Will You Wash My Feet?

Still reeling from last night’s service where we recounted the passover, shared in the communion Christ offers us and washed feet.

I was asked to wash the feet of one of my favorite students and one of our parish trustees. CJ, a medical student, is one of my favorites (not that I play favorites) and it was the first time he took part in such a service. I was greatly honored to be able to kneel in front of him, look at him and smile while I washed and dried his feet.

The same is true for Phyllis, a sweet, dear woman, married to her beloved for over 50 years. She’ll be in heaven long before I will. I teased her afterwards. “Pedicure?” I asked. She smiled and said, “I made sure to get one this week already!” We shared a giggle and all was right with the world.

Marion and I do this ritual every year and it’s always enriching for us as a married couple. We wash feet because it’s hard, it’s vile, it seems like something that “proper” people wouldn’t want to do. I’m always moved when she washes my feet because I know that if she can do this for me…well, there’s not much more that she won’t do for me. And vice-versa.

Last year a group of Campus Ministers from the Vicariate got together and we experienced the triduum in an afternoon prayer service. Most of us are “working” these services…so we don’t get a chance to really sit and relax and just be part of the service. Washing feet was one of the things we did for one another and I got to wash my colleague Nathan’s feet. Afterwards we reflected on the experience and he touched me by saying:

“Mike looked at me a few times and I felt really loved and cared for. It was a really moving and touching experience.”

I think that’s the gift that my wife gave to me by being able to wash my feet and to allow me to wash hers. But it is also the gift that Christ gives to each one of us, through the apostles, through the church and to each and every one we meet.

We wash feet not merely because we are reenacting the moment of Christ doing this for his disciples, but we wash feet so that we might do “greater things than this.” We might be able to stand with the poor, the unborn, the hated, the destitute, the forgotten. We might be able to forgive what we thought was the unforgivable. We might be able to look beyond our hatred and horror and instead of remaining in lockstep anger, we can move into love…

Into washing feet.

“Do you understand what I have done for you?”

I pray today that each of us truly does.

We Wait…

Imagine the wait…

Imagine the heaviness of the upper room, where they sat shaking in fear that they too, would be next. Nailed to a cross, because of Him.

The one they loved is now dead and they are left hopeless.

He is in the tomb, a borrowed tomb, not even his own with guards blocking the way so that nobody might steal his body.

There is nothing to do but wait.

Many times in hopeless situations there indeed is nothing to do but wait. And when we wait we find that God comes to us despite our hopelessness. God may not come on our time but God is always right on time anyway.

Today was a day of hopeless waiting, thinking that all is lost. There is no turning back from here and there is no looking ahead either.

But for people of faith, even death is not the final answer, for we know that He is risen. Not that He will be risen, but that He IS risen. Jesus has already defeated death and we recall that especially on Easter Sunday but we recall it every time we gather around the altar.

Can we have that kind of faith that can bring us into hope rather than terror? Can we wait with the faith that even when things don’t work out the way we’d like them to that God redeems whatever suffering we have anyway? Can we love with abandon, giving life to those who may reject our gifts of love? Can we seek peace, even with those who hate us and try to take advantage of us? Can we be a hopeful people in the midst of a suffering world?

It is difficult for us to do so—and the disciples were not the best examples and yet, we honor them as saints.

We will be hopeless at some point in our lives. It’s in those waiting times where we indeed will meet Jesus.

So keep vigil tonight dear friends, and Baptize and confirm for we are people of hope.

We wait…and God will not only come to us…

God is also waiting for us. To believe and hope that God does indeed make everything hope-filled forever.

A Borrowed Tomb

It is finished. Good Friday is always a day when we have our faith shattered. God is dead and yet, God is alive. The oxymoron makes faith an interesting proposition. God’s human life is exhausted; but could we ever extinguish divinity? God’s love is deeper and stronger than death and so we don’t ever believe that God is dead because today, God, in the person of Jesus Christ, is remembered for taking that final step in defeating death and giving us eternal life—and that of course is why this is “Good” Friday.

But God gives us all that he is and what might we be able to offer to God, knowing what we know. Nicodemus, a secret disciple comes out of hiding and offers Jesus, a poor Nazorean, now without even the dignity of a proper burial, is given a borrowed tomb.

