BY FR. BRIAN ZUMBRUM, OSFS
Holy Thursday – Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper | April 18, 2019
So of all the many life choices that I have made that I question in retrospect, one of them involved taking 40 high school boys on retreat over Holy Week, ending on Good Friday.
Nothing says vacation like chaperoning a retreat full of high school boys.
So in preparing for the retreat, I realized that we would need to celebrate Holy Thursday’s liturgy with the students.
Including the washing of the feet.
Now, I saw this going a bunch of different directions. None of them good.
I saw kids dumping bowls of water on each other, laughing through the process.
I saw kids hitting each other with towels.
I saw kids looking at me with complete skepticism going, ” …you want me to do what?”
But, as is usually the case, my students proved me wrong.
The took the ritual so seriously. Each one washing the next classmate’s feet in turn.
I was so proud.
As the last student finished, I prepared to return to my seat, when one of the senior leaders shouts, “Hey, Fr. Z. Forgetting something?”
I looked at him. “What do you mean?”
“Nobody washed your feet.”
And in that moment, I froze.
“No, no. You don’t need to do that. I’m fine. I’m good.”
But I realized this student wasn’t offering me a choice. He knelt down and waited as I awkwardly took my shoes off in a silent room, everyone staring at this moment.
And I let him wash my feet.
It has been years since that Holy Thursday, but I always return to that moment.
For in that liturgy, I was forcibly reminded of a truth that I try so hard to avoid most days of my life.
Which is that there are parts of me that are dirty in need of cleansing. That there are parts of me that are broken in need of mending. That there are wounds deep within me in need of healing.
Even if I spend most of my life pretending that none of these exist. Making sure that the smile is firmly fixed in place as I go out into the world. Focused on everyone’s else feet while covering my own.
But the reality is that this cleansing, this mending, this healing that I seek will only be found in a genuine encounter with the Body of Christ.
In the women and men who surround this table with me.
Who break this bread and drink this cup and then go forth and try to be that for the world.
In my students and colleagues. In my family and friends. In each of you.
Unless they wash us, we will have no inheritance with him.
Let’s be real, my friends. There is a reason why this ritual is so uncomfortable.
Because it forces us to be vulnerable. To expose the mess. To admit the flaws. To show the broken pieces.
The fact that we’re always running late or that we’re terrible in keeping in touch.
The fact that we’ve cut corners to get where we are or the fact that we’ve never reconciled that quarrel with our brother.
The fact that we refused to allow our gay child’s partner to visit us. Or the fact that we’ve been unfaithful and don’t know how to tell our spouse.
The fact that we’re still grieving our loved one who isn’t sitting beside us or the fact that our body is steadily betraying us with each passing day as we battle the cancer that consumes us.
The fact that we are part of a society that is as flawed and broken as we are. A society that favors the wealthy, that prizes the powerful and arrogant, that marginalizes the other for the color of their skin, the language they speak, the status of their paperwork or the God they choose to worship.
It is safer to sit in our pews with our shoes safely on our feet.
Where to all the world we look like we are calm, collected and in control. That everything is just fine.
But this entire night is a reminder that vulnerability is woven into the very fabric of what it means to be a disciple.
That in walking the journey, we are going to get messy.
But we do not do so alone.
So let us embrace this moment. Let us expose all that we hide in the dark into the light, trusting that the loving hands of our sisters and brothers who will gently bathe our feet are the hands of Christ.
Cleansing us. Mending us. Healing us.
Making us whole.
One Body. One Spirit in Christ.
May God be Praised.