Glenmarians 'Wash the Feet' of the People They Serve
By Pat McEntee, Associate Vocation Director
"If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another's feet."
If we attend Holy Thursday services, we will hear this part of the Gospel proclaimed. But will we understand? The idea of literally washing someone's feet probably makes many of us a bit squeamish. Nevertheless, most would probably not consider washing another's feet to be the ultimate show of humility.
In the time of Jesus, that's exactly what it meant. That's why Peter reacted the way he did in the Gospel. At first, he was appalled at the notion that Jesus, his master and teacher, would stoop to the level of washing his feet. In those times, even the lowest Jewish slave would not be required to wash the feet of his master. If you think about it, everyone wore sandals and it was usually very hot and dusty. I can only imagine how unpleasant the job might have been then.
In many ways, Glenmary Home Missioners embodies this principle of absolute humility. Glenmary does many of the tasks most people are not asked to do or do not want to do. We do them willingly and with cheer—for example, visiting inmates in prison and the aged and dying in hospitals and nursing homes. Even the act of establishing a Catholic presence in a rural county with very few Catholics, and serving those in need in that county, is similar to Jesus' washing the feet of his disciples.
Many might say the small mission areas are not worth it. After all, there is a dire need for Catholic priests and brothers in our larger parishes—one priest is often responsible for thousands of Catholics. This is true, but Jesus calls us to minister specifically to those who may never discover the living Christ in any other way than through meeting and talking with one of our missioners.
Like any other missionary order, Glenmary lives and works among the people it serves. All the people encountered by Glenmary have needs. For some the needs are physical: housing, food or clothing. For some they are spiritual: the sacraments or support for their faith. And for some they are emotional: comfort, counseling, or simply visiting. Glenmary helps meet these needs for people who are neglected or forgotten by the vast majority of society.
The amazing thing about the Holy Thursday Gospel passage is that Jesus didn't end his lesson on humility with this humbling act of washing the feet of those who followed him. He actually used it to foreshadow the greater act of humility that he would endure for his disciples (and all of us). Giving up his life for us by accepting death on the cross was the ultimate illustration of what is asked of us.
Take some time during the Triduum to explore your own life and see where the opportunities lie for you to "wash the feet" of others. How and where is God calling you to be of service to others? Before whom is God calling you to humble yourself? Will you "wash others' feet"? Whose? When?
This article originally appeared in the April 2011 Vocation Office E-News.