There are no tabernacles of honor today. Jesus is buried in a borrowed place, a place reserved usually for some other purpose. A disturbing thought, the Christ is not where he usually is, or even where I’d like him to be.

Would you ever ask to “borrow” a cemetery plat?

I’ve always been uncomfortable when someone dies and nobody comes to claim the body. Didn’t anyone care? Jesus’ friends probably could have banded together and worked something out to bury Jesus somewhere appropriate but they were too scared to even busy the dead. Would they be buried next? The horror of Auschwitz, not so long ago, actually, was not only the extermination of Jews, homosexuals, Gypsys and a lot more people who Hitler discarded. The horror continued as bodies were just thrown aside into a mass grave—even in death, dignity is not provided, bodies strewn across bodies like a garbage heap.

Who do we stick in that borrowed grave today? Who do we not honor? Who do we cast away, not bothering to care or even know the names of?

Whose crucifixion are we ignoring today? Who have we ignored, so much that we don’t even know where they have been buried after it’s too late to care?

When we realize our fault, we recognize Jesus once again–wounded, destroyed and discarded. We see his passion and we renew our passion, the passion that we often know exists but often forget about in favor of other passions that never satisfy us completely.

The borrowed tomb is even more disgusting to me than the bloody cross. Jesus was so poor and his disciples so afraid that they didn’t even “prepare a place for him.” A place where they could be where he is lying, where his body could be anointed and kept safely and discretely. A tabernacle for God’s body then, was an empty cave given to him by a secret disciple, who is now not so secret.

Who are the secret disciples today? Who carefully must believe in Jesus because of fear of their own death? In Iran, in Pakistan and in many more places we still have secret disciples today. They are Nicodemus because of Jesus and we need to tell their story so that they are able to worship in freedom.

And they tell us that we are free. But are we really? Because often I know I’m not free from my own addictions, my own preferred passions that I choose instead of Jesus. The things I do in secret that causes Jesus to be buried in a borrowed tomb instead of a place of honor.

There are no tabernacles of honor today. Jesus is buried in a borrowed place, a place reserved usually for some other purpose. A disturbing thought, the Christ is not where he usually is, or even where I’d like him to be.

Instead Christ lies today and often with those who I discard. Those I need to be with more often or even realize that they are in the world suffering and dying on their own cross. A cross that I don’t look at often enough to see Jesus again crucified for my sins.

We pray to be able to recognize that cross as Christ and pray that we never need to resort to a borrowed tomb again. There are no tabernacles of honor today. Jesus is buried in a borrowed place, a place reserved usually for some other purpose. A disturbing thought, the Christ is not where he usually is, or even where I’d like him to be.

But the truth is that the tabernacle that is missing today, is us.

We need to be the container of Christ’s body and blood that courses in our bloodstream, driving our passion, making us become what we receive here so that we might go out and let others borrow our tombs. To not only be Jesus but Nicodemus, the not-so secret disciple who gives God a final bit of dignity, when all others assume it’s too late.

It’s never too late, for Christ. And that is the good news. For we are an Easter people and we can look to the cross and know that more is still to come.

But if we already know that—then why are there still people in borrowed tombs today?

And to make matters worse, we don’t even realize that those in the borrowed tombs, have also been crucified.

You Shall Never Wash My Feet, Unless You Look at Me

I was looking at old Busted Halo columns trying to get ideas for questions that have never been asked for our Googling God features. Sometimes we use solicited questions and sometimes we decide to “cover” a particular topic. So I was looking for things we’ve covered before about Holy Week.

And I came upon a column written by my dear friend, Elizabeth Bonwich, who passed away last year after a long fight with cancer. Her search for spirituality took her to several places: Alaska to the see majesty of the Aurora Borealis, to retreat houses and theatre troupes and the joy of swings in a local park. All of these were great fodder for spiritual reflection from a woman who was simply beautiful and who loved God deeply, even though she would admit to many that she struggled at times to believe in her suffering moments—the “dry moments in prayer” she’d tell me.

But this column was one of her best, I think. And it’s appropriate to share this Holy Thursday.

One needs to remove one’s shoes in a Buddhist temple. Because of my physical disability, walking without shoes was problematic. So after helping me up the stairs, the monk and I developed a routine where he would take my shoes from me when I sat down and bring them back for me to put on at the end of meditation.

