The Mandatuum, the washing of the feet, takes place in our Chapter Hall right before Holy Thursday’s Mass. The Prioress, or a sister delegated by her, gives a sermon. This year Sr. Mary Martin read the sermon Sr. Mary Elizabeth gave sometime before 1967.
What I have done to you, you too should do. John 13:16
These words were spoken by Our Lord soon after He had washed the feet of His disciples. This was a courtesy of the host to his guests, but it was usually rendered by a slave. Here instead of the slave, we have Our Divine Savior stooping to the lowest and most menial task, giving us an example and teaching us the profoundest lesson of imitation in humility and charity—loving humility and humble charity. Jesus Himself has said: “You call me Master, and you are right—I have set you an example, so that what I have done to you, you too should do!” We are to imitate Him. We are to imitate Him in His humility, in His charity. We hunger to imitate Him in His sacred Passion—to suffer as He suffered physically, to be scourged and crowned and finally to be crucified; but do we hunger to suffer humiliations, to be scourged with contradictions, to be crowned with rebukes? Do we hunger to suffer the interior pains that He wants us to suffer—to be crucified to self? We are to imitate Him, His way!
Our Divine Lord was humble throughout His entire life; humility was expressed in His every action from the lowness of the manger to the sublimity of the Cross. Humility is a composite of all the virtues, as is charity; therefore, if we are humble, we will be charitable; and if we are charitable, we will be humble and we will be practicing all the virtues in their fullness.
In the washing of the feet, we have the perfect lesson of selflessness; and as Jesus said: “What I have done to you, you too should do.” To wash the feet of our sisters appears to be no difficult task, but to submit to them, to remain silent when opposed, to be kind when thoughtless words are uttered, yes, this is difficult. Our Lord permitted oppositions, remained silent and was humiliated beyond comprehension; why should we then become irritated and annoyed when given the opportunity to imitate Him?
Our divine Teacher frequently spoke in parables, but here He illustrates for us personally what He wants of us. We know only too well how much more forceful is an act than mere words. The disciples were previously bickering about the earthly kingdom and who would be the greatest in it. The Master had to show them that His ways were not the ways of the world, but quite contrary to them. They were pleased when He worked miracles and spoke to throngs of people, but this act of His was so unbecoming, not a bit in keeping with His dignity—so they thought. But the Son of God was never so magnanimous as when He was humble. It takes a truly great person to be truly humble. Mary’s humility brought us a Redeemer!
The charity of Christ was forever in the foreground. He had manifested His fraternal love for those simple fishermen in so many familiar ways. He never wearied from their weak-minded remarks and their slowness in belief and practice. He was patient to the utmost degree and ceased not to show them the way of the Father. Love is proved by sacrifice. The greatest proof of His love was yet to come, the perfect sacrifice—to die for each and every one of them as He has also done for us. Let us prove our love for Him and die also, dying so that only He may live and reign within our hearts.
“Do you appreciate what I have just done to you?” asked Jesus after this heartfelt gesture. In all probability the apostles did not. For they did not understand Our Lord’s actions at this time. Like the apostles, do we understand our Savior’s actions at this time, here and now? Do we appreciate what He is doing for us every single second of the day? Oh yes, we say “thank you” for favors received, but how often do we say “thank you” for humiliations received? With St. Philip Neri we should say: “I thank Thee, O my God, that things are not going as I should like them to.” Here we would be imitating our divine Teacher in the best way—“Not my will, but Thine be done.”
And finally Jesus said to His disciples: “If you bear this lesson in mind, happy are you if you put it into practice.” Therefore, if we imitate Him in all ways, especially in His humility and charity, we will be happy. How can we not be happy, if we have no desires, no wishes, none save His? If we are concerned about pleasing Him, we won’t have time to be concerned with pleasing ourselves. Therefore, whatever would happen, we would know He planned it as such and would be happy in accepting it.
Let us take heed then, dear Sisters, to these most forceful and meaningful words of God, Our Lord: “What I have done to you, you too should do,” and let us put them to profitable use.
“What do you think? That he will not come to the feast?” These are the last words of yesterday’s Gospel, and they act as a sort of cliffhanger as we enter into Holy Week. All last week we saw the tension between Jesus and the Jewish officials rise. On Friday Jesus declared openly that He is the Son of God, and so the Jews picked up rocks to stone Him for blasphemy. On Saturday the Sanhedrin began to plot His death, and so He could no longer walk about openly. The time of Passover was drawing near and the people wondered what would happen. Could He, would He go up to Jerusalem for the feast? And if He did…what then?
In today’s first Gospel the answer comes; Jesus does go up to Jerusalem, not only openly but in victorious procession! The tension has snapped, this is it! This is what the people have been waiting for as they’ve watched and wondered these past few years. He is the Messiah, the promised Son of David, the anointed King! He’s going to claim the throne!
Jesus rides into Jerusalem seated on a colt as the people spread their cloaks upon the road and shout for joy. They proclaim, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” Why the colt? This was how King David passed his kingship on to his son Solomon; having gone to Gihon to be anointed king, Solomon entered Jerusalem riding on David’s mule as the people cried, “Long live King Solomon!” When he had entered Jerusalem, Solomon took his place on the throne to reign in David’s place.
Did the people really understand what was happening? Did they understand this triumphal entry as a proclamation of His kingship? Look what they did; they spread their cloaks upon the ground in front of Him. What a strange thing that would seem to be, except that it is exactly what happened when Jehu was abruptly anointed king. It is the only other time such an event is mentioned in the Bible. When King Jehu told his master’s servants that he had been anointed and proclaimed king by the prophet Elisha’s servant, “at once each took his garment, spreading it under Jehu on the bare steps, blew the trumpet, and cried out, ‘Jehu is king!’” (2 Kings 9:13)
There was no ambiguity about this entrance. In fact, when some of the Pharisees told Jesus to rebuke His disciples he replied, “I tell you, if they keep silent, the stones will cry out!”
