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.