On Holy Thursday, students at St. Rita, Harahan, were given a striking visual on the type of person Christ wants each of us to be: a humble and loving servant to others.
In the middle of a prayer service marking Jesus’ institution of the Eucharist, 12 St. Rita sixth and seventh graders ascended the sanctuary steps to remove their shoes and socks and have their feet washed by their parochial vicar, Father Kyle Sanders.
“The king of the world, the king of the universe gets down and washes Peter’s smelly, dirty feet,” said Father Sanders, observing that Jesus did this for two reasons: to show his love for his apostles; and to call them to be authentic servants.
“He’s calling them to think not for themselves but for other people,” Father Sanders said. “He wants to show us, his disciples, that love means to be selfless.”
Father Sanders also gave the young congregants a little background on the custom of foot-washing in desert climates such as the one in Jerusalem.
“When people arrived at someone’s house, they would have these sandy, dirty, smelly feet because they didn’t have shoes like we do; all that they had was maybe sandals, or they walked barefoot everywhere,” Father Sanders said, noting that a servant or child typically was called on to wash visitors’ feet.
Christ’s taking on of this role had to have caught his apostles off guard, accustomed as they were to calling Jesus “master” and “teacher,” Father Sanders said.
It is no coincidence, then, that after Jesus washed his apostles’ feet, he gives humankind the ultimate example of selflessness: giving his very life for our sins and promising to remain with us in the humble form of the Eucharist.
“The God of the universe, the king of the entire world – you’d think he would come with gold and magnificence and really loud music so that everybody knows that he’s here and everybody can see him,” Father Sanders said. “Yet in an act of pure selflessness, he comes to us in something that is tiny and looks like bread. But it’s God!
“He comes to us and he says, ‘Be like me! Don’t be afraid to give yourself beyond what you can’t even understand!’”
At the conclusion of the prayer service, students were given five minutes to silently adore Jesus fully present in the monstrance. Father Sanders asked them to use the time to “find that thing that is like washing others’ feet” in their own lives – actions such as doing their chores, not procrastinating on their homework and befriending the friendless.
“Jesus is going to invite you to think about other people and not yourself, to think about other people and to servethem,” Father Sanders said.
“The Lord will care for you – that’s his job; that’s your parents’ job,” he added. “Your job is to care for everyone else.”