Friday, March 25, 2005

For Catholics all around the world, the annual washing of feet is something which may have been experienced many times. To those coming into the church this year (my hand is raised, see?), or to those who are not Catholic, this may seem like a peculiar ritual to undertake.
But whatever bit of oddness one might feel as you remove your shoes and stockings in church, I want to assure you that you get over it immediately, and the simplicity and beauty of this ritual becomes apparent as you participate in it. This is my second Holy Thursday as an RCIA candidate. Last year as we prepared for this ritual the little voice in the back of my head said "Not this year, you are not ready". My spiritual director invited me to examine that but, even with absolutely the best intentions, it dropped off of my radar as soon as Easter passed.

But this year was different. I was entering the most holy period of the Church year, which happened to take place during my final few days as someone not fully initiated into the Church. I knew I had to participate - not because of peer pressure or appearance, but because this time it seemed right in my heart.

So I removed my shoes and socks (yes, the floor was really cold), and got into line leading to one of 15 foot-washing stations that had been set up. I had no idea whose feet I would wash or, conversely, who would be washing my feet.

Have you been through this ritual before? Can you remember the first time? I suspect this will be the first of a number of significant things that I will experience over the next three days, but for me, for tonight -- it is the high point of the Triduum.
Jesus said ... “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another's feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them. - John 13:13-17 (NIV)
Having my feet washed was much less difficult than I imagined. The woman who washed my feet was very gentle as she poured the warm, scented water over my feet, and then she carefully placed each of my feet in the washing bowl. She gently rubbed the top and bottoms of each for a few short seconds, and then was handed a towel so that she could dry them. I stood, thanked her, and as is the custom in our Parish, we hugged and she walked on. Looking back on this even just a few hours later I cannot remember what she looked like.

Washing another person's feet produced a surprising amount of anxiety. The woman who sat down in front of me (the person doing the washing kneels on the ground in front of the other person, who is seated in a chair) was in her late 40's or early 50's and looked quite frail. Her feet were long, and I tried - to the best of my ability - to recreate the process that I had just gone through. I found something profoundly deep in washing her feet, and remembered the verse of scripture which described how Jesus commanded us to do this for one another.

When I felt brave enough I looked up to see how she was doing, and found her sitting in the chair weeping. Later, after drying her feet, we exchanged a hug and, still sobbing, she said "I really needed that". I was at a total loss as to how to respond, so I simply said "God Bless you". I will probably always remember her face.

For me the most touching moment came when one of the other Candidates rose to move to the foot washing station. I watched, from across the church, as he stood. He had a friend with him, who helped him up and helped him find his way out of the pew. He is nearly completely blind, and I found his strength and resolve just remarkable.

Then it was over. But the ritual left me with such a strong feeling of having connected with something ancient and something sacred.

I am now looking forward to the Triduum next year, where once again I will be allowed to repeat a service to another that our Lord gave to his disciples, and to us.

Happy Easter.

Copyright©2005 jdwarrick    

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