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Holy Thursday: Francis to Wash the Feet of the Disabled, Call Us to Christian Discipleship
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The Vatican announced that Pope Francis will celebrate Holy Thursday
Mass at Our Lady of Providence Center in Rome. The Center is run by the
Father Carlo Gnocchi Foundation and is home to many disabled men and
women with neuro-degenerative diseases, along with their doctors,
caretakers and families. This is in keeping with the beautiful
act of love demonstrated by Francis last year when he washed the feet of
young prisoners at the Casal del Marmo juvenile detention center
in Rome. He will again preside over the Holy Thursday morning chrism
Mass in St Peter's Basilica and bless the oils used for the sacraments
in the Diocese of Rome.This act of loving witness reveals the interior meaning of the mandatum,
the command of love expressed by Jesus at the Last Supper when He
washed the feet of His Disciples. It prophetically reveals the meaning
of the Social Teaching of the Church and its teaching on the call of all
Christians to show a love of preference to the poor.
VATICAN CITY (Catholic Online) - The Vatican announced that Pope Francis will celebrate Holy Thursday Mass at Our Lady of Providence Center in Rome. The Center is run by the Father Carlo Gnocchi Foundation and is home to many disabled men and women with neuro-degenerative diseases, along with their doctors, caretakers and families.
This is in keeping with the beautiful act of love demonstrated by Francis last year when he washed the feet of young prisoners at the Casal del Marmo juvenile detention center in Rome. He will again preside over the Holy Thursday morning chrism Mass in St Peter's Basilica and bless the oils used for the sacraments in the Diocese of Rome.
This act of loving witness reveals the interior meaning of the mandatum, the command of love expressed by Jesus at the Last Supper when He washed the feet of His Disciples. It prophetically reveals the meaning of the Social Teaching of the Church and its teaching on the call of all Christians to show a love of preference to the poor.
This prophetic act caused quite a stir last year. Some of the reaction came because the Holy Father washed the feet of both male and female prisoners. However, washing the feet of the poor was the practice of the former Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio. He carried it with him from his service to the Lord and His Church in Argentina into the Chair of Peter. This is a priest, Bishop and Pope who recognizes the face of Jesus in the poor.
This year, the service will not be open to the public. Its private nature may curtail a public reaction. However, I certainly hope the photos will be made available. This is a beautiful continuation of a papacy which is moving the hearts of men and women throughout the world, drawing us to our knees and challenging us to live differently..
There are two streams in the tradition concerning this profoundly meaningful activity of washing feet; both of which are ancient and beautiful. One directly connects the activity with the institution of the ministerial priesthood at the last Supper. This is how the optional Rite of Foot Washing became liturgically connected with the Mass of the Lord's Supper on Holy Thursday.
The other was practiced in monasteries and religious houses in the Church during her early developmental years. It is associated with the practice of hospitality and our prophetic call to imitate Jesus the Servant. Given the fact that travelers walked long distances, their feet were dirty and sometimes even wounded. Foot washing was a profound sign of the humility of the host and an act of Gospel hospitality.
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Sadly, the tussle over these two beautiful and meaningful symbols co-existing became fodder for a discussion which made its way into the secular press. The endless articles over what was essentially an in house debate did little to assist us as Christians in our primary call to proclaim the saving message of the Gospel in word and deed to an age which has lost its way.
The Vigil Mass of Holy Thursday deepens our understanding of that Mystery of the self emptying of Jesus Christ. We do indeed celebrate the gift of the ministerial priesthood which continues to make present the Priesthood of Jesus Christ. When our Priest stands at that altar, it is Jesus Christ in whom He stands, Christ is the victim, and Christ is the Holy Oblation.
Jesus gave Himself to us in the great meal in which we participate in on this Holy Night. The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is the Holy Oblation of Incarnate Love and we are the beneficiaries, receiving the very life of God. At the Last Supper, Jesus anticipated the altar of the Cross at which He would willingly pour out the very last drop of His Blood so that we could be set free to live free.
When the Lord rose from that table, He showed us a naturally supernatural expression of that Love; an expression that reveals the heart of the Christian vocation and can be expressed in many ways. He, who is Lord and Master, King of Kings, took off His Cloak of Royal Splendor and became a Servant.
He washed the feet of those whom He had chosen to continue His Redemptive work. He showed them what they were chosen to do and then He enlisted them to live lives of self emptying Love for the world. To bear the name Christian is to walk in this kind of love in the midst of a broken and wounded world that is waiting to be reborn. This command now passes to each of us.
Foot washing as a symbolic action expresses what living a life of self emptying love in imitation of the Lord who emptied Himself for us, looks like. It is an invitation to become a man or woman poured out for others. A Christian who lives the love of Charity (Caritas), the Love of Jesus Christ, makes Jesus Christ real in the real world. In so doing, the Incarnation continues.
