A Holy Thursday Reflection
Holy Thursday. On this night, we see our priests performing perhaps one of the most humble priestly actions we get to observe in an entire liturgical year, that is, the liturgical action of washing the feet of twelve men seated before him. It is not just the man who performs this action, for he does it in the person of Christ. It is not just a pretend drama, for it is mean to be a real reenactment of the very same action that our Lord performed in the Upper Room on the night of the Holy Passover. Christ washes our feet again.
This washing of feet recounted in the Gospel of John replaces the account of the institution of the Eucharist because the holy Apostle seeks to inform his readers, whom he presumes are already well-acquainted with the institution of the Eucharist in the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke), that the other side of the same Eucharistic coin is the element of being broken and fed to others for the life of the world. St John wants very much for us to know, that to live the Eucharistic life is to live a life of service.
But yet, in serving God’s People and the world at large, we must be very prudent about our own intentions and motivations. No one is spared the dangers of presumptuously serving the Church with the notion that the Church needs us, or that God needs us to save His Church for Him, or that the world needs us to save it. As soon as we entertain such a notion, knowingly or otherwise, the value of our service is nullified because it becomes a work of erecting our own monuments to stroke our own need for self-assurance and affirmation. We must not serve out of a need to be needed or wanted.
Had Jesus served based on a need to be needed or wanted, or even to be welcomed, His journey would not have led Him to the cross. Conversely, His journey would most likely have led Him to the throne of a palace from where He would rule over the land in human glory and earthly power. It was not His style to build such monuments of power unto Himself. His sole focus was to glorify His Father, and He left it to His Father to glorify Him in His own day and time.
Let us consider the reality of the earthly Church. The Institution of the Church has never been very efficient despite arguably having one of the best, if not the best, legal and administrative systems in existence. And what we largely consider to be a failure in the system often takes place not because of systemic failure, but rather, the failure of man. No matter how perfect the system is, man continues to fail and fall short of the perfection that the system tries to propagate.
And yet, despite the shortcomings of the incumbents of various holy offices in the hierarchy of the Church, the Church continues to stand today in effective attestation to the presence of the Living God Whom she represents. This is not the work of man, for God has shown Himself to never fail despite the shortcomings of humanity. The Church as an entity, both human and divine, stands in proclamation of Her Lord’s sovereignty, surely not of any man’s success.
But here lies the irony of it all: every so often, there arises a man who thinks that it is his divine duty to save the Church, to save God’s People, and to save the world. Perhaps, even to save God Himself. Such a man exists in every office, in every parish, and in every diocese. Such a man exists in every one of us. How many times have we caught ourselves doing something because we think if we didn’t do it, that nobody else would be capable of doing it? Or that our parish would be doomed without us? Or that our catechetical ministry would be doomed without us? Or that our liturgical team would be doomed without us? We strangely entertain such notions in the back of our minds, forgetting that the Church has preceded us for centuries before we even existed to “save” it.
When we begin our service for the Church based on the premise that we are so needed (even if our other co-workers don’t realise it yet), we eventually end up being bitter workers who are disillusioned by the incompetence of the Church and the unwelcoming attitudes of our co-workers. Worse still, many turn out to be relentless political animals who fight their ways to the top at all costs in order to push their self-established agendas through because they think they know better than anybody else how things ought to be.
On the outside, all we who are serving the Church may look like we are doing the same things, but our motivations surely differ. One imperative for those who consider ourselves to be servants of the Church is to constantly examine our deepest motives in what we do and how we do it. Holy Thursday is an opportune time. Does our washing of others’ feet have a place in God’s Kingdom, or is it merely a stepping stone for some other purpose we have set for ourselves?