One night he put them down, knelt down, put my feet into them and tied my shoelaces. In words it doesn’t look like much, but in that moment, watching a man who was for that time my teacher kneeling on the floor over my feet, I suddenly had a clue about Jesus washing his disciples’ feet. Like the disciples, I protested and like Jesus, he insisted.

I felt something between humbled and embarrassed. I wanted it to be over quickly and I wonder if the disciples felt that way too. We didn’t talk much as verbal communication between us proved to be confusing. But by his actions I learned volumes about kindness, compassion, and Christ.

Who woulda thunk it? Finding Christ in a Buddhist temple! That guy gets around huh?

This past week a group of campus ministers gathered for our vicariate meeting in Buffalo, which entails a morning “retreat-like prayer” and an afternoon workshop. Both were wonderful experiences. We prayed the experience of Holy Week–taking each day: Palm Sunday, Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter and reflecting on them as a whole. When we got to Holy Thursday the “ritual action” was to wash each other’s feet.

The ritual is very special to me, one, because I met my wife on Holy Thursday and we always remember that each year by washing each other’s feet either privately or if possible, at our Holy Thursday mass. The first time she washed my feet was a year into our relationship and I broke down. My Marion, then my fianceé looked into my eyes as she washed and dried my feet and at that moment I knew she was going to be my wife. I felt so loved and cared for. I noticed that most of the time nobody ever makes eye contact when they wash another’s feet. In fact they are so uncomfortable with the experience that like Elizabeth, they hope it’s over quickly.

But would Jesus have done that? I doubt it. I picture Jesus looking squarely into the eyes of each disciple. And caring about the action he was doing. He loved them all until the end and although he knew that these feet would run away just hours later, he got down and washed the filth and grime away from those feet anyway.

I imagine Peter turning his eyes away from Jesus, unable to look at him squarely as he uttered those now famous words: “Are you going to wash my feet? You will never wash my feet!”

And Jesus’ love goes even beyond Peter’s arrogance. “If I do not wash your feet, then you will have no inheritance with me.”

At our meeting, I had my feet washed by our diocesan director of education, who’s division campus ministry falls under. Carol is a nice woman. We don’t get to talk much but I’ve enjoyed the time I’ve spent with her. She finished washing my feet and then she looked to me and said, “Mike, thanks for all you do.” She washes my feet—but then she thanks me?

In turn I was invited to wash Nathan’s feet. He’s the campus minister at Fredonia State, a bit off the beaten path from Buffalo and these meetings are often the only time we get to see one another. I looked up at him several times. Smiled once or twice at him as I dried his foot and then we silently moved on. Afterwards, we had time to share some thoughts about the experience with each other and Nathan spoke of our experience.

“When Mike washed my feet he looked at me. Several times. I really felt cared for and I was moved to do the same for the person whose feet I washed.”

And there in a simple gesture, we find each other’s humanity. Something that Jesus knew all too well. It’s not just the action that we do that matters, it’s making our actions personal. It’s connecting with another in the action itself. What if we didn’t just give food to the hungry but we instead sat down and ate with them? What if we looked into the eyes of the panhandler as we pressed a quarter into their hands? What if we had to look at each citizen in the eye before we dropped bombs on them? What if we treated others just a bit more humanely when we serve them instead of rushing to the next person or thing that we choose to spend time with?

Can we dare to look their way? Because it is in their face that we meet Jesus…and like Elizabeth we are humbled by their humanity and love for us.

As we enter into Holy Thursday’s grandeur, may we be humble enough to be washed, to let ourselves be washed and to look into the eyes of those we encounter in this moment.

And let that moment change us forever and bring us Christ’s peace.

We Are an Easter People

The question the disciples ask of Jesus in today’s gospel is one that we can ask Christ as well…”Is it I Lord?”

Is it I Lord who you are calling to feed the hungry?

Is it I Lord, who you call to care for the elderly?

Is it I Lord. that needs to speak up for the vulnerable?

And Judas asks the question again later a bit differently and it betrays a deep seated belief about himself and perhaps ourselves. He asks:

“Surely, It is not I, Lord?”

