Sorry, Pope Francis, but.....

I am not kissing any feet tonight. No thanks. Can we talk about how feet are gross? And with every passing year, people’s feet are getting huge. Even the high school kids that come to Holy Thursday have size 12’s or 13’s. It is like washing a moose hoof!

Why didn’t Jesus wash hands on Holy Thursday. Hands are pretty cool. Little water, little soap. Next.

No, Jesus had to wash feet—men’s feet—stinky, dirty, and gross. Feet spend all day in socks and shoes. And my knees. My poor knees. Oy vey! I have to put those knee pads they use for gardening, and then after washing 12 feet I still struggle to stand up.

And they ask, “Father, so you want us to take off both our shoes and our socks?” Haha. Ummm……do you like passing a kidney stone? No. Please, no. 24 feet? Twelve feet are bad enough.

Feet feet feet. Why can’t I just say Mass and take Jesus to the chapel and the altar of repose. Incense. Check. Humereil veil. Check. Bare feet of 12 guys. Check. Oh, and the deacon is sick, so I’m washing them all myself. Check. 

But. Hale no, I ain’t kissing those feet. Ain’t gonna happen. Ain’t.

What a life! And it is yours, oh priest of Jesus Christ! LOL


HOMILY for Maundy Thursday

Ex 12:1-8, 11-14; Ps 116; 1 Cor 11:23-26; Jn 13:1-15

- originally published on in 2011

My mother used to remind me before every meal to wash my hands, and despite my juvenile reluctance, as with so many maternal pronouncements, this injunction made much sense. For it was a hygienic practice conducive to good health. But since we don’t generally eat with our feet, foot-washing in preparation for sitting down to dine is somewhat less obviously sensible. So, leaving aside the fact that this was typically the task of a Gentile slave, one can appreciate Peter’s consternation. Moreover, travellers customarily had the dust washed off their feet when they entered a home but Christ and his companions had already sat down for supper; the expected moment for foot-washing had passed. Without the Evangelist’s theological gloss, Christ’s action at this point of the supper is indeed puzzling. 

Given the superfluous nature of foot-washing at this juncture, Peter, once he realizes that it is a symbolic act, understandably asks that all of him is washed. But Jesus insists on washing just the feet of his followers. We’re probably familiar with this as a sign of Christ’s humility and loving service which we’re then called to imitate, and that is true. However, rather than to just look at what Christ did, perhaps we should consider what Christ washed: feet. 

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Fr. Larry Jensen of Waterville, Maine washes feet (photo by Michael Seamans). Since I spoke about washing feet in a humorous satire, let me now write something quite serious.

First, we have those words from the Bible: "How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!" (Romans 10:15).

I was not serious when I said that washing the feet on Holy Thursday was tiresome because feet are “gross.” On the contrary, it is a very touching and moving ceremony which I enjoy doing as a priest. First, it is a reminder of Jesus’ act of service, given to His first priests, the Apostles. Jesus was saying that as priests, they would offer Sacrifice, the Eucharist, and the Eucharist is to build up charity and loving service in the Church. Thus, the connection between charity and the Eucharist, washing feet and wearing the priestly vestments.

But there is another profound meaning. For the twelve men to sit up in the front and take off their shoe and sock and expose their foot to the priest, they are exposing a vulnerable part of their body. A foot is delicate and can be harmed if not covered with protective shoes. Being barefoot is being vulnerable in an important part of your body. Most people do not run around with bare feet unless they are poor or humble—yeah, also when it’s hot and they’d rather be in flip flops. But still, no one wears flip flops at a dangerous work site or where their feet or toes might get hurt.

The priest takes the man’s bare foot and he washes it and carefully dries it. It shoes humility, but it also shows that the priest can be trusted with what is vulnerable. People go to their priests with their vulnerable lives, their broken hearts, their daily problems, their vulnerable wounds and festering sores in their spirits. Like a bare foot given to the priest to wash, people give the priest their lives so he will take care of them with a loving heart. 

Priest consider the feet of their people to be beautiful. There is nothing gross about the feet of the men, or the women, or the kids. With those feet, their people walk all over and blaze trails and gain new territory for the Kingdom of God. A priest does not gross out on Holy Thursday. On the contrary, he admires the feet that walk so much and work so hard to keep fighting, to keep running the race, to keep walking toward Jesus even when the going is tough and you want to collapse. This is why Pope Francis and other priests not only wash the bare feet of their people, they kiss them too, with love, with respect.

A priest could not be a priest if the people did not offer them their vulnerable feet, their vulnerable lives, their vulnerable hearts, and allow them to minister and take care of them. When the priest washes the feet of the parishioners, he is not just saying, “let us serve one another.” More so, he is saying, “THANK YOU for letting me serve you. Thank you for letting me be your priest. Thank you for trusting me to look after your spiritual needs. If you did not give me the privilege to serve you, all my priesthood would be useless.”

I had a very beautiful and blessed Holy Thursday. The young and old came together, the Anglos and Hispanics, the rich and poor. Together, we celebrated the institution of the blessed Eucharist and the conferral of the priesthood. And yes, with humble emotion, I washed feet. It was an honor.

The only glitch was that I couldn’t find my knee pads. With the passing years, my knees get worse, and the washing was torture and searing pain on my knees. But it was worth the pain to show this ancient sign of the love of the priests for their people, washing their beautiful feet.

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"If the world hates you, remember that it hated me first." (John 15:18)

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Byzantine Washing of the Feet

The Washing of the Feet in the Byzantine Churches is performed only at Hierarchal Liturgies, be it at a cathedral with the bishop or a monastery with the abbot. For reasons that are pretty obvious on the face of it, you must be a priest to get your foot washed, since the 12 Apostles were priests. After the Ambon Prayer at the end of Divine Liturgy, the deacon chants the Gospel of the Washing of the Feet and the bishop and 12 priests perform the actions as the deacon chants them. The verse stating that Christ washed the feet of the apostles is repeated 12 times. The final priest fulfills the role of St. Peter. The bishop chants the words of Christ and that priest chants the words of Peter. Since they are both ordained, there is nothing wrong with them saying lines of the Gospel reading. Then the bishop re-vests and says the blessing and dismissal as usual. In parish practice, Vespers of the Mystical Supper and Divine Liturgy of St. Basil on Holy Thursday evening simply proceed without the Foot-Washing.

In 1850, Franz Joseph participated for the first time as emperor in the second of the traditional Habsburg expressions of dynastic piety: the Holy Thursday foot-washing ceremony, part of the four-day court observance of Easter. The master of the staff and the court prelates chose twelve poor elderly men, transported them to the Hofburg, and positioned them in the ceremonial hall on a raised dais. There, before an invited audience observing the scene from tribunes, the emperor served the men a symbolic meal and archdukes cleared the dishes. As a priest read aloud in Latin the words of the New Testament (John 3:15), “And he began to wash the feet of the disciples,” Franz Joseph knelt and, without rising from his knees, washed the feet of the twelve old men in imitation of Christ. Finally, the emperor placed a bag of twenty silver coins around the necks of each before the men were led away and returned to their homes in imperial coaches.