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The Washing of the Feet and Jesus' Servant Mind

Updated on April 10, 2020

Holy Thursday of the Sacred Triduum

On April 5, 2005, our then Holy Father, John Paul II, now St. John Paul II, passed away. Last Sunday, marked his 15th Death Anniversary. I have special fondness to this Pope. When I was in Theology, I wrote as a completion thesis, his work on Marriage and the Family, Familiaris Consortio. The lines that I kept to heart from the exhortation says, “The Future of humanity passes by way of the family.” (FC #86) And so, in his honor, I would like to begin this reflection with a true-life story of the Saint as narrated by his personal secretary, Bishop John Magee:

He tells something about what happened after Pope John Paul II's election. An official came to the Vatican asking to speak immediately with the new Pope. Bishop Magee went to the Pope's room. He was not there. He went to the library, the chapel, the kitchen, even the roof. When he couldn't find the Pope, he began to think about Morris West's novel, The Shoes of the Fisherman. In that novel a newly elected Slavic pope slips out of the Vatican to find out what is happening with ordinary people in his new diocese. That was fiction, but if the new Pope actually did it, it might turn out badly. Then Bishop Magee ran to a priest who knew the Pope. "We've lost the Holy Father," he said. "I've looked everywhere and cannot find him." The Polish priest asked calmly, "Did you look in the chapel?" "Yes," said Bishop Magee, "he was nowhere in sight." "Go further in," the Polish priest said, “but do not turn on the light.” Bishop Magee walked quietly into the darkened chapel. In front of the tabernacle, lying prostrate on the floor, was the Pope. The Polish priest knew that, before his election, the Pope often prostrated himself before Jesus truly present in the Blessed Sacrament.

Even by just imagining the Saint lying prostrate before the Blessed Sacrament exemplifies not only the power of His office, but the very nature of what the washing of the feet deeply implies.

This year, we skip the ritual of the washing of the feet due to our current circumstance with COVID-19. The very source of this ritual is narrated to us in today’s Gospel passage. From this passage, we can highlight the missionary mind of Jesus which is wrapped up in servanthood. So, what is the missionary mind of Christ? Jesus rises from the table and lays aside his garments. He removes his outer clothes signaling a manifestation of his deepest will. What is revealed is His inner heart, His MIND! Underneath the garments are not richly embroidered Episcopal vestments but a towel – the towel of a servant, a towel that gets dirtier as Jesus kneels before his friends to wash their feet. What is revealed, therefore, is the MISSIONARY MIND OF JESUS, THE MIND OF A SERVANT!

Now, let me draw your attention to what constitutes the mind of a servant:

1. HUMILITY. From the Latin word, “humus, i” meaning “ground.” The ground which may be stepped upon by anybody but is a wonderful agent to fertilize the plant to bear fruit. Jesus, in the same way exemplifying this quality, washed the feet of His disciples no matter how dirty they were as they may have journeyed with their feet exposed to dirt, germs, etc. Such a humbling act on the part of Jesus, but it was something He did to show to them His true mind and mission.

Today marks DAY 24 since the 7 counties (including ours) have been put under “shelter in place” order. Since then, a lot of things have happened. COVID-19 cases worldwide is closed to 1.5 million with deaths close to 100 thousand. As we see these figures surge each day, we also find “present-day-Samaritans” on the lose! People, who have much in life, are humbling themselves with acts of kindness and generosity. It is said that big businesses and celebrities are giving back! For instance, Kevin Love of Cleveland Cavaliers donated $100k to his stadium support team, while the Walt Disney Company, Mark Cuban, and several large companies will continue to pay their employees as they are unable to report to work! Surely, there are few more. They are clear testaments that humility is possible. Kindness and generosity could go a very long way.

2. SIMPLICITY. We are familiar with this quote: “Simplicity is beauty” for it truly is. Simplicity, in fact, is a mark of perfection. But what makes it constitutive of a servant mind is its ability to strike a balance in life. When we are able to know our priorities; when we are able to juggle between our daily activities and our relationship with God, who is SIMPLE and BEAUTY Himself. Then we exemplify simplicity in our Catholic life.

Since “social distancing” became a norm, it created great impact into our daily social life and interaction. But I remember our government leaders saying that, “social distancing does not mean disconnection.” A Rabbi shared this powerful message on how we can stay safe while caring for others: “Every hand that we don’t shake must become a phone call that we place. Every embrace that we avoid must become a verbal expression of warmth and concern. Every inch and every foot that we physically place between ourselves and another, must become a thought as to how we might be of help to that other, should the need arise. … Let’s stay safe. And let’s draw one another closer in a way that we’ve never done before.” These powerful words exemplify true simplicity. Though we may find ourselves locked down in our homes, we can still be connected to God and share love to one another. Ways may be different, but it is the same love that we were compelled by God to do.

3. HOLINESS. When we find ourselves lacking in “physical” and “public” worship due to certain restrictions for COVID-19, we satisfy those lack through our “Spiritual Communion” with God. The Church is NOT CLOSED but is DISPERSED to our households becoming truly a “domestic Church.” Though our hearts may yearn for the body and blood of Christ, let us always remember that He lives within and among us in our homes. It is high time that we recognize God’s presence within us. We are temples of God. Let us prepare our “temples” free of sin and open to the promptings of the Spirit.

Now, going back to Saint John Paul II. He was also given the title, “The Great.” During his canonization, Pope Francis said these words: “The Lord is revealed in simplicity, in humility.” John Paul II powerfully exemplified those attributes of God and deserves the title “Great,” not because he was overly pompous, proud or powerful, but because he was humble, simple and holy. Let us remember, St. John Paul, the Great; let us remember Jesus’s Servant Mind; let us draw our attention Jesus’ washing of the feet; let us remember our call to serve and not to be served!


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