I think that many of us don’t think that God expects much from us or even that we are capable of much. In spiritual direction sessions many of the students and other 20 and 30 something adults that I meet with often have a hard time not only believing that God can forgive them of their sins—but that God would even want to be bothered with them in the first place.

They are a lot like Judas—and I suppose we all are sometimes.

How many of us think that our sins are too much to bear?

The truth is that just like Judas’ sin, Jesus sees our sinful selves as well. Jesus catches us dipping into the dish as well. And Jesus knows that we will continue to betray him with our own sins even though we already know that he suffered and died and rose.

But the Good News is twofold—the first is that although we are sinners God has already forgiven us and we have the opportunity to celebrate that in confession, our sacrament of reconciliation. And the second is that we are not Judas—we instead perhaps this week more than any other—are people of hope. An Easter people. Throughout lent we’ve hopefully been able to find a part of ourselves that we don’t like and we’ve been able to work on that and move into a healthier way of being. We’ve had to die a bit in order for us to truly be resurrected by Jesus.

Starting tomorrow, we’ll remember how Jesus served his disciples, we’ll recall his tragic walk to his cross—and we’ll revision his death and burial.

But we can’t forget that we already are an Easter people. We know what Judas could not fathom. That despite our sin, God offers us unlimited forgiveness and Good Friday did not end in hopelessness.

Accepting that is all we need to do. And when we do–we get to live forever.

He is Risen, Alleluia

Sunrise over my backyard on Easter morning gave me pause. I woke up at 6:10 and decided to “bedroll” it over to the North Campus for Fr. Pat’s sunrise service. I think mass should have been moved to my swampy backyard because I had a much better view of the sunrise. Regardless, it was a wonderful celebration.

Our Easter Vigil at St. Joe’s welcomed 14 new Catholics and 4 newly baptized. A snip from last night’s confirmations.

The joy of Easter reminds me that we are often like the two disciples on the road to Emmaus (this morning’s gospel). We want to continue to follow Jesus but we get confounded and Christ is hidden from our eyes. We fail to follow the risen Jesus and instead harken back to the cross where we crucify ourselves with bad choices and things that we think will satisfy us but ultimately fail to do so.

Last night, after the Easter Vigil I ran into a bright young woman who sees me for spiritual direction. She spent the vigil in tears and said that she’s decided to finally “lay her cross down and live in the light of the Resurrection.” Her words, not mine. We all should do the same. What is it on our roads that keep us looking back and not realizing that Christ is walking with us, offering us more than we could ever want or even perceive? What tempts us to keep looking back, away from that glorious sunrise where the light fills the sky with colors beyond beautiful? Where is God beckoning to us to come and live in the light of day that will always destroy the dark forces of our fears? How can we more be people of the Eucharist, standing as one body and receiving Christ in this breaking of the bread and become more alive than before because we need to become what it is that we receive?

If we are an Easter people, then we merely need to turn towards that light and leave our crosses behind. Whatever weighs us down and keeps us nailed to sin is what we have tried to purge ourselves of throughout these 40 days of lenten time. If we have fasted from something did we find that we really needed it after all? When we prayed did we find that spending time with God was an opportunity to clear out the cobwebs and connect with what really gave us new insights? When we offered alms did we find that peaceful grace that it takes to truly give without wanting anything in return?

For myself, clearing out the clutter of not merely 40 but 50 days taught me that there are a lot of things in my way that keep me from truly being free and walking with Jesus. Giving away the clutter, (not so someone else might be tripped up by it, but so someone else might be inspired to use my clutter for good) allows me to more squarely focus on who I really am and what I really need. I lost 13 pounds this lent and gained a lot of muscle. I’m feeling better for the first time in a long time and have vowed to keep that going with the help of Ben, my trainer. More importantly, I thought giving away something for 50 days was going to be hard. The truth is that there is plenty more to give away. The hard part was selecting who I wanted to bless with the gift of something that was good for me at one time, but now has run its course. I spent over $100 in postage yesterday sending most of the gifts out and it was money well spent. I may just keep giving things away once a week beyond this practice as it has served to keep me honest with myself.

“Do I want it, or do I need it?” A refrain that Amy Vukelic, our coordinator of the Catholic Volunteers often asks of those she serves to offer to everything that is placed before us. I’d add a second question: “If I want this, what will it take me away from? Family? Friends? Christ?”

