On the evening of our wedding, after the ceremony and reception, my husband and I knelt down and washed each other’s feet. It was an act of love and humility that we wanted to be the foundation of our marriage. We had a beautiful example: A King who washed the feet of peasants; a Savior who washed the feet of sinners; a Friend who washed the feet of betrayers.
The washing of the disciples’ feet was the act of a dying man. With the last few moments of his precious life, Jesus knelt down. In the last hours with his closest friends, he served. This was the manifestation of the new commandment he was to give moments later at the Last Supper: “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.”
Love. This is what it is all about—the meaning of the Christian life. Jesus models love by washing not only the feet of his beloved friends, but of those who will betray him. He knows not only of Judas’ betrayal, but also of Peter’s—which probably stung him even more. He knows Peter, James, and John will fall asleep with him in the Garden. He knows that almost all of his disciples will flee during his torture and crucifixion. And yet he removes his outer garments and kneels to wash their dusty feet.
It would not have been a pleasant affair; their feet would have been caked in dirt and bathed in dust. Perhaps their toenails were long. The feet of these gruff men would have stunk. But I do not imagine that Christ poured just a few drops of water on their feet ceremoniously and then moved on. I believe he spent a few quiet moments with each Apostle, truly washing their feet clean of dirt and grime, and making each feel like the only person in the room. I imagine him drying them tenderly, and looking up with eyes that said, “I do all of this for you.”
Were the Apostles embarrassed by such a vulnerable display of affection? Scripture tells us that Peter recoils and says, “You will never wash my feet.”
For one man to kneel down and wash the feet of another required vulnerability. For the King of Kings to kneel down and wash the feet of sinners required sacrificial, humble, earth-shattering love. This love culminates for us this week on Good Friday, when we commemorate the crucifixion and death of Christ.
While the Church remembers the washing of the disciple’s feet on Holy Thursday, my husband and I have started a tradition of washing each other’s feet on our anniversary. Most recently, we did this on Valentine’s Day. On the day our culture celebrates love, it seemed appropriate to once again remind ourselves of what love actually looks like.
Has anyone ever washed your feet? Perhaps it was part of a Holy Week service at your church or school. Perhaps it was part of a retreat you went on. To have your feet washed is an intimate experience. I think it is often more uncomfortable for the one getting their feet washed than it is for the one doing the washing. In my case, I’m usually worried my feet smell or that my nails aren’t groomed. I’m so worried about what my feet will reveal about me and what the other person is thinking that it’s hard for me to enjoy and appreciate the solemnity and beauty of this moment. Perhaps my thoughts echo Peter: “You will never wash my feet.”
As we draw nearer and nearer to the pinnacle of our faith celebrated in the Triduum, we are probably coming to the end of Lent with dusty feet. We’ve trampled for about forty days in the desert and have probably stumbled in our Lenten observances a few times. Our feet may be caked in inadequacy, sin, or weakness. Maybe you, like me, are thinking so much about what’s on your feet that you’re unable to look Christ in the eye and allow him to thoroughly wash you.
As we enter into Holy Week, I invite you to pray about what keeps you from allowing Christ’s gaze to meet your own. What causes you to join Peter in saying, “You will never wash my feet”? As Pope Francis said during his Apostolic Visit to Cuba, Jesus “came precisely to seek out all those who feel unworthy of God, unworthy of others. Let us allow Jesus to look at us. Let us allow his gaze to run over our streets. Let us allow that look to become our joy, our hope.”
Christ’s response to Peter’s hesitancy is: “Unless I wash you, you will have no inheritance with me.” Perhaps he is saying that we will be unable to live a life of discipleship if we have not experienced his gaze—the sacrificial love of God. It is this encounter with Christ, with his gaze, that transforms us. We love because we have first been loved—this is our joy, our hope.
This Easter season, may you experience Christ’s life-changing gaze as you allow him to wash your feet.
Questions for Reflection: What keeps you from allowing Christ’s gaze to meet your own? What causes you to join Peter in saying, “You will never wash my feet”?
For more resources to accompany you during the Lenten and Easter seasons, please click here.
Kate Fowler is the Blog Editor for the Catholic Apostolate Center. She received her Master's in Leadership for the New Evangelization from the Augustine Institute.
While I was speaking with a priest not very long ago about young adult ministry and how to grow a community of young adults in my area, he said something which felt as if someone was smacking me on the head. Almost in passing, he remarked, “We must share the teachings of Jesus in such a way that people become disciples of Christ and not consumers of Christ.”
