Holy Thursday Foot Washing (or The Absurdity of Love)

Cody Maynus, VIP Volunteer

Cody Maynus, VIP Volunteer

The following post by VIP Volunteer Cody Maynus is reprinted with permission.

Much of what we know about the liturgy of Holy Week comes down to us through history from a 4th century nun named Egeria, who documented in detail her three-year pilgrimage through the Holy Land. It seems fitting then to be celebrating Holy Week–and especially the Triduum, the Three Days–with 21st century nuns.

The Visitation Sisters celebrate the Triduum in a wholly unique way. We began these three sacred days with washing one another’s feet. While many Christians are accustomed to washing one another’s feet, the heart of Jesus’s Mandatum or mandate to love one another, very few, celebrate Jesus’s new command in such an intimate way. Although we’ll join the parish community in their foot-washing tonight, the monastic community gathered in chapel this afternoon to sing, to pray, to read Jesus’s challenge, and to wash, bless, and kiss one another’s feet.

As we washed each other’s feet–the Sisters washing their prayer partner’s feet, Sister Mary Virginia washing Brenda’s, Heidi and I washing each other’s–we were invited to spiritually wash the feet of a disinherited group, provided for us on a slip of paper. The Sisters have been working and praying to curb global indifference this Lent, culminating in these prayers around the basin today. I prayed for those living in war zones. Another prayed for women being trafficked in our neighborhood. Another prayed for at-risk children and youth.

After each foot washing, we sang a modified version of a familiar hymn:

Photo credit: Cody Maynus

Photo credit: Cody Maynus

Jesu, Jesu,
fill us with your love,
teach us how to serve
the sisters we have from you

Our very intimate liturgy ended in a circle, hands clasped together, eyes closed, and praying to the Father in the words that Jesus gave us.

Washing feet is a profoundly uncomfortable experience–in Jesus’s time, as in ours. When Jesus bent down to wash his disciples’ feet, everybody felt uncomfortable. The disciples were unaccustomed to their teacher serving them. I’m sure that Jesus, who knew his place in society and his role in salvation, was really weirded out doing this thing that he had never done before, that he was never expected to ever do. The whole affair  was absolutely bizarre. The same is true today. Heidi and I live together in community, but pouring water over her feet, washing them, drying them, and kissing them in blessing was profoundly uncomfortable, only slightly less uncomfortable than her repeating the process with my feet.

And that’s how it should be.

The Triduum should make us feel profoundly uncomfortable–and in many different ways. It’s a very emotional and spiritually draining few days (not to mention exhausting physically if you’re at all involved in parish liturgy.) We wash feet, process with the Sacrament, crucify, genuflect, reverence, sit in vigil, wait, light fires, baptize, sing, rejoice, scream, jump for joy, shout every last Alle—- we can muster…

…and all in the span of three short days.

The exhaustion and the emotions are all a part of the experience. We do not come to the Triduum as disembodied spirits. We come as real, living, flesh-and-blood persons with plenty of personal, communal, and institutional baggage.

Just like the disciples did.

And just like Jesus does.

Amen.

 

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*Read more of Cody’s reflections at his blog: Come, O Thou Traveller Unknown

 

Our New Pope: Washing the Feet of Young Inmates on Holy Thursday

by Melissa Borgmann-Kiemde, Visitation Companion

We have a new pope. His name is Francisco, or Francis. The Argentinian Jesuit took his name after St. Francis of Assisi, and St. Francis Xavier, one of his founding Jesuit predecessors.  (And might I stretch his Francis’ inspirations to include – *ahem* – our co-founder, St. Francis de Sales?) I think of these saints as a “trifecta of Francises,” if you will, who all exemplify and inspire a kind of humility and gentleness in the world.

I’ve been moved almost daily since the announcement of Pope Francis’ papacy by information characterizing his way of being as a priestly leader. “He rides the bus; he cooks for himself; he wears old shoes; he elected to forgo his cardinal apartment for a more modest dwelling;” and “the day of his introduction to the world, he elected not to stand on a box above his peers, as he wanted to convey that he is one of us.” These tidbits have all rolled around in my heart and mind, providing a delightful electrical charge to my prayer — my hopes for our church and its new leadership.

Today, I learned that one week from today, on Holy Thursday, Pope Francis will be washing the feet of young inmates in a juvenile detention center on the outskirts of Rome. And this information gives me one more jolt of inspiration. In lieu of a mass at the Basilica of St. Peter, where he would wash the feet of his peers, our new pope has taken a page out of the St. Francis of Assisi playbook — or perhaps the Jesuit or Salesian life texts — and is tending to the feet of those behind bars. Not unlike Christ’s invitation, he is taking his bread to the poor, his service to those on the margins — as he literally goes to feed those in prison.

It moves me, this break in tradition. Holy Week. The re-enactment of Jesus washing his disciples’ feet. The last supper. The pope. These young men of Casal del Marmo prison for minors.  Amen.

Where are you spending your Holy Thursday? What rituals are you participating in? Whose feet will you wash? Who will touch your soles? What bread will you consume? What will you offer to those around you? How might any one of our dear saint Francises inspire your living of the gospel in this day and age?

Blessings as we mark this holy season of the liturgical year!