Grandma, Can I Wash Your Feet?

(Homily for Holy Thursday)

Bottom line: Washing someone's feet bring physical relief - and points to release from a deeper burden.

This Holy Week I have been thinking about my mom and dad. If they were still alive, they would be celebrating their ninetieth birthdays. (They were born two days apart, March 14 & 16, 1918.) One of my favorite memories of my mother was when my college-age niece asked her, "Grandma, can I wash your feet?"* Surprised my mom said, yes, and Tonya brought a bowl of warm water and a towel. It was beautiful to see the expression on my mom's face. It was as if all her cares and anxieties left her. As Tonya dried her feet, she seemed totally relaxed.

In this evening's Gospel, Jesus washes his friends' feet. The washing brought physical relief, but something more. Jesus tells his disciples, "Whoever has bathed has no need except to have his feet washed." The full bath refers to baptism. The foot washing refers to a post-baptismal cleansing that brings release and liberation. For us as Catholics, the Sacrament of Reconciliation is a post-baptism cleansing. But that cleansing can happen in other ways - for example, at the Easter Vigil when we renew our baptismal vows.**

After Jesus washed his disciples' feet, he said that he had given an example for us to follow. Tonight I would like to make a suggestion. You know, some congregations have all the members involved in washing each others' feet. I don't believe that is the correct approach, but I would like to ask you to do something this evening. As Father Ramon and I, together with Deacons Ted & Abel, wash the feet to twelve men - to represent the twelve apostles - I would like you to think of someone whose feet you could wash.

Maybe tonight you could say to your wife, "Dear one, may I wash your feet?" And after you have washed each foot, bend down and kiss it, as we will do with those who represent the apostles. If you wash your spouse's feet, you will experience a beautiful intimacy. And would it not be something lovely if a brother were to wash the feet of one of his siblings? Or, as my niece did, if a grandchild washed the feet of their grandparent?

It is significant that Jesus washed his disciples' feet before celebrating the Eucharist with them. It prepared them to participate in that first Mass. It gives us an example how we prepare to take part in these mysteries. We need the post-baptismal cleansing of a good confession or at least a good act of contrition, such as we have in the penitential rite. And we can wash one another's feet - to help free the other person from his burden and anxieties. As Jesus tells us, "I have given you a model to follow so that as I have done for you, you should also do."


*Note to fellow homilists: If you like this example, feel free to use it. Simply say, "I heard (read) about a college age girl who said to her grandmother, 'Grandma, etc."

**I am referring to venial sins. One who has committed a mortal sin must receive sacramental confession before presenting himself for Communion. As soon as a person becomes aware of having committed a mortal sin, he should make an act of contrition, pledging to "confess my sins, do penance and amend my life."

Spanish Version

From Archives:

2010 Homily: Foot Washing & Celibacy
2009: Join the Nearest Household
2008: Grandma, Can I Wash Your Feet?
2007: The Passover Lamb Must Be Eaten
2006: A New Friend at the Banquet
2005: Our True Companion
2004: A Girl's Heroic Holy Hour
2003: Do This!
2002: Humiliation of Priesthood
2001: Super-Abundance of Mercy
2000: Washing of Feet & Eucharist
1999: Family Struggles & Strengths
1998: In Remembrance of Me

Other Homilies

Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C

Bulletin (Week of Divine Mercy, Royal College of Psychiatrists on abortion risk to mental health, Obstetric & Vascular Doppler for Mary Bloom Center)


Times for Holy Week Confessions (including Holy Saturday)

Pilgrimage to St. James Cathedral

St. Mary of the Valley Album

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