My wife and I have a tradition of attending the Holy Thursday Night Mass at our parish. Afterwards, we go to where the Blessed Sacrament is reposed and we spend some time with the Lord, like the Apostles did in Gethsemane in preparation for Good Friday.
However, like the Apostles, by this time in the evening I am tired and distracted. It takes a great deal of concentration to remain in that sacred silence. I remember the words of Jesus to the sleeping Apostles "Could you not wait one hour with me?" And yet, I rarely make it a full hour.
This time in prayer highlights for me the constant struggle of my spiritual life. Prayer should be a time of love and joy where we spend time with the Lord and receive spiritual fulfillment. And it is. But it is also a chore that takes a great deal of effort and (as CS Lewis once wrote) it is almost a relief to put it aside. It is such a paradox that confronts me every year.
But this paradox reminds me of the fact that Holy Thursday Night is, itself a paradox.
Years ago I wrote an article called "Sinners in the Church," which, for some reason, is one of the most read things I have written. In it, I had the following reflection on Holy Thursday Night.
Go back to Holy Thursday Night. It is the greatest night in the history of the Church. If Pentecost is the birthday of the Church, then we should look at Holy Thursday as the conception. It was when Christ gave us the source and summit of our faith: the Eucharist. And he gave us the priesthood when he ordered those at table to “Do this in memory of Me.” He gave the 12 a model of service by washing their feet. He promised them that the Holy Spirit would come to them and work through them.
It was the night of greatest revelation when Jesus said that He told them everything, especially His new commandment: “Love one another as I have loved you.” There has never been a night of greater power, intimacy, and holiness than Holy Thursday Night.
It is the greatest night in the history of the Church.
It is also the worst night in the history of the Church.
Those to whom Jesus had given authority went with Him to the Garden of Gethsemane, and they ALL fell asleep. All of those ministers of the Eucharist abandoned Him when the guards came. Peter, who we would call today our first pope, committed the greatest sin you could in the original Church: apostasy, which is to deny the Lord. And one of those 12 betrayed Jesus to death.
Notice here, not a single one of those leaders was faithful (though John does return to the cross). One of them is a greedy murderer who backstabs the Lord and one of them, the first pope, publicly denies Christ. There is no night worse than Holy Thursday night.
Yet if I can believe that Christ is still with the Church after this, if I can believe that the Church is the true Church even when ALL of those chosen leaders commit horrible sin, then why should I be shocked when I see sinful leaders in the Church today?
Holy Thursday night is Church history in miniature. From that one night we know that throughout the history of our Church there will be great holiness and glory alongside horrid corruption and sin. Of course it should hurt us to see sinful ministers, but this should not surprise us because it was there at the beginning. And if on Holy Thursday night the Church did not cease to be the true Church because of the weight of its sin, then why should it now?
The purpose of the reflection was to examine how the Church has always been composed of scandalous sinners. But today, I reflect on that same reality in my own soul.
I am not a saint. But there is grace in my soul given by God. I am not pure evil. Yet I daily sin and turn away from that grace God has given me. Jeremiah 17:9 says "More tortuous than anything is the human heart, beyond remedy; who can understand it? " I know that this war inside my soul cannot end in a stalemate. In the end there will be a winning and losing side. The horrible thing is that the choice rests squarely on my shoulders. I cannot win on my own. If I am saved, it will only be by God's grace. But I still have to choose it. And for some reason, the struggle continues.
The war goes on. Tonight, as my wife and I reflect on the Last Supper, the spiritual battle will continue.
So tonight as I am confronted with the paradox of grace and sin inside of my soul, I will renew my commitment to the Lord's saving power in my life. And even though we cannot attend Mass in person, we remember Jesus' promise that where two or more are gathered in His Name, He is there.
God bless you all on this Holy Thursday.