Triduum Retreat 2020 – Holy Thursday – The Eucharist as an invitation to love and service

Welcome to this audio retreat produced by the Jesuit Institute South Africa.

For Holy Thursday, Fr Matthew Charlesworth SJ reflects on ‘the Eucharist as an invitation to love and service’.

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The Eucharist as an invitation to love and service.

My brothers and sisters, tonight the Church celebrates the Mass of the Lord’s Supper in a way that is strange for all of us.
Traditionally we celebrate tonight the Eucharist, which was lovingly instituted by Jesus Christ to sustain us and to incorporate us more deeply into Christ’s Body. The Eucharist is a supremely precious gift which calls us to reflect on a love that is stronger than death. This is what I invite us to pray tonight as we consider the mysteries of Holy Thursday.
We know that in the Eucharist, Our Lord is really present. What do we mean by this? We believe that Christ is present during the Mass, really present, in three ways: in the Eucharist, in the Word, and in the People gathered. Over the last few weeks our Eucharistic celebrations have been lacking because all three of those have not been present together. We have received one or two forms of the real presence, but none of us, priests or people, have been able to celebrate with all three. As Jesuit John Whitney says: “In these days of contagion and pandemic, we can feel as though the Sacrament itself has been broken, taken from us by the dangers of the world. Yet,” if we feel that way, we might “miss the grace at work so powerfully in these days. For if the Mass seems broken, we know that Christ, too, was broken on the Cross, for our sake.” I invite you this evening to acknowledge this brokenness, and to identify it with Jesus who suffered on the cross. Let us remember that “the Eucharistic meal, blessed as it is, is never more important than the People for whom it has been given.”
Let us ask ourselves this evening what do we think about the Eucharist? How have we received it? Physically, and in these days, spiritually. Are we grateful for the gift of it? Can we allow it to transform our hearts and minds?
During this time of Spiritual Communion you might wonder, what are its effects? St Thomas Aquinas, one of the greatest medieval theologians, mentions two things. He speaks of it as being the unity of the body, and at other times, simply charity and love. The reason he does not make a distinction between these two, unity and love, is because, in reality, they are the same thing. We have only to think of St Paul’s beautiful words in his first letter to the Corinthians, the whole of Chapter 13. You know the verses I’m sure – they’re often read at weddings: “Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.” Where there is unity in the mystical body, there is love, there is Jesus Christ, really present, among the people.
When we think about the Eucharist, many of us might recall the Last Supper, but in this evening’s Gospel we are given a different image to think about the Eucharist.
We are given the example of Jesus who washes the feet of his disciples. This is John’s version of the Last Supper. Instead of commemorating the Eucharist at the Last Supper, John tells us what the Eucharist is meant to be for us – what it will enable us to do – how we can truly imitate God, so that, as we often pray after communion, we might become what we consume; we might become more like God. This is the charity and love that St Thomas Aquinas talked about, enacted in service. When we receive the fruits, the graces, of communion we are incorporated into His body. The full effects of the spiritual communion we make in these days can be seen in the proof of love and charity we are able to gift each other with. In these days – which I know have been trying – we are all called to little acts of service, acts of love and charity. This service is represented in the washing of the feet.
Typically, as Church, we gathered every week to receive communion, and once a year, today, celebrated the Washing of the Feet. I wonder what our Church, what our world, would have looked like if every week we washed each other’s feet, and came together once a year instead to receive sacramental communion. In the history of the Church, there were times where communion was received only once a year. I do not think we want to return to that practice, but as a thought experiment, it is worth considering how different our lives would be if we practiced charity and service more often. Perhaps this is the grace of these days, where we have to spiritually commune, we can see that in doing acts of service, acts of charity, we are living Eucharistically. Let us remember tonight and recommit ourselves this evening, to living a life of service – not just in our private lives, but in our public ones too. The life of service is radically Christian, because it is what Christ did.
The second thing I’d like to invite us to reflect on this evening is Love. St Ignatius – you have all heard before – said that “Love shows itself more in deeds, than in words.” The thing we must all remember this evening – is that God loved us first. We all try to love God, but our loving Him is a response to him having loved us first.
And that love of God led the Father to send His Son to suffer with us as we were suffering. We as a human community are suffering right now and we need God’s love. Right now, many of us feel alone and anxious. But as much as we need God’s love, we are also called to offer it to others. In so doing, I believe we will also receive it. Many of us in these days may be wondering and asking the question to God: why? Why is there this suffering? These are age-old questions. And the only answer I know that gives me some comfort is that God was not content to allow us to suffer alone, instead he sent His Son who suffered on the cross, and so understands and partakes in our suffering. But maybe asking these questions is missing something too. St Cyprian, during a plague, thought that God was, instead, asking us questions during this time. He wrote: “How fitting, how necessary it is that this plague and pestilence which seems horrible and deadly, searches out the justice of each and every one, and examines the mind of the human race, asking whether or not those who are healthy are caring for the sick, whether relatives dutifully love their kinsmen as they should, and whether doctors are refusing to abandon the afflicted in their charge.” If we see this time not as one where we must ask questions, but as God asking us: how are we serving? How are we loving? Might that not make more sense? God loved us first. God sent his Son to be with us to point us towards God. We must remember that we are not alone. After all, in these days, we are called to love each other more. Whilst we cannot hold each other closer, we can reach out virtually, we can call and write, and text and message, and pray for each other.
