As I gently sponge bathed my elderly father-in-law as he stood on the bathroom mat after another bathroom miss, part of me was frustrated and angry because he was afraid and wouldn’t step into the bathtub and get cleaned off easier and better… But part of me was brought back to the many many times I had read the Gospel account of Jesus washing his disciples’ feet to my PSR & RCIA classes and talked about service and I had ceremonially washed all their feet. There was a big difference between doing it to help a message sink in and actually loving someone unconditionally and serving them. Reality was a mess…
On this, Holy Thursday, our mass readings (EX 12:1–14, 1 COR 11:23–26, JN 13:1–15) tell the story of setting up and perpetually celebrating the Passover meal, the Institution of the Eucharist, and Jesus washing the apostles feet at the Last Supper. I think it’s evident that we Catholics place great emphasis on celebrating and making perpetually present the Body and Blood of Jesus at Mass, in the same manner and light the Jewish people (including Jesus and His disciples) did Passover. In the midst of this though, John’s Gospel tells the story of the foot washing at the Last Supper, focusing almost entirely on the lesson of Christianity being rooted in humble, loving service.
Today we celebrate the Institution of the Holy Eucharist and the Priesthood. We often focus so emphatically on one part, the Eucharist, that we fail to recognize that through our baptism, we also share in the priesthood of Christ. Although we can NOT consecrate the gifts of bread and wine during mass, we DO share in the type of sacrificial priesthood of Jesus. A priest’s main job in Jesus’ day was to offer the sacrifice for the people, and in a similar way, that ministerial, liturgical priesthood is carried out by our priests at mass. They offer sacrifice, in union with the sacrifice of Christ on Calvary, for all of us, to The Father, through the Holy Spirit. Our sacrifice, which usually is our prayers and loving actions, many done as a normal course of life, can also be offered to God in Union with Jesus’ sacrifice.
Jesus didn’t b — -h and moan about how filthy and smelly their feet were, or how big a deal it was. Jesus didn’t complain that this really wasn’t his job. Jesus didn’t resent Peter or Judas for their impending betrayal and denials. Jesus simply gave the example of loving them more than himself. Jesus simply and humbly led by example. Jesus simply, humbly and lovingly bent down low, and served. I loved my father-in-law and it was hard. Reflecting on that occurrence has helped me to understand Jesus’ message better. I actually was blessed beyond measure for the opportunity to do this. It was a mutual gift…a gift of trust and humility to me from my father-in-law, and a gift of unconditional love and service to a man I loved, who was dying slowly but surely. It was also a gift from God to me, a opportunity to actually try to live the Gospel rather than just talk about it… Today, and every day, we are offered that same opportunity…to act in love instead of just talking about it. It helps me to better understand my Franciscan mission to bring Gospel to Life and Life to Gospel. That is actually every Christian’s mission. Peace and All Good, my friends!