Foot washing took place in the ordinary life of people in the days when Jesus walked among us. As our celebration of the Octave of Easter progressed last year, I was unable to get another account of foot washing recorded in the Gospel out of my heart when I saw the pictures of Francis washing those feet at that juvenile prison. It is recorded in Luke's Gospel:
"Now there was a sinful woman in the city who learned that he was at table in the house of the Pharisee. Bringing an alabaster flask of ointment, he stood behind him at his feet weeping and began to bathe his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them, and anointed them with the ointment. When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this he said to himself, "If these men were a prophet, he would know who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, that she is a sinner."
"Jesus said to him in reply, "Simon, I have something to say to you." "Tell me, teacher," he said. "Two people were in debt to a certain creditor; one owed five hundred days' wages and the other owed fifty. Since they were unable to repay the debt, he forgave it for both. Which of them will love him more?" Simon said in reply, "The one, I suppose, whose larger debt was forgiven." He said to him, "You have judged rightly."
"Then he turned to the woman and said to Simon, "Do you see this woman? When I entered your house, you did not give me water for my feet, but she has bathed them with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but she has not ceased kissing my feet since the time I entered. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she anointed my feet with ointment. So I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven; hence, she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little." He said to her, "Your sins are forgiven." (Luke 7:37-48)
There is a saying attributed to St Francis of Assisi. Whether he actually said it or not matters little. It expresses the heart of his charism, "I preach the Gospel at all times and sometimes I use words." St. Francis actually became a word from the Lord through the witness of his life. Chapter 11 of the Legenda Maior, of Bonaventure explains what Bonaventure called the spirit of prophecy in the life of Francis of Assisi.
Francis of Assisi was a word walking. He lived the Christian life and vocation in a manner that is intended - through example- to invite others to follow the same pattern. I suggest that his namesake, the 265th successor of Peter, also named Francis, is following in his footsteps. Are we hearing that message with the eyes of our heart?
When I read the 25th chapter of Matthews Gospel I am drawn to my knees by the words of Jesus, "I was hungry, and you gave me food; I was thirsty, and you gave me something to drink; I was a stranger and you welcomed me; I was naked and you gave me clothing; I was sick and you took care of me; I was in prison, and you visited me." (Matt. 25: 31-46)
I understand the question posed by his stunned disciples, "Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison, and not minister to your needs." (Matthew 25.35-36) It was an extraordinary statement! However, as I have aged I have come to see there are so many faces of poverty. I am just beginning to learn to recognize the face of Jesus revealed in them all. Francis is becoming my teacher.
Have you ever considered the significance of the fact that the same Jesus who promised to be with us always also told us that the poor would be with us always? That is because they are connected. Indeed, in a sense, they are one and the same - in a way that is revealed with the eyes of living faith. "The poor you will always have with you; but you will not always have me" (Jesus, Matthew 26:11) "And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age." (Jesus, Matthew 28:20)
The face of Jesus is found in the face of the poor, for those with eyes to see. The word of Jesus is spoken through the poor, for those who cultivate the ears to hear Him. The cry of Jesus is heard in the cry of the poor, at least for those who stop to listen. That is the deeper meaning behind this sobering scene recounting the last judgment recorded by the Evangelist Matthew in the 25th Chapter of his Gospel:
"Then the king will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.'
"Then the righteous will answer him and say, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?'And the king will say to them in reply, 'Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.'"
Those who love the poor - like Jesus loved the poor- are given as a gift and instruction manual for the rest of us. They are a sign of the kingdom, making it present in their wake. We have a Pope named Francis who taught us in prophetic action in that visit to the Jail last Holy Thursday.
As he washed the feet of those prisoners last year, he washed the feet of Jesus with an alabaster flask of ointment and tears. So, I ask, whose feet did Pope Francis really wash? He washed the feet of Jesus.So, this year he will again wash the feet of Jesus - as washes the feet of those dear men and women living in community at Our Lady of Providence Center. The Francis for this time, like the Francis of old, is also a word walking. He is speaking by his actions and challenging each of us to radically follow Jesus Christ in both word and deed.
Pope St Leo the Great once wrote of Jesus: "He took the nature of a servant without stain of sin, enlarging our humanity without diminishing his divinity. He emptied himself; though invisible he made himself visible, though Creator and Lord of all things he chose to be one of us mortal men. Yet this was the condescension of compassion, not the loss of omnipotence. So he, who in the nature of God had created man, became in the nature of a servant, man himself."
God became the least of these. Will we? Will we allow the truth revealed in the life, death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ to become our pattern for daily living? Will we cooperate with the grace of conversion and be emptied of ourselves for others? When we empty ourselves, He comes and takes up His residence within us.
Then, we can become His arms, embracing the world; His legs, still walking its dusty streets; and His Heart, still beating with the Divine Compassion manifested in Jesus Christ, the One who became the least of these in order to bring all of us into the full communion of Love. The Call we are witnessing in the prophetic actions of Pope Francis is a call to return to Gospel Simplicity and a call to radical discipleship.
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