Washing feet

Our new priest-on-fire, Fr. Wilmar, presided at the evening Mass on Holy Thursday. Fr. Wilmar brings an uncommon combination of preaching a progressive gospel of social justice and peace with a devotion to traditional Catholic religious practices. The traditional practice he included at the Holy Thursday Mass was the washing of feet — a ritual that usually involves the priest washing the feet of twelve parishioners chosen in advance to represent Jesus’ washing the feet of the twelve apostles.

Fr. Wilmar had a new twist. He had half-a-dozen foot-washing stations — chairs and washbasins — set up around the altar, with an attendant at each one. And he invited anyone in the congregation, who felt called to participate, to come forward and have his or her feet washed by an attendant, then in turn wash the feet of the following person, continuing on until all participants were finished.

When the invitation to come forward was issued, I immediately felt fear. For years I had a desire to wash the feet of another person, but I didn’t want to have my own feet washed. I couldn’t do one without the other, and I knew my fear was confirmation that the time had come. I didn’t have time to wrestle with what I felt in the pit of my stomach.

So, I got up and walked forward to the foot of the altar. A young (forty-ish) woman preceded me to the closest station. It was she who had her feet washed by the attendant and who in turn washed my feet.

I sat on the chair and took off my left shoe and sock. The woman, whom I had never seen before, very tenderly washed and dried my left foot. Then she said, I’ll wash the other one.”

I hesitated. I was embarrassed because I was wearing a pair of mismatched white socks. I took off my right shoe and scrunched the sock up in my hand as I took it off. I don’t think she noticed the mismatch.

Again, the tender washing and drying of the foot.

I thanked her when we finished, and then tended to the next person in line — Adam, a man with whom I was acquainted.

It was a unique spiritual and emotional experience — very humbling. More humbling for me to have my feet washed than to wash the feet of someone else. I see it as training for future years when I become dependent on others for my personal care — if I live that long.

After Mass I sought out the woman — Kathy — to become acquainted. It was impossible for me to depart as a stranger.

~ Jim Stoffels
16 April 2004

Copyright 2004 by Jim Stoffels