Tag Archives: Holy Thursday

The liberating power of washing feet and sharing the Body

Notes for a Holy Thursday homily, in Honduras, translated and edited from Spanish

Exodus 12: 1-8, 11-14
1 Corinthians 11: 23-26
John 12: 1-15

Today, in the Celebration of the Lord’s Supper, only the second reading speaks of the Eucharist. We begin with the retelling of the Paschal Meal.

Jews celebrate, even today, the Passover, the Exodus from the slavery of Egypt, with a sacramental meal. It is not a drama – for them, the Meal is a way of living again the liberation from the Egypt. They recall the mercy of God who heard the cries of the people and intervened to rescue them. The Passover Meal is a way to celebrate the liberating presence of God.

The Last Supper of Lord Jesus was probably a Passover Meal. With his disciples, Jesus celebrated the liberation of the people of Israel from Egypt in the midst of the occupation of Israel by the troops of the Roman Empire. The Passover was a very tense time in the days of Jesus. Recalling their liberation from the Pharaoh, many Jews of his time awaited their liberation from the foreign Roman troops. Some wished to throw them out violently.

Jesus came to liberate his People – but not by killing others but by handing over his life for all. In the Last Supper he gave his disciples his body and blood, under the forms of bread and wine, to show his commitment, his handing over of his life even to death, a death that he would suffer in less than twenty hours. The liberation from slavery, on God’s part, is an act of handing oneself over on behalf of others.

DSC01489But, after the Supper, Jesus gave us an example of his style of liberation. He washes the feet of his disciples.

This too was not theater. It was an act of service, of making himself nothing, of putting himself in the midst of the servants and slaves. In the days of Jesus, only the slaves would wash others’ feet – and those feet were assuredly dirty, from walking on dirt roads and in streets full of dung and refuse.

When we lower ourselves before another person, kneeling at their feet, we recognize that we are not those who are the big guys, the powerful, those who matter. We are the lesser ones, the lesser brothers (and sisters) as Saint Francis of Assisi called his friars. We put the needs of others before our own. We recognize that God wishes a community where there is the connection of love, of tenderness, of mutual support.

Why. Because we have a God who loves us, who has lowered himself, and has handed himself over, even to death, for us.

And doing the same as He does, we can experience true liberation.



Dying and fruitfulness: Romero and Holy Thursday


Unless the grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies it,
it remains only a single grain.
If it dies, it brings forth much fruit.
John 12: 24

The night he was martyred, the blessed martyr Monseñor Oscar Romero chose John 12: 23-26 as the Gospel for the Mass he was celebrating on the anniversary of the death of the mother of a journalist friend.

In his short homily, he noted the significance of this text:

…you have just heard in Christ’s Gospel that one must not love oneself so much as to avoid getting involved in the risks of life that history demands of us, and that those who try to fend off the danger will lose their lives, while those who out of love for Christ give themselves to the service of others will live, like the grain of wheat that dies, but only apparently. If it did not die, it would remain alone. The harvest comes about only because it dies, allowing itself to be sacrificed in the earth and destroyed, Only by undoing itself does it produce the harvest.

The mystery of emptying oneself is central to our faith. Some, like Monseñor Romero, show this by giving their life as martyrs, after living a life of witness to Jesus. All of us are called to give of ourselves each day, in all that we do. We are all called to empty ourselves in love and service of God and others, so that we may be filled with the love and mercy of God.

At the end of his homily that night in the cancer hospital chapel, just moments before he was martyred, Romero noted the Eucharistic meaning of this emptying, indeed of his martyrdom:

May this Body immolated and this Blood sacrificed for humans nourish us also, so that we may give our body and our blood to suffering and to pain —like Christ, not for self, but to bring about justice and peace for our people.

May this Holy Thursday, a day we recall Christ’s handing himself over for us in his passion, but also in the Eucharist, also remind us of the call to empty ourselves, bending down to wash the feet of the poor.

Romero CAP

Painting in the Center of Art for Peace in Suchitoto


Quotations taken from Archbishop Oscar Romero,  Voice of the Voiceless. Orbis Books, 1985


Washing the feet of the poor

IFAlmost immediately after Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio was announced as Pope Francis, photos began appearing of a priest kneeling and washing the feet – of women in a maternity hospital, of young people in what may have been a drug rehabilitation center. And today Pope Francis will visit a center for rehabilitation of young offenders and wash their feet.

Then, on the day of his inauguration, Pope Francis stopped the pope-mobile to descend to bless and kiss a seriously disabled man held in the arms of two young people.

I remembered a talk Jean Vanier gave in 1998, which you can read here. It deserves a prayerful reading today (and every day.)

“Jesus is always surprising us,” said Jean Vanier. “He doesn’t like it when we fall into little habits. He shakes us up.”

A few years ago I was leading the Holy Thursday celebration in the town of Vera Cruz (which mans “True Cross”). The people were reluctant to come forth to have their feet washed. Finally we got twelve boys.

These were not manicured feet, washed beforehand for a church ceremony. They were kids’ feet – dirty. So too much have been the feet of Jesus’ apostles.

But what Jean Vanier emphasizes and what I think is critical about the washing of the feet, especially among the poor, is that this is revolutionary because it shakes up the social hierarchy and calls us to descent, to take the downward path.

As Vanier notes, Peter doesn’t want Jesus to wash his feet because that’s not the way the hierarchy works. But Jesus has another message. In Jean Vanier’s words,

“If I cannot show that I want to be your servant, then you are no longer my friend. Because you must understand that message turns everything upside down.” Those who are at the bottom come up to the top.

In our world, those who are impoverished, those who suffer disabilities, those who are marginalized because they are young, or imprisoned, or addicted receive a message that they are worth little or nothing.

But the message of Jesus, washing feet, is to give all a sense that they are loved, that they have an inestimable worth.

Vanier spoke of a blind and deaf young man in one L’Arche community who only wanted to die. “We want him to move from a feeling of being no good to a sense of his value and his worth.”

How did Vanier and the community do this?

They bathed him with love, with tenderness.

And so Vanier suggested that, in washing the feet, Jesus is telling us a lesson on how to be children of God, sisters and brothers in Christ, how to be a Church of the Poor.

“[Jesus] want is to discover the Church as Body where each one is important.”

“He is reminding us that henceforth we must look downward.”

“…we must be, all of us together, servants of one another – serving each other, empowering each other….we are there to serve each other, to love each other.”

Today I’m going out to the village of Plan Grande to distribute Communion during their Celebration of the Word. Two village leaders will lead the Celebration of the Word and the Washing of the Feet. I asked to also be able to wash feet.

It’s the least I can do – washing feet and then distributing Him who washed feet.

That’s what our faith is about.

If I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet,
you also ought to wash one another’s feet.
For I have set you an example,
that you should also do as I have done.
John 13: 14-15