I am sure this was not the most significant thing that he was getting at, and it was not the focus of our conversation. However, as I was driving home from that meeting, I could think of little else.
As I reflected on this, I was reminded of a fundamental aspect of our faith. We are called to be in relationship. In a way, all the stories throughout the Bible, from Moses in the Old Testament to the teachings of Jesus in the Gospels, are about forming and maintaining relationships.
Relationship is everything—relationship with God, our fellow brothers and sisters, and (as Pope Francis explained more recently in Laudato Si’) creation. Someone who is in a true relationship with God, humanity, and the environment will be seen as a disciple of Christ and not a consumer of Christ.
But how do we do this? How do we realize the value in relationships?
First, we must drop the idea that we deserve our relationship with Christ. Too often we seem to walk into the church on Saturdays to take the sacrament of reconciliation, or on Sundays to take the sacrament of Holy Communion just as if we were walking into a Starbucks and placing an order. But the sacraments are not about taking, they are about receiving.
I think a “graduation mentality” can enter into our faith life at times: we can partake in the sacraments as something which we have earned. To take something is to only recognize the one who takes. To receive something is to recognize not only the receiver but also the giver. To receive something is to form a relationship.
In taking the time to understand this difference, I realized the importance of being a disciple of Christ and not simply a consumer of Christ. Being a disciple is being open to those relationships, and taking an active part in them. This sounds simple, but simple does not mean easy.
How then do we fully partake in these relationships?
This is the second part of what it means to be a disciple. We must truly understand that a relationship takes two to work. Again, this sounds simple but it is not easy. For those of us who are outgoing it can be difficult to listen, and it can be difficult for those of us who are comfortable in our silence to speak. However, it is important that we do both! We must be able to voice our opinions, positions, and thoughts just as we must be able to listen to our God, our family, our friends, and to creation.
Doing this can be uncomfortable at times. We will have to participate when we do not want to, and we will have to wait patiently when all we want to do is speak. This giving and receiving is manifested in the structure of the Mass. We give God our prayers, attention, and hearts, and he gives us himself through his Word and the Eucharist.
This touches on another aspect of relationships – action. Relationships are not only about speaking and listening, but also about the actions we take to fulfill the words we speak. Jesus did not simply talk about giving up his life for our salvation. He endured the scourging at the pillar, the carrying of the cross, and his crucifixion to redeem us. The perfection of his actions opened up the possibility for us to be in perfect relationship with our Savior, our Creator, and all of creation.
Relationships can be messy. In order to be disciples of Christ, we must put away our spiritual debit cards and throw away our transactional faith mentality. Being a disciple of Christ is about being in and building relationships. It is not easy, but sacrifice never is. We are called to be disciples of Christ, not consumers of Christ.
To learn more about what it means to be a disciple, please click here.
Robert Stamper is the Regional Coordinator for 270Catholic, a young adult faith community in Montgomery County, MD.
Henri Nouwen said “Being the beloved expresses the core truth of our existence.”
On December 27, the Church celebrated the feast of St. John the Apostle - referred to in the Gospel of John as the beloved disciple. A few short days ago, we also celebrated the great and holy feast of Christmas: the turning point in history. On that night in Bethlehem, when God became a little baby, He made it possible for us to truly become “the beloved.”
St. John shows us that to truly love and become “the beloved,” we must stick by each other even through suffering. It was John, along with Our Lady and Mary Magdalene, who remained with Our Lord until His final moments at Calvary.
St. John’s Gospel not only gives us one of the most profound recollections of the crucifixion, but it also reminds us that we love others “because He first loved us.” As Christians, everything in our lives must first flow from a lived relationship with Love incarnate, Jesus Christ, whose birth we celebrate this Christmas season. This relationship with Christ enables us to know what St. John knew: Jesus makes all things new, all burdens light.
Before we can believe the truth of being beloved, I have found that we often believe a lot of lies. Our world and culture - not to mention the Evil One - tell us that we aren’t good enough, that we are unworthy of love. But to truly love and be loved is to live in the truth of who God says we are and the truth of who He calls us to be.
The truth of our identity is that we are beloved sons and daughters, called to stay close to the manger AND the cross and commissioned to share the Good News that we are called to love because He first loved us.
Today as we are still reveling in the shadow of Christ’s manger in Bethlehem, let’s ask Our Lord, Our Lady, and St. John to fill us with the greatest truth of our existence: our identity as beloved.
Lauren Scharmer is the Director of a multi-parish Youth Ministry program and holds her Master's in Social Work.