If he is risen, then we need to rise beyond the usual claptrap of distractions and into the centered peace of the resurrection. We must pay attention to the stone that no longer locks us into the tomb but rather has released us from sin and death. We are free. We choose Christ. We serve others.

Can we be free enough this Easter season to truly give all that we are to Christ?

I hope so, because Jesus Christ is risen today–and he gave all of Himself to each one of us.

Day 49: Easter Sunday: Flip Cam

Fr. Jack Ledwon isn’t exactly the most technologically savvy person I know, but he’s always willing to try something new. We got him to use his iPhone, he’s on Facebook and uses it smartly (some of his status updates are hysterical) and we will be beginning to offer his homilies on podcast soon.

So what else does he need to be techno-priest?

An inside joke: At the end of the Easter Vigil this year, Fr Jack nearly offered the congregation a “Merry Christmas.”

A picture from the Vigil:

God Finds a Way

At the Easter Vigil tonight, the 2nd reading is one of the most dramatic of all the scriptures. Abraham is asked to sacrifice his only son by God.

It sounds horrible and ridiculous. Why would God ask for a human sacrifice? Some scholars believe that because human sacrifice was common during that time, that this is God’s prohibition of that sacrifice from this day forward.

Still, why would God test Abraham in this way anyhow? We forget that God’s promise to Abraham of a son, namely Isaac, was a promise that a great nation would come from him. That Abraham descendants will be great indeed.

Abraham had to be scratching his head…how can I kill Isaac and still have descendants? I’m an old man who is lucky enough to even have this son!

But it is Abraham’s faith in God that turns the story into a deep and touching drama. God will find a way to keep his promise. God must have a reason to ask this of me and I will trust that his ways, though mysterious, are the ways that I must follow.

Truly that’s the faith that we are called to, each time tragedy befalls us as well. Can we believe that God can make a way out of no way?

Perhaps no time is more suited to call this to mind than it is tonight. When death seemingly has had the final word, are we still hopeful that the light can break the darkness? When the savior we look for has been killed by hanging from a cross, can we hope beyond hope that something else is surely coming our way?

When God is killed, can we trust that death cannot hold God in its dastardly clutches?

God always finds a way to provide us with what we need, what can and does sustain us. This Easter we believe that light always shatters the darkness. If that’s true and if Jesus really has overcome death than we need not be afraid of anything. We never have to fear death, for resurrection is always just another breath away.

Come Risen Jesus, break the chains of death and provide for us a way to renew our belief that somehow God always finds a way.

He is Risen. Alleluia.

Do We Dare to Believe Today?

Capital punishment was common is Jesus’ time (as it is unfortunately still today in many places). Crucifixion was nothing new. So why is this crucifixion so well noted?

In the face of the madness of capital punishment, can we believe that God can defeat even death? An innocent man hangs, willingly, without fighting the injustice served to him–why? What reason would someone have for doing this?

God goes to our death, a horrible unjust death, so that we might believe in God. Not merely because of our own faults that cause the rift between God and humanity, do we watch the cross today. It is not merely because God offers himself for our sins that we watch an execution. Rather, it is because we lack faith at times in believing that God can make all things new again. That God always offers us something else. That in our death and in the death of each and every person, God also offers us life eternal.

Jesus shares in our death to help us understand that we need not fear death. That death no longer has power over us. That God always defeats the power of darkness.

Today, we sit in darkness until the light of the Easter candle breaks through that eerie blackness. We are uncomfortable in this darkness and in our own dark places—where we often believe that God can never break into and change for the better. Our sinfulness seems to be stuck on us never to be removed.

But as the nails are removed from the hands and feet of Christ today and he is removed from the symbol of execution, can we believe that something else has been given to us other than a dead body? Can we believe that God will come again breaking down the doors of darkness and rising to new life?

Each time we end up in the darkness can we return to find light breaking in somehow, somewhere. If we can then we can truly call this Friday “Good” because we can say that we are a faithful people–filled with the hope of the Easter morn and not overcome by the darkness of one more crucifixion.

This time, we can see beyond the cross. We can see clearly that Jesus has defeated death. We can wear the executioner’s cross around our necks because we have that faith that brings us to life eternal.

Let us rejoice in the Friday that is Good. Because there is more to this crucifixion than we could have ever imagined.