Thursday, March 14, 2013

Servant of All

Cardinal Bergoglio Washes and Kisses Aids Victims' Feet

Last night, I shared the image above on Facebook. One of my programmer friends, in a dramatic display of the no-social-skills stereotype of programmers, commented, "Now they just molest kids in public."

I'll just let that sink in for a minute.

Okay, you back? Ignoring the fact that comments like these are utterly boorish and fiendishly unjust, let's talk about what is happening in the image above. Washing feet is an ancient, biblical Christian ceremony, instituted by Jesus Christ, who after washing the Apostles' feet said, "If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet. I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do."

This pattern of being through doing is an example of Jesus' instruction: "'If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.' Taking a child he placed it in their midst, and putting his arms around it he said to them, 'Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but the One who sent me.'"

The kissing of the feet hearkens back to the woman who kissed and washed Jesus' feet with her tears and hair. It was a sign of humility, an acknowledgment of her sinfulness, and a work of mercy and honor, a penance and a blessing. Then Cardinal Bergoglio is calling upon all this rich symbolism in what he is doing here. He, a "prince of the Church" (as cardinals are called), humbly acknowledges that he is a man who needs God's mercy just as much as the woman who washed Christ's feet; he shows by this action that he is obedient to Christ, and following Christ's example, he is welcoming the little children, that he is a servant of all--even of those whom the world considers the least among us, children with incurable terminal illness. He has done the same for drug addicts. He has done the same for women.

And priests all around the world do this yearly. It is part of our Holy Thursday liturgy. In imitation of Christ, following his command, they wash the feet of parishioners, representatives of the people they serve. It is a vibrant reminder at the culmination of our most holy season of the true nature of the priest: a minister, which means a servant, one who attends to the needs of others. This is the priest's life, a life given over to the service of others. And the Pope is, as shown in the title taken by Pope St. Gregory the Great, the servant of the servants of God, or as Christ put it, the servant of all.

God bless Pope Francis.