What Holy Thursday demands of every Catholic

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I saw her peering through the crowded doorway, her face hardened with concern. “Tinamarie!” she yelped. “I really need your help.”

“Yeah, come in!” I replied, “Tell me what’s wrong.”

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During my year of service at St. Christine’s Food Pantry and Soup Kitchen through Christ the King Service Corps in Detroit, this was a common situation. Yet something felt slightly different. The woman calling out to me had a panic in her voice, an urgency.

She shuffled in with a 5-year-old boy in tow. I knew her well but had never seen the child before. We went to the office section of the pantry, away from the noise of food distribution day.

“This is my son, Danny,” she whispered. “His dad dropped him off for good today. This is what he’s got.”

“His shoes are way too small.” Desperation clouded her usual calm and tough demeanor. I bent down and felt his shoes; his tiny toes were crunched under his feet.

I looked down at Danny, his dark brown eyes looking up at me, the weight of the day written on his little face. He wore jeans, a blue shirt, a disheveled orange jacket and a stained yellow backpack.

Her eyes welled up. “His shoes are way too small.” Desperation clouded her usual calm and tough demeanor. I bent down and felt his shoes; his tiny toes were crunched under his feet.

“O.K.,” I said, picking him up and putting him on the chair, his feet dangling above the floor. “I’ll see what we have. What’s his shoe size?”

“I don’t know,” she murmured, eyes glued to the floor.

My stomach dropped. I said a quick prayer as I booked it to the back room: Lord, I need shoes for this kid. I’m not kidding. This isn’t an option.

The lesson I take from Jesus’ washing of the feet is this: I do not decide which lives have value and dignity; God does.

People who need food often need other necessities, so the food pantry had some essential donated items stored in the back. It is not, however, a shoe store and did not have a vast selection—or really any selection. We got what we got, and we gave what we could. I grabbed as many shoes as possible and dashed back to Danny.

I knelt down in front of him and took off his shoes. Relief swept over his entire body, and he let out a sigh. On one foot he had no sock, and on the other he was wearing an old white sock that went most of the way up his leg—one of his dad’s socks, no doubt.

I put a pair on him: too big. I put on a second pair: still too big. Another: too small. Another: no good.

Finally, just right.

I looked up at his mother, and she looked at her son with tears of relief and exclaimed: “Look, Danny! You’re not going to have ouchies anymore!”

That moment broke me and simultaneously put me together again. That moment transformed me because I heard the voice of God from a deep place within myself, saying: This is your place. Your place is on the ground putting shoes on somebody else’s feet.

After this experience, I read Jesus’ washing of the feet differently.

You call me “teacher” and “master,” and rightly so, for indeed I am. If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet (Jn 13:14-15).

I used to read this Gospel passage as a suggestion, not a command. Doesn’t that “ought” leave some room for interpretation?  I used to read it as a meaningful and important story in Christ’s life, not a way to live mylife. Now, I read this Gospel passage as a reminder of my life’s purpose: encounter and service. When I read this Scripture or hear it at Mass, I am called out of myself. I am challenged to reflect on my lifestyle and ask, “When was the last time I sat on the ground and washed someone else’s feet?”

The lesson I take from Jesus’ washing of the feet is this: I do not decide which lives have value and dignity; God does. I always knew this, but the conviction did not move into my heart or my hands until I encountered Danny. And it means I do not get to sit by and accept behaviors, ideas, rhetoric or laws that dehumanize my brothers and sisters. I do not get to plead ignorance when it comes to the intrinsic human dignity of God’s creations.

If I am being honest, living a life of solidarity can be tough. It is inconvenient and sometimes it smells like feet. It requires action, sacrifice and direct opposition to our self-centered culture. Nonetheless, it is the example Christ has set before us. This Holy Thursday, we can remember that following Christ’s path not only asks but demands something of us. I know I constantly need the reminder.

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Tim Donovan
4 months ago

As a pro-life advocate, I have always believed that every life has meaning, though it isn't always easy to recognize someone's value. However, I was a Special Education teacher who instructed and cared for children with brain damage, physical disabilities, and/or behavior disorders. I never washed anyone's feet (in imitation of our Savior) but I did change many diapers, including of children in their teen years. Later in my life, I worked with a young man with muscular dystrophy. I was always humbled by his determination and courage to handle the many difficulties that he faced in life. Yet, he enjoyed sports (especially baseball), reading, going to the gym, eating in restaurants, watching movies, and wheeling himself in the park in his wheelchair. He did need a good deal of care, so I did imitate in my small way Jesus by washing his feet as part of his bath.

Kathryn Benham
4 months ago

You were made for this.

Patricia Fox
4 months ago

Just or the record, Tinamarie, will all need a reminder, every day. As a Vincentian, helping in the Clothing Room, I am energized by our ability to clothe those who have little or nothing, embrace them and give and get strength from the encounter. God Bless us all!

Will Nier
4 months ago

Better to have captioned this: What Holy Thursday demands of every Christian.

Nora Bolcon
4 months ago

How true and how many different ways do we decide this person matters and that one doesn't.

So here is the perfect message to all priests, bishops and cardinals who won't stand up for the equal dignity of all women called to lead as ordained priests and bishops in our church:

"And it means I do not get to sit by and accept behaviors, ideas, rhetoric or laws that dehumanize my brothers and sisters. I do not get to plead ignorance when it comes to the intrinsic human dignity of God’s creations.

You Priests and Bishops who claim we can't say anything even though we know this exclusion is hate-filled, sin-filled and damaging - You are not innocent, as you continue to benefit from this misogyny, while you sit quietly by and watch our pope wash women's feet on a night like tonight but then watch him also deny women called to priesthood their rightful opportunity to answer their vocation same as your own. Jesus Christ demands same treatment be afforded to all Christian believers, without exception, by all Christian believers, while on earth, by all those who would like Jesus to recognize them as his followers later on. This is a commandment not a suggestion. Christ leads us to believe our very eternal lives could depend on adherence to this command. Choose to treat women as less than human now and God may treat you as less than saved later on.

There will likely be some folks who read this comment and say look all she cares about is sexism instead of the poor. To them, I say "Open Your Eyes!" - Sexism has already proven to be a potent and leading cause of poverty (possibly the number 1 cause), on a global scale. If we finally put attacking this demon, as a first priority, rather than a last, many forms of poverty will subside without our having to do much at all. So what is better: giving the poor a fish to eat, or teaching them how to fish for themselves?
Sexism borne from religion is the most destructive kind, not the least. Men and women negatively go into the world from our churches and shape society by our sexist taught beliefs because we allow these beliefs to remain within our laws, teachings, practices, doctrines and even sacraments. This is true even though Christ would not have supported any of these beliefs, teachings or traditions excluding women ever to be initiated. These are not scripture based beliefs, traditions or rules. They come hundreds of years after Christ and they oppress and damage all women, and in the end, they damage even men. It is time to say no more!

Dae Bunao
4 months ago

Thank you for this, Tinamarie. Read it almost an hour ago, Good Friday late afternoon Manila time. Hit me as a personal message from heaven; very good Lenten reflection. God bless.

Michael Barberi
4 months ago

Nice article. Thank you for these thoughts. It helped me focus better on the real message.

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