Holy Thursday (March 28, 2013)

Washing of Feet

[Jesus] got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him.

–John 13:4-5

Holy Thursday is a special feast day for any Christian leader, whether business manager, priest, teacher, administrator, or parent. “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them,” Jesus said, “but not so with you” (Lk 22:25-26). In the Holy Thursday liturgy, the priest reenacts Jesus’ wordless instruction to the disciples when he bends down, washes, and dries the feet of members of the congregation — a jarringly countercultural message.

In my years of ministry as a priest, a philosophy professor, and a university administrator, I have found two major temptations of which all of us must be wary. The first is the use of our position to serve our own ego or selfish desires. The second is pandering to the wants and whims of those we are called to serve in order to be popular, or at least to avoid trouble. Jesus’ call is to avoid both temptations and to give ourselves to serving others by seeking what is genuinely good for them. When I have challenged a student to do better or people in an organization to reach higher, the reaction is often quite negative, sometimes hostile. But these challenges, along with the assistance and encouragement to meet them, can be opportunities for the most genuine expressions of Christian love, free of sentimentality and self-interest. When we have the faith and love to lead in this way, we reenact in our lives Christ’s wordless lesson of the washing of feet.


Rev. John Jenkins, C.S.C., is the President of the University of Notre Dame. This reflection was taken from “The Gift of the Cross: Lenten Reflections in the Holy Cross Tradition,” published by Ave Maria Press, a ministry of the United States Province.

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