deserve:
To give and not count the cost,
To fight and not heed the wounds,
To toil and not to look for rest,
To labor and not ask for reward ---
Save that of knowing that I am doing your will.”

A marvelous prayer for anyone, but especially relevant to a priest and his life.

Today is “Maundy Thursday” in medieval England, “Mandatum Thursday”, from the root meaning found in the Latin word which means “I give”. This is the hour in which Our Lord gives Himself to us in the giving of Himself to the Father. In this night’s stillness we see God on His knees, washing our feet and giving Himself over to us in utter powerlessness. In it God says to you: “I give you my self . . . I give you my body . . . I give you my blood . . . and I wash your feet because I love you.”

But to return to the subject of “priesthood” --- With you I am a Christian, for you I am a priest. Regarding that, Cardinal Archbishop Emmanuel Celestine Suhard, Cardinal Archbishop of Paris, 1940 – 1949, one of the most respected and beloved of the Cardinal Archbishops of that day, wrote:

“Every Christian, especially the Christian priest, must be a witness. To be a witness consists in being a living mystery. It means to live in such a way that one’s life would not make sense if God did not exist.” Let me read that again” “Every Christian, especially the Christian priest, must be a witness. To be a witness consists in being a living mystery. It means to live in such a way that one’s life would not make sense if God did not exist.”

How very true! A priest is most a priest when he humbly and without self-centeredness washes the emotional and spiritual feet of those who come to him with the dust and the dirt of the world’s road clinging to them. He is fully a priest when he hands over his time, his comfort all of his energies for the care of God’s people --- without counting the cost of doing so.
The priest is most a priest when he stands for the honor of God, when he will not compromise our Faith or the ways of our faith in order to please people or to be “with it” in following the latest fad. He is a priest when he does this without counting the cost found in the loss of human respect for him. He cannot hand people human stones when they need the Bread of Life.

We all want to be liked --- but at what price? The priest cannot sell out the honor of God for thirty pieces of whatever the going rate is for human respect.

The priest is most a priest when he hands over his life, his own personal preferences and his own personal convenience or wishes so that he might devote himself to caring for those who come to him, as they came to Jesus, in their need. A priest is most a priest when he gratefully accepts what’s placed in front of him for his daily bread and is content with what God has given him. A priest is most a priest when he forgets what he’s going to get out of being a priest and simply, without regard for acclamation and human notoriety does what God calls him to do.

The priest is most a priest when he himself lives the sacrifice of Jesus Christ in his own personal life. He celebrates in his own life, in an unbloody way, Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross. A priest is most a priest when he stands in front of you here at God’s altar and joins his words into Christ’s saying: “This is my body, take it. This is my blood, drink it. My life belongs to no one else but you. My life is yours because I give it all to you.”

This is Mandatum Thursday --- the day God says to us: “I give. I give to you all that I am even before I thought of creating a world. I give you all that I ever was. I give you all that I ever shall be. Let me wash your feet --- let me touch you. Let me give you my Body, give you my Blood, give you my very life, give you my Holy Spirit.”

This is a day of tremendous hope --- a day that tells us that we have a future because we have a past, a past in which God has given himself to us in a bond that can never be broken.

This is the day of the Last Supper because it is the original one and is still going on, that continues on down through the epochs of human time and that spreads over the whole human world. There isn’t time or room for another. So it remains the Last (and only!) Supper we will ever have with God.

This is Maundy Thursday --- “I give Thursday”. It is simple and yet awesome at the same time. It is the day when we, filled with the power of Jesus Christ, say to God our Father: “I give. I give all of my love to you because you have given all your love to me.”

With you I am a Christian. For you I am a priest --- so that you and I can take our hands and join them together and we can walk through the Garden of Gethsemane into the Garden of the Resurrection and share together in Christ’s life forever, both in this life and in the next.

May God bless us all.

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