March 29, 2016

Holy Thursday Reflection by Fr. Tom Doyle, CSC

Holy Thursday at Andre House
The greatest threat to the celebration of the Eucharist in America is not a shortage of priests. The more pervasive danger is the demise of the family meal. If the (Passover) meal is the fundamental form in which Jesus gathered his disciples and told them to “do this in memory of me”, then the personal experiences of kitchen table where families pray grace, share stories, ask questions, work through disagreements and sustain their bodies is essential to the understanding of what the faith community does when we gather around the table of the altar on Sundays. Experience of the underlying symbol is essential to understanding the underlying mystery.
Andre House does many things for people experiencing poverty and homelessness. But to understand the essence of what Andre House is, what we and 3,000 volunteers do, and why we do it, I believe one needs to know the story of Holy Thursday. Holy Thursday celebrates the institution of the priesthood and Eucharist in a way that takes the Gospel of Jesus washing the feet of the disciples (John 13:1-15). I would like to share stories of Holy Thursday at Andre House with you beginning with my own told to me by Demetrius.

On Easter Monday I was greeting guests for our usual meal service. An African American man in his 30’s with dreadlocks between his shoulder blades told me that Holy Thursday was the first day that he came to Andre House for assistance. He entered our parking lot and took his seat on the bench waiting for his meal. While waiting two women came to him and offered to wash his feet. He was so confused by the offer of women older than him getting on their knees to wash his feet, he left Andre House and walked around the block.

When he reentered the parking lot and took his seat on the bench, he accepted the offer to have his feet washed. He said that he wept with gratitude as his feet were washed, dried, covered with lotion and provided with a new pair of socks. “I couldn’t believe that strangers would get down on the ground and wash my stinky feet.”

As we talked about his experience, Demetrius told me he grew up in a faith tradition that was very aggressive about recruiting people to their faith. What mattered most was they convert the most people they could. But, Demetrius said “No one here is preaching to me with their words. People just do the words I was taught as a boy. I’ve never experienced anything like it. And I want to be a volunteer here so I can learn more and do what strangers have done for me.”

On Holy Thursday, 30 volunteers came and washed hundreds of worn out feet of our guests before they went in for their meal. “If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet. I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do.” (John 13:15) The humble acts of service, instituted by Christ, are the way that we approach the mission and privilege of our ministry every day of the year. Holy Thursday is the prism through which we see every day. Thank you for being a part of Andre House and the underlying mystery that directs every day of the year. We have posted a few reflections from our volunteers on the home page under “Stories of Grace”. Following are a few of the pictures of Holy Thursday of which you are a beloved part.