Tag Archives: washing feet

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.


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

Touching with respect and tenderness

The most touching moment for me this morning as I watched the inaugural Mass of Pope Francis is seen in this photo:

Pope Francis, March 19, 2013

Pope Francis, March 19, 2013

He stopped the car, got down, touched and kissed the man with disabilities.

As I contemplate this act, I think of the work of Jean Vanier, who founded the L’Arche communities for people with disabilities.

In a meditation on Jesus washing the feet of his disciples, found here, Jean Vanier said:

We are to touch people with a deep respect — to touch them with tenderness. Our hands, and not just our voices, may become vehicles of the love of Jesus. The Word became flesh, that our flesh may become word. Our flesh, through the power of the Holy Spirit, can reveal to people their value — that they are cherished and loved by God.

How can we touch people with respect, with deep tenderness, especially those with disabilities?

How can we do it in a way in a non-condescending way that respects their dignity and allows them to touch us?

In my ministry I find it so important to greet people, especially the women and children. The custom in many places is that men greet each other but not the women or children. It is interesting to see how the children are sometimes surprised at this gringo who wants to shake their hand.

But if God has reached out to us in love and has called us to wash each others’ feet, what else can we do?