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Thursday, April 1, 2010

Holy Thursday and Gratitude

We have the gift of the Eucharist to thank for on Holy Thursday. Jesus gives us himself to be our nourishment and strength. We need to be grateful for this gift of the Eucharist and offer ourselves with Jesus to the Father for the life of the world. We also have Jesus giving us the example before the Last Supper of humility; he washed the feet of his disciples. He wants us to be humble and to serve others with love. May we prepare our hearts today to receive him with gratitude and humility tonight.
Here is something from Barbara Bowe who died last month:

Sr. Barbara Bowe, RSCJ, was Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity and Director of the Biblical Spirituality Program at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago. Her articles have often appeared in The Bible Today, U.S. Catholic, and other scholarly and popular journals. Her most recent book is Biblical Foundations of Spirituality: Touching a Finger to the Flame (Rowman and Littlefield (Sheed and Ward), 2003).

From Living with Christ Holy Week 2009

When asked some time ago to suggest a “ninth beatitude” for readers of Living with Christ; I spent a good deal of time thinking of all kinds of catchy and creative phrases but ended up rejecting each one. They all sounded too contrived or too trite. Then, as I was reading again through the story of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet in John’s gospel, a line jumped off the page at me. At the end of the narration of that tender scene, Jesus says to his disciples: “If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them” (John 13:17 RSV). There it was – the ninth beatitude: “Blessed are the footwashers.”

What is a “beatitude”?
These familiar sayings are found in both Testaments, and they express a quality or a behavior that leads one to blessing and happiness. “Happy are those who observe justice” (Ps 106:3) is a typical example from the psalms, but the New Testament beatitudes of Matthew’s gospel especially sound more familiar to our ears: “Blessed are the poor in spirit for the kingdom of heaven is theirs” (Matt 5:3).

The “ninth beatitude” in John’s gospel that I am proposing forces us to ask, “What is it about footwashing that leads us to blessing?”

Jesus washes our feet
The beautiful scene at the Last Supper in John’s gospel holds many layers of meaning and blessing for us

First, it depict Jesus in a profound act of humility and service performed for his disciples as he washed their feet. It was a service that normally only the lowliest household slave would have done, and yet, when Peter objects, Jesus tells Peter that unless he is washed by Jesus he can have “no part with him” (John 13:8). In other words, something about this scene is essential for our discipleship.

Second, the action of the footwashing vividly prefigures and enacts Jesus’ own impending death in which he will freely “lay down his life for his friends,” just as he has laid aside his garments in this footwashing scene, Though “Teacher and Lord,” Jesus has given this example to them of a profound act of service in love – love to the end (John 13:1)

Third, Jesus has been the hospitable host who welcomes them and attends to their needs. Humble service in love, hospitality offered to all, a willingness to “lay down one’s life” – all these actions and attitudes are ways to blessing and happiness.

Jesus asks us to do the same
But these insights do not yet exhaust the meaning of this “beatitude.” In the story, as Jesus is putting on his garments again and taking his place with them, he asks them: “Do you understand what I have done to you?” The very question signals that the answer is not self-evident!

Jesus first reminds them of his exalted status in their midst as “Teacher and Lord,” but then challenges them: “If I have washed your feet…so you must wash one another’s feet” (John 13:14) Then follows the beatitude, “If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.”

For each of us then, regardless of our status or role, to “wash feet” – to perform profound acts of service in love for others – is the path to blessing and happiness. To care for the dying, to rescue a child, to visit those in prison, to feed the hungry, to comfort those in need; to shelter the alien and the outcast, in short, to imitate the actions of Jesus carries blessing and happiness for those who do these things.

May we all rejoice in this new “beatitude”: Blessed are the footwashers; for they shall know the true meaning of Christian life.

You may wish to begin prayer by listening to or singing “Bread for the World” or “Peace I Leave” (see

Take a few moments to become quiet and centered. Follow where the Spirit leads you and jot down your thoughts or consider the following question:

How have I experience the blessing of footwashing?

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