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A vocation call: To wash one another’s feet

  • Photo by Hilary Halliwell from Pexels

February 26, 2020

by Mary Finlayson, RSCJ, Director of Vocation Ministry

When I was working in Sacred Heart Network and parish schools years ago, I loved Holy Thursday – and objected strongly when it was a day off as part of the Easter holiday. What a missed opportunity to learn together and practice a powerful Christian celebration and gesture of love and reconciliation!

My students would say, “Aw, Sister, are we going to wash feet again this year?” Almost all showed up in class on Holy Thursday with their towel, or at least a paper towel, and pleaded to do it again and again – from the little ones to the teenagers. I believe that at some deep level, we long for tools and opportunities for tenderness with the folks in our daily, workday life.

Many parishes have moved from a priest washing one foot of each of 10 men at the front of the church, to an invitation to all present to wash each other’s feet at stations all around the church. And we as RSCJ do as well.

I was happy to see “Washing One Another’s Feet” in Being Artisans of Hope in Our Blessed and Broken World, as a metaphor for reflecting on our relationships of power. As a gesture, it is earthy, intimate and tender, just as when Jesus knelt and washed Peter’s feet. And we remember how clumsily that unfolded!

By virtue of being human with a survival instinct, in relationship with others, we know there are different layers and structures of power at play in our lives, even among friends, community members, family and coworkers. By virtue of having feelings and emotions, longings and desires, those relationships call us to share who we are and, with some, greater intimacy and foot-washing.

How do we wash feet? How is it part of our vocation as married, single, religious, ordained Christians? Artisans of Hope beautifully describes the use and misuse of power and its challenges and consequences. My purpose is to link relationships of power and vocation. How does this part of the document challenge and nourish the vocation of each one who reads it? I invite you to examine how and when you are called to be a foot-washer.

The call to community was a big part of my vocation discernment when I was in my mid-20s. I longed to share and live my faith, my searching, my service and the gifts and challenges of my daily living with and in a group of like-minded people.

At 24 years of age, I really wanted to serve God, to deepen my faith, to belong, to grow in my relationship with Jesus – with others. I asked God to “stretch my heart around the world.” And, God led me to the Society of the Sacred Heart.

I embraced my vocation as an RSCJ because I came to know this group of dedicated and faithful women who chose to be loving, to make known Jesus’ love: strong, tender, challenging, nourishing, pierced by suffering, washing feet. “Trusting in the fidelity of God and the love of my sisters …” (Constitutions 119, Formula of Profession of Perpetual Vows) I made my vows as have 220 years of RSCJ in mission.

As religious women, specifically as RSCJ in community, we have many opportunities to wash each other’s feet, to be vulnerable, Women of the Heart, even as we struggle not to be ‘women of the head.’

A key word about foot-washing in Artisans of Hope is vulnerability. We wash each other’s feet when we celebrate together, mourn together, in our hoping, our reconciliation, in community prayer when we share what is really going on in our hearts. This is, actually, what most inspired me to focus my vocation discernment on the Society: the true sharing of hearts, into which the RSCJ invited me in their community prayer, which supported each one’s service and ministry.

Whenever we practice sharing of our true selves, whether in religious formation, shared retreats, community meetings, faith sharing or in Eucharist, we are washing each other’s feet.

In John’s Gospel, foot-washing is what Jesus commanded us to continue to do in his name.

We have made vows to live our mission together, an evolving mission, responding to the needs and calls of the times. We are empowered, supported, loved enough that we might be vulnerable, “Heart people” and reveal that heart to the world in service and love.

I invite each one of us in the Sacred Heart family to continue to reflect on our call to be foot-washers in our own unique vocation.

Photo by Hilary Halliwell from Pexels