“If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet.” (John 13:14)
Nothing ever comes out the way we want it to. After a tiring day working in the church preparing for Holy Thursday, the seminarian of my parish and I sat down for an early dinner. We had spent the day trying to make sure that all the volunteers who showed up to prepare the church were sticking to rubrics and guidelines. Sometimes we succeeded and other times we failed. As we sat down, I mentioned that amidst all the craziness at least we could now relax, have supper, and celebrate the priesthood. Our seminarian froze and said to me, “I’m sorry Father, I haven’t wished you a Happy Feast Day on this Holy Thursday. I guess sometimes we forget what’s really important.” We said a prayer of blessing and throughout dinner I kept thinking about his words. We really do forget what is truly important and get distracted by things that while they may be important aren’t as important as what we celebrate today: the institution of the Eucharist and the Priesthood.
All we need is right there on the altar. Everything else just distracts us from the reality that Jesus is truly here present among us. Tonight is different from other nights because we celebrate what our Lord did for us during that Last Supper. Not only did he give us the gift of himself in the Eucharist, but he who is Master and Lord knelt down and washed the feet of his disciples in a remarkable act of service and love. This is what is important. This is what we are called to imitate. And on this Holy Thursday night, we also recall Christ’s agony. Not just the agony in the garden that happened after the Last Supper, but think of the agony Christ felt during that meal. He knew that one of his disciples, one his closest friends, one of “his own” was about to betray him. Think about that for a second. He knew that Judas was going to lead him to a very violent death. He loved Judas like he loves each one of us. Imagine the agony that Jesus felt in his heart knowing that one of “his own” was going to hand him over to die. And despite all this, Jesus still washed Judas’ feet. “He loved his own in the world and he loved them to the end.” (John 13:1)
In a few moments, I will kneel down as the Lord did and wash the feet of twelve of our parishioners. The world may see this as degrading. I see it as an honor. But let’s switch places for a moment and look at this scene from the eyes of Peter who did not want his feet to be washed by Jesus. This happened to me in the infancy of my priesthood. I was attending a women’s prayer meeting as they were preparing for a retreat. I was sitting in a corner listening to them as they talked about service. To emphasize how important their service was the leader of the retreat went around the room washing everyone’s feet. I was trying to go unnoticed but finally, she placed the bowl at my feet. I became like Peter. I looked down on her with a puzzled face as if to say, “Wait a second, I’m the priest. I’m the one that does the foot washing.” She looked up at me and lovingly said, “Father, let yourself be served.” I took off my shoes, and she washed my feet. Tears were streaming down my eyes because I realized that as much as priests love their people, it is nothing compared to how much the people of God love their priests. Unworthy as we are, today we priests are reminded that we are called to put pride and ambition aside and simply serve you. I cried that day because I wish I had the faith of those women. I wish I had the faith of some of you. Yes, I do consider myself of man of faith or else I would have nothing to share with you from this pulpit, but I marvel at the faith of the people I serve daily. Through your rosaries, novenas, chaplets, stations, adoration, Mass attendance, and communion, you inspire your priests to work that much harder for you and to work for what is truly important: to make this Christ who gave of himself this night more present to you. On this Holy Thursday night, I thank God for my priesthood and for the gift of the Eucharist, but I also give thanks for the gift I have in all of you who allow me on a daily basis to wash your feet.