holy thursday foot washing

The Holy Thursday liturgy is rich with symbols and rituals. We commemorate the Passover meal, which was to be the last supper before Jesus`s death. Several themes are present: the institution of the Eucharist, the institution of the ordained priesthood, and the call to humble service. Which theme is highlighted and how the liturgy is celebrated can tell a lot about the theological leanings of the pastor and parish.

Here is one view from the pew…

Let us celebrate the Eucharist as the great sacrament of unity – a unity that transcends place and time. Holy Communion is healing food for us sinners. It is a source of energy on our spiritual journey. It should not be used as a tool of power or division.

In this scandal-ridden time of sadness and confusion, many of us are struggling with the exclusive and hierarchical nature of ordination. If Holy Thursday is a time to commemorate the institution of the priesthood, then we need to prayerfully ponder the meaning of priesthood for today.

The symbolic ritual of foot washing is too often a well-orchestrated spectacle. Many of us in the pews are immersed in the reality and messiness of service. We wash and care for our loved ones, from the wee babes to our elders. We teach and nurse. We serve and protect. We save and heal. We do this daily, without solemn processions and choirs singing. And, when we do, we aren`t surrounded by ministers and assistants carrying beautiful jugs, basins and fluffy white towels.

Rituals only have meaning if they are a sign of a deeper reality. Our church and our world are in need of true servant leaders. We are in need of men and women willing, like Jesus, to humbly bend before the feet of those they are called to serve.

baby boomer elders

Fifty is the new thirty, a phrase most probably coined by baby boomers. I’m part of this group born in the years 1946-1964. Our sheer numbers meant we were, and are, a force to be reckoned with. We posed a challenge to society in each of our life stages from birth to school to post-secondary education to the work force. Red flags are now being raised about our upcoming take-over of the elder demographic. Dire financial forecasts bemoan the heavy burden we will place on health care and social services. It’s a tough guilt trip after a life-time of working, raising and supporting children, and paying more than our fair share of taxes.

Recently I’ve been noticing another baby boomer guilt trip within our own church. I admit that I have no empirical proof for this observation, and I`m not trying to make any generalizations (which I dislike and seldom trust). It`s merely a simple observation after reading and  reflecting on  recent articles and online discussions.

Some more traditionally minded Catholics blame baby boomers for the post-Vatican II reforms – reforms they believe had a negative effect on the Church. Now we are being portrayed as aging hippies whose current reform efforts within the Church are being rejected by the younger generation.

Is this true? Do only middle-aged and older women care if the priesthood excludes them? Do movements like Call to Action, We are Church or Voice of the Faithful speak only to baby-boomers?

Traditionalists and liberals come in all ages, but are we facing a new trend in our church? Baby boomers led many of the protest movements of the latter half of the 20th century. They were the young voice challenging the traditions of the older generations. Are we now facing an era where the younger generation takes up the banner of traditionalism while the voice of reform and protest comes from the elders?

dumb sheep

The problem with some shepherds is that they think we’re just dumb sheep!

I laughed out loud the first time I heard this line. I quickly sobered up when I realized how much truth it holds.

The gospels present Jesus as the Good Shepherd, one who is willing to lay down his life for his sheep. This pastoral image has been used to describe the role of bishops in the Catholic Church. The symbolism is reflected in the crozier or ceremonial staff carried by bishops. Its shape resembles a shepherd’s crook.

The image of sheep is used to describe us as we follow Jesus. He leads us with compassion and love. He seeks us out when we are lost, and gently brings us back. We trust his voice, knowing that he is leading us on the right path.

Using these images to describe the relationship between the ordained hierarchy and the laity is problematic for me. We are no longer dumb sheep who will blindly and obediently follow the voice of any and all shepherds. Our following depends on the shepherd. Jesus, yes! Each and every bishop just because he is a bishop, no!

Sheep will follow the voice of the shepherd only if they trust that voice. Thankfully, there are good and trustworthy voices that genuinely follow in the steps of the Good Shepherd. But, sadly, there are also scoundrels. Only the truly dumb will follow someone just because he carries a shepherd’s crook or wears a clerical collar.