By Tom Nailor
“Let us look to Jesus, who washes our feet. He is ‘the way, and the truth, and the life.’ He comes to save us from the lie that says we cannot change.”
-from Pope Francis’ remarks to inmates at Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility, Philadelphia PA 2015
I try to find a seat in the back, where I can comfortably blend in with the crowd. Sinking into the pew, I struggle to clear my head. Today has felt like a failure in many ways—I’ve taken the day off from work, ostensibly to clean the house and get caught up on schoolwork; and only to find that I barely have the energy for much more than to binge-watch Netflix. Before leaving the house, I log into Facebook, breaking my own Lenten fast, only to feel like I’ve fallen into a rabbit hole of anger, frustration, and distraction. As I’ve rushed to get to Holy Thursday Mass, it feels as if I have very little to show for my efforts at improving the world, my relationship with God or myself this Lenten season.
The last thing I want to do in this moment is to help wash feet.
Yet, as the ceremony begins, I see how God is inviting me, as He always is. This is a simple and profound task. It is an expression of our love and care for one another. To take a towel, and dry someone’s foot, is to connect intimately to them.
During the ceremony, the feet that I see strike me. There is the young person who, on coming up, removes both shoes and bright orange socks. They flinch as I carefully wrap each foot, one at a time, in a soft towel and carefully dry them. There is someone older who seems to breathe a sigh of relief as I carefully care for them—the caregiver, who I watched help a partner come into Mass with the help of a wheelchair. There is the person who I am not always excited to see walking down the street toward me, who nevertheless, presents their feet to me with trust. I can try to do this simple task with love. An act of trust that with God’s grace I can begin to reframe the day’s experience. Similarly, Christ reframes this act for the Apostle Peter—not as a failure, but as an invitation.
In this simple ceremony, I recall Pope Francis’ words above. Christ invites us to hope and trust that we, and our world, can change. Despite moments when we do not believe that we have the power. He does this through grace—sometimes through the grace of an opportunity to provide service to others, to be in communion with them, as I was in this moment, and throughout my year with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps.
Christ is with us as we shed our old selves, and emerge more fully. As the Priest does during Mass, we ask God to wash away our inequities and cleanse us of our sins. In the hope and knowledge of the Resurrection, the invitation is present, to hope for and know our own potential to change. Christ, as he washes the dirt from our feet, offers us a soft, dry towel, and loves us in all of our brokenness and invites us into change.
Tom Nailor served as a Jesuit Volunteer in Philadelphia, PA in 2012-13. He holds a BA in English from Providence College, and is a current Masters-level student at Bryn Mawr College Graduate School of Social Work & Social Research. Tom lives in Philadelphia, PA where he is an intern with Community Legal Services and attends Old St. Joseph’s Parish.