Students from Moreau Catholic High School in Hayward joined Bishop Michael C. Barber, SJ, and students from Bishop O'Dowd High School in Oakland as they helped out with lunch at St. Vincent de Paul Dining Room in Oakland on Holy Thursday.
Every day is Holy Thursday
Michael C. Barber, SJ
I like all of Holy Week, but Holy Thursday is one of the most special days of the year for me.
In the morning, I visited the St. Vincent de Paul dining room, just blocks from our cathedral. Here the dedicated staff and wonderful volunteers serve the poor and homeless with a hot meal five days a week. There is such a sense of joy there. And it's infectious; it spreads to the guests, some of whom come through the line up to a dozen times.
As I handed out lunch trays, I was greeted with "God bless you" and "Thank you Father" and many, many warm smiles.
I was happy to see a group of high school students from Moreau Catholic and Bishop O'Dowd there that day to help out.
I was reminded of the words of Jesus when the Apostles came to him and asked "Where are we going to get enough food to feed all these (5,000) people?" And he replied "Give them something to eat yourselves."
I notice that this year in Holy Week Pope Francis invited some homeless into the Sistine Chapel for a tour, then gave them lunch in the Vatican cafeteria. Cardinal Sean O'Malley of Boston, one of my models as bishop, likewise spends every Holy Thursday morning at a soup kitchen.
As St. John Chrysostom preached: "If we cannot see Christ in the poor, how can we see Him in the Blessed Sacrament?"
Mass on Holy Thursday is always in the evening, as we not only commemorate, but make present, the Last Supper. Sunset is an easy time to pray. God seems especially close.
At this Mass, before we proceed to the Offertory and Consecration, we have the "washing of the feet." This year, in honor of The Year of Consecrated Life, we invited nine religious, women and men, from different orders, to have their feet washed. It was a very moving experience for me. There's a story on Page 1 about some of these exceptional, yet normal, representatives of religious families in our diocese. Kneeling at their feet reminded me of the humility and reverence we show to Christ when we kneel at the canon of the Mass. Christ is in the Eucharist. Christ is present in the Church, His people, the Body of Christ.
Among the nine, some were young just starting out in the religious life, and some had already spent many years in the service of God and His people. I was particularly touched when I came to Sister Ann Marie Gelles, a Sister of the Holy Family. Sister is blind and teaches braille at the California School for the Blind. As I knelt at her feet and poured the water, there was her guide dog, Noelani (Hawaiian for "Mist of Heaven"), resting on the sanctuary steps next to her.
Following the reception of Holy Communion the entire congregation and I walked with Christ in the Blessed Sacrament outside the cathedral, down the ramp and along Harrison Street. It was an incredible sight: 800 people with candles lighting up the darkness of the night, accompanying Jesus to the Garden of Gethsemani. We left the Lord on a beautiful altar of repose in the Cathedral crypt.
There were devotions, singing and prayers until midnight ... and then silent adoration ... all night long. Our diocesan Confraternity of Eucharistic Devotion organized it so that Our Lord was never alone, all night long, until 11 a.m. the morning of Good Friday.
Service. Care for the poor. Spiritual Intimacy. Humility. Self-giving. The Mass. Holy Communion. Walking with Jesus. Adoration. All these beautiful things are available every day in the parish near you.
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