Friday, April 22, 2011

Holy Week Thoughts--the history and the future

The Humility of Christ
in the sacristy of Santa Maria del Carmine, Florence
I was struck last night at the Mass of the Lord’s Supper.  I had already written yesterday’s posting and my thoughts of yesterday were so reinforced by the liturgy.  After the homily—an excellent homily by the deacon in which he, who will be ordained priest in just a few weeks, talked about the radical selfishness of so many priests that just puts them totally out of touch with the real lives of the very real people they are ordained to serve—was the washing of the feet and it was done in the most remarkable way.  The priest washed the deacon’s foot.  Then the deacon and priest turned and each washed the foot of a server.  The servers then washed the feet of members of the congregation, each of whom, when he or she (note the “she”) had had his or her (note the “her”) foot washed, turned and washed the foot of yet another until all who wished to participate had done so—the only requirement being that to have your foot washed you then had to turn and wash the foot of another.  Why did that sound so familiar? 
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.”
What works about this is that the washing of the feet is not a ritual reenactment of some long ago scene—it is a here and now in the everyday world fulfilling a commandment of Christ.  It is not a command given to some disciples, the apostles, and not to all.  The priest (or bishop, or pope) does not represent Christ and the washees the apostles in a sacramental drama any more than the bread and wine represent Jesus’ body and blood.  It is a here and now, in our modern world and every-day reality carrying on the work of God as Christ has revealed it to us.  The priest is not Jesus washing the feet of Peter; he is “Joe” or “Jack” or “Mike” washing the feet of “Ralph” or “Fred” or “Louise” –and Ralph and Fred and Louise had better realize that as was done to them so must they then do also.  It is about creating a world of service.
We have looked these past months in our dozens entries about basilicas and palaces and nuncios and bishops and plenary councils and whatever about the power of the Church.  In stories like the battlefield nuns of the Civil War or Mother Seton  or Vincent de Paul we have seen the Church as servant.  Frankly there is much more history of the Church in its roles of power than in its roles of service.  Cardinal Dulles said that the first millennium of the Church’s history was about witness and evangelization; the second millennium about power.  The third millennium, he said, must be about service.  And we need to take that seriously.  Bishop Emile de Smedt of Bruges said in the first session of Vatican II that it was time to renounce the triumphalism, clericalism, and juridicism that has so characterized the Church of recent centuries.  I am a historian—as a historian I am willing to deal with the palaces and the pomp, the fancy robes and exalted titles, the ceremony and the power. It is part of our history.  I am also a person of the Gospel and as a person of the gospel I join my voice to Bishop de Smedt and so many others and confess that the triumphalism, the clericalism, and the juridicism has no place in the future of the Church.   Let the dead bury their dead and let us go out and proclaim the Kingdom of God.   

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