Today is Maundy Thursday! Every disciple of Jesus is invited once again to reflect and attempt to live out in a more substantial way, the Great Commandment (Mandamus): “love one another as I have loved you.”
A powerful reminder was given to all Christians by Pope Francis in his first Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (the Joy of the Gospel) which was made public at the end of the Year of Faith in November 2013.
The Pope emphasizes that the heart of the Christian message is “love for one another which must motivate all Christians to share the Gospel, reach out to the poor and work for social justice”. He emphatically states that “the Son of God, becoming flesh, summons us to the revolution of tenderness.”
Last year on Maundy Thursday, Pope Francis set an example by washing the feet of the inmates of a juvenile detention centre just outside Rome, these included women and Muslims. This year, he will wash the feet of differently-abled people – a clear call that ‘the Joy of the Gospel’ is about inclusiveness. How many Priests today will dare wash the feet of women and / or Muslims? Will some of our laity accept this?
The Exhortation re-emphasizes that “the Church, guided by the Gospel of mercy and by love for mankind, hears the cry for justice and intends to respond to it with all her might” (#188). Pope Francis goes on further when he talks about the need and importance of solidarity and concern for the vulnerable sections of society.
Good Friday is a time when we are reminded of the way that many millions are crucified daily in our world today.
“To believe that Jesus shed his blood for us removes any doubt about the boundless love which ennobles each human being. Our redemption has a social dimension because ‘God, in Christ, redeems not only the individual person, but also the social relations existing between men,” (#178).
Pope Francis has no hesitation in laying bare the challenges of today’s world. He speaks about ‘the economy of exclusion’, ‘the idolatry of money’, ‘the inequality which spawns violence’, ‘the fact that religious freedom is denied to so many people across the globe’, ‘the legitimate rights of women’ and of ‘the growing violations of human rights of the vulnerable’. He asserts that unless Christians have the courage to address these challenges, they will truly not experience the Joy of the Gospel.
The Joy of the Gospel is indeed a clarion call to all Christians and very specially to those in India who are in the midst of the General Elections. As Christians, we are called to preserve the integrity and sanctity of the Constitution of India which focuses on justice, liberty, equality and fraternity – these Gospel values which reverberate in Pope Francis’ Exhortation. Our stand should be clear: that is on behalf of the poor and marginalized, for the excluded, for a secular and pluralistic India and above all for a society which is truly able to experience the joys and peace which our Risen Lord brings.
These Holy Days, we need to pledge that as Christians, each one of us will have the courage to experience and be a witness to the Joy of the Gospel.
(Fr. Cedric Prakash SJ is the Director of PRASHANT, the Ahmedabad based Jesuit Centre for Human Rights, Justice and Peace)