I’d like to invite us now to think how do we love in these days? Who have we loved, and have we loved them like Jesus would want us to? Obviously there are different ways of loving – but true love is one that brings us out of ourselves, that makes us want to help the other person, to serve the other person, to put that person’s needs above our own. Yet another way of talking about the Eucharist is to talk in terms of ‘thanksgiving’. I’d like to invite you to say thank you this evening for who God has brought into your lives, for who he has allowed you to love. Allow the God who is love, to fill your hearts and minds with the love that only he can give. Because true love is always mutual. If we love God, we must allow God to love us back.
The third thing I’d like to suggest to us all this evening is to pray with the beautiful meditation in Ignatian Spirituality, called the Contemplation to Attain Love, and I’d like to invite you to try it tonight. It has four stages. Please close your eyes and prepare yourself to pray:
I invite you to run through in your mind all the splendours of the created world. Wonder at the vast plains and mountains and the tiny wild flower. Let your mind run among the stars and planets, and then delve into the tiniest atom with its elegant particles and forces. Remember that God has created and does create all of humankind, and that God has redeemed and does redeem all persons. Remember how much God gives you in all this. Consider this, and ponder it , letting your heart go out to God. The Lord has done much for you. He lavishes on you life, light, understanding, desiring, free choice, and the summons to love and to be loved. Most astonishing of all, God plainly wants to and does communicate God’s Self to you. Think about your own life history. You are being created by God to live and function according to gifts coming from God’s very Self. How might you love in return? To do as God does, to give as God gives? Can you offer all that you are and all that you have back to God?
I invite you to look at all the varieties of creatures on the earth and in space and let it come home to you that God continues to create them and dwells within them. Notice how throughout the ages, God has faithfully stayed present to each kind of living thing. Ask yourself what this means to you? God present at your conception. God present at your birth and your growth into infancy. God faithful to you as You came to the use of reason and to freedom. God loyal to you who committed yourself to Christ, and through all your other permanent commitments. What ought you do or offer to God, right now, this evening?
Notice how God works and hopes and keeps sustaining us even when we destroy. Think about your own life history and your own experience. How did God have to labour to keep you alive? to keep you growing and learning and believing and hoping? Recall all the times when you realized that God was working in you? And working for your good? I invite you to give thanks for God’s working in you.
Finally, I invite you to realise that all the good that you see and know, comes from God. All holiness, all justice, all goodness, mercy, understanding, and compassion comes from God. Consider this, and ponder it , letting your heart go out to God who pours out His own Self and all His gifts – not just the Eucharist – but every gift you have received. Notice how your gifts are from God.
Now, I invite you to pray with me:
Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding, and my entire will – all that I have and call my own. You have given it all to me. To You, Lord, I return it. Everything is Yours; do with it what You will. Give me only Your love and Your grace. That is enough for me. Amen.
Recall the ritual of service that we read about this evening. Let us wash each other’s feet. For once, this is something we can all do together this evening. I invite you to gather and share what it is you love about each other, and then to ask if you can wash each other’s feet. During this pandemic, be sure to use soapy water in doing so.
But if this act might endanger someone who is frail or at risk, rather just find another way of serving them this evening. Perhaps by keeping them safe and praying for them. But still share what it is you love about them with them.
I also invite you to pray for those whose feet you need to wash this evening but may be cannot physically. Do so spiritually. Pray for them, for a conversion in their lives and yours, so that they might experience the love of God as you have this evening, and that you may both answer that call to love each other. For the greatest effect and demonstration of the Eucharist we celebrate tonight is that of love, and service and charity. Amen.
Fr Matthew Charlesworth SJ

Fr Matthew Charlesworth SJ entered the Society of Jesus in 2005 and underwent the usual course of studies in his formation, which took him to such varied places as Canada, France, Ireland, Kenya, Spain, Tanzania, the United Kingdom, the United States, Zambia, Zimbabwe, and South Africa. Whilst working at the Institute, Matthew managed the background technical aspects of much of the Institute's work and was involved in the Spirituality work, completing the Advanced Spiritual Directors Training Course and the Spiritual Exercises Training run by the Institute. He is a member of Spiritual Directors International and was also a part-time lecturer in Sacred Scripture at St Augustine College of South Africa. He is currently the Director of Communications for the Jesuits in Southern Africa, based in Lusaka, Zambia. @mcharlesworth
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