the big foot washing debate….really???

washing feet icon

One of the greatest barriers to true unity in our church is the propensity of Catholics to pick fights among themselves over seemingly trivial matters. The latest is the issue of whether priests should wash the feet of women during the Holy Thursday liturgy. Really? I don’t know whether to simply shake my head, or hang it in shame.

There is an old liturgical law that states only men should have their feet washed. The law was put in place at a time when women were excluded from the sanctuary. Some folks, of the more traditional mind-set, believe that this is still the right and just way to perform the ritual. For them, it is not so much a sign of service as a re-creation of the Last Supper. The disciples had their feet washed by Jesus. The disciples were men. Therefore priests should only wash the feet of men.

Enter, Pope Francis. Last year, during his first Holy Thursday as Pope, he trekked down to a Detention Centre for Youths and washed the feet of young people – including women and Muslims. The traditionalists were aghast. Progressive Catholics were over-joyed. Those who are sticklers of the law rationalized that, as pope, Francis has the right to over-ride the rules. But, the rules remain for the rest of us. Really???

This year Bishop Robert Morlino of Madison will wash the feet of twelve seminarians. He is also enforcing strict foot-washing guidelines in his diocese. Priests have two options: wash the feet of men, or dispense with the foot washing ritual all together.

What would Pope Francis do? Well, we already know what he is going to do. This year he is heading down to a centre for people with disabilities. The papal foot-washing will, again, be a concrete sign of compassion and service not merely a showy display of clericalism. And, it will be inclusive of women, men, and non-Christians.

Is this trivial? On the surface, yes. Yet, it is a sign of the deeper malaise in our Church. It shines a light on the idealogical divides that just won’t go away. Jesus had few kind words for legalistic pharisees in his day. I have even fewer for our own modern day pharisees.

Pope: During Holy Week, ask which Gospel character you resemble | National Catholic Reporter

VATICAN CITY Preceded by young people and clergy waving tall palm branches, Pope Francis began his Holy Week liturgies by encouraging people to ask themselves which personality in the Gospel accounts of Jesus passion, death and resurrection they resemble most.”Where is my heart? Which of these people do I resemble most?” Pope Francis asked Sunday as he celebrated the Palm Sunday Mass of the Lords Passion.

via Pope: During Holy Week, ask which Gospel character you resemble | National Catholic Reporter.

Pope Francis was inviting us to enter into an Ignatian style of prayerful imagining. In the Passion story, who do you most identify with? For me, my heart, mind and gut are united with Mary.

My grand-daughter doesn’t like it when I call her my grand-baby. At the ripe age of 2 1/2, it insults her sense of maturity in relation to her one year old brother. I tried to explain to her that her daddy is still MY baby. “No, Grammy”, she argued. “Daddy’s not a baby!” It was useless trying to explain to her that the strapping young man who is now a wonderful husband and father will always be my baby boy.

One of the most glorious gifts of parenthood is rejoicing in all the accomplishments of our children, from first steps to graduations to careers to parenthood and beyond. One of the hardest aspects of parenthood is suffering with them through the many struggles of life.  As wee babies they stole your hearts and never gave them back. Their pain became your pain, and continues to be.

I resist pondering Mary’s agony as her son was tried, tortured, humiliated and finally put to a gruesome death. It is too much to bear. This was her baby boy, now grown and trying to fulfill God’s will in his life. How did Mary find the courage to stay beside him, to remain standing even at the foot of the cross when others had fled?  How does a parent survive the breaking of their own heart when they see their child suffer so?

Pope Francis, in his wisdom, knows that nudging us to enter into the gospel with our mind and heart can touch us more personally than soaring theological treatises or lengthy sermons. This is a powerful, yet simple exercise. What about you? Who do you identify with in the Passion readings?

I’ll pray for you

Some saints are easily recognizable by their inspiring works or words. Other saints are hidden, but their holiness upholds us through their prayers. Anna was one of these saints, a woman well on in years. Though ravaged with health issues that limited her activity and mobility, Anna was a permanent fixture in our church pews. She not only attended every mass and prayer service, she came early and left late. If there was a day-long Eucharistic Adoration, she was present for each and every minute.

Anna reminded me of the the prophet Anna, in Luke’s gospel story of the Presentation, who “never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day.”  I asked her once, what do you do during all those hours? Her simple answer, “I pray for each and every one of you.” Every temple, every church, every community needs an Anna.

I belong to a wonderful online faith community, Our Lady of the Round Table. We are eight women from around the world; the USA, Ireland, France, Kenya, Australia and Canada. Each day, we bring many prayers to the table…so many prayers. The list of names and needs grows daily. I get overwhelmed, forgetting whom we are praying for. Thankfully, we have our own “Anna” among us. 

Susan is a woman who not only remembers each and every intention, whether formally requested or mentioned in a passing comment, she lovingly lists the names each day. Her list becomes a prayerful litany, inviting us all to speak the name in our heart and lift their need to the heavens. Susan is our community’s memory. She nudges us to be faithful to those words, sometimes too easily rolled off our tongues, “I’ll pray for you”.

One of the first requests that Pope Francis made of us was “pray for me”. There is power in our prayers, whether we ask for them or promise to offer them for others. The mission of the communion of saints is to pray with us and pray for us.

God bless all the everyday saints here on earth who love and support us with their prayers.