Just when Israel is expecting Jesus to muster troops to free the nation from Rome’s domination…the readings suddenly shift. Jesus is betrayed by one of the Twelve in the nighttime and is taken before the Sanhedrin before anyone realizes what is happening. His disciples scatter, Peter denies even knowing Him. Finally, instead of mounting a throne Jesus mounts the cross.
What happened? How did the cries of “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord” become cries of “Crucify him! Crucify him!” What went wrong?
Nothing went wrong. It wasn’t that Jesus didn’t fulfill the people’s expectations, it was that their expectations were too small! Jesus is the King, but He was concerned with bigger enemies than Rome. He didn’t come to free Israel from Rome’s oppression; He came to free all people from sin and everlasting death. His weapons weren’t swords and spears but steadfast and persevering obedience, obedience even to death on the cross.
Palm Sunday’s liturgy is an preview for the coming week. It shows us the trajectory we’re about to embark upon as we enter the holiest week of the year.
Sacred Triduum Schedule
Palm Sunday Usual monastery schedule
Matins-Lauds —6:50 AM
Rosary & Sext—11:30 AM
Mass of the Lord's Supper—5:00PM Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament inside the nuns' monastery. No Compline.
Rosary & Sext—11:30 AM
Celebration of the Passion of the Lord—3:00 PM No Vespers
Rosary & Sext—11:30 AM
Easter Vigil is private. Closed to the public.
Holy Mass—8:00 AM
None & Rosary—3:10 PM
Vespers—5:30 PM Compline, closed to the public.
Today’s Gospel might be more well known for what it doesn’t tell us than what it does. Everyone wants to know—what was Jesus writing on the ground?!
Some, according to St. Thomas Aquinas, believe that He wrote the words of Jeremiah (“O earth, earth, listen…write down this man as sterile”) while others have thought He wrote the same words which he spoke (“Whoever among you is without sin, let him be the first to cast a stone at her”). In Gill’s commentary he writes that some think Jesus “wrote in legible characters the sins of the woman’s accusers,” while he himself thinks it most likely that “Christ on purpose put himself into this posture, as if he was busy about something else and did not attend to what they said.” He also offers another opinion, that Jesus was writing the names of the accusers in fulfillment of Jeremiah 17:13.
But let’s look at it another way.
Jesus was seated in the temple area teaching the people. The scribes and pharisees brought a woman caught in the act of adultery to Him and asked His judgment on the case, after reminding Him that “in the law, Moses commanded us to stone such women.” In response, to their utter confusion Jesus bends down to write on the ground. (So we aren’t alone when we find this part confusing, the scribes and pharisees didn’t understand either, at least at first!) It is only after they continue to ask that He straightens and judges that the one without sin be the first to cast a stone….before returning again to write in the dust.
So what was He writing? Let’s look a little closer.
The scribes and Pharisees brought the case to Jesus for judgment in order to test Him; they didn’t realize that when they appealed to Jesus (“Moses said this, what do you say?”) they were appealing to the New Law! Jeremiah prophesied about the coming of the New Covenant and the New Law: “I will place my law within them, and write it upon their hearts; I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” (31:33) While the Old Law was originally written by the finger of God on stone tablets, those tablets were shattered when the Israelites worshiped the golden calf, the Egyptian god Apsis. The Israelites received new stone tablets, but this time God didn’t write on them with His finger, Moses did (Exodus 34:27). Thus when the scribes and pharisees say “Moses commanded us” they were speaking more truth than they understood. But the New Law of the New Covenant is written by God in man’s heart. The word for man in Hebrew is adam (אָדָם), which also means earth or ground. And here we see Jesus, the God-man, descending to the earth and writing on the earth/adam/man with His finger, just as Jeremiah prophesied.
But the Scribes and the Pharisees did not understand this prophetic action of Jesus, they continued to ask Him. They thought that they had backed Him into a corner where He must explicitly reject the Law of Moses or abandon His own teaching. What they didn’t know was that Jesus came not to abolish the Law, but to fulfill it. (Matthew 5:17) So He rose from the dust to speak to them before once again descending to write, showing that His judgment…which left the woman unstoned and the old law unbroken…was the fulfillment of the old law, it was the new law.
It wasn’t just His writing on the ground that was prophetic, His descending to the earth and rising again from it were also prophetic actions, speaking of God’s descent to the earth as Man and, after death, Christ’s resurrection. By His death and resurrection, into which we are baptized, our accuser is silenced and our sins are forgiven.
The day we’ve all been waiting for has arrived! Tomorrow (Monday), April 1st (no, this is not a joke!) our new centennial wing opens! This past Wednesday afternoon we received our temporary certificate of occupancy and by Thursday morning we had moved the bulk of the gift shop to its new home. All hands were on deck to get everything moved in, and we can hardly believe the transformation! Not everything in the new wing is moved in, in fact most isn’t! But the public public section is ready. The new main door will open with the same hours as the chapel doors, 6AM-7PM. The Cloister Shoppe will also open for its usual hours, from 9:30AM-4PM (give or take a few minutes) Monday-Saturday. The door connecting the new wing to the chapel vestibule will be kept open. Along that hallway are two single toilet bathrooms. The lack of a bathroom has been a real cross for our visitors, and we are so glad to open not one but two! The two parlors will also open tomorrow for use.
What’s not done: everything else!
Below are two of the guest rooms, ready for furniture to move in!