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These feet are made for washing: on Holy Thursday, Jesus gives his most important lesson: to serve and be served.

I ALWAYS HATED MY FEET WHEN I WAS A KID. I HAVE MY father's long, skinny toes, and the little ones on the end are all scrunched up against each other. Growing up in Southern California, I used to insist on wearing little footies to the beach because I thought my feet were so ugly. Then one day I noticed that most people don't have gorgeous feet either. What a relief.

St. Paul was surely thinking about the feet when he mentioned the lesser, more humble parts of our bodies. It may seem strange that Jesus chose to honor feet. But why not? Our feet bear the load, dependably taking us where we need to go. Our feet walk the floor with a new baby or down the hall to the next patient. They take us on pilgrimage, that we may walk in the footsteps of others.

My feet have served me well for more than half a century, and I have learned to love them. Today you can hardly get me out of my sandals when the cold weather arrives.

The first time I was asked to participate in the Holy Thursday ritual, to have my feet washed by the priest, I gave my feet a makeover. Washed, trimmed, buffed, powdered. I wanted to put my best foot forward, as they say. Since then I have washed feet and had my feet washed numerous times, and I find the role of the "washee" to be far more awkward. Perhaps it is because most of us tend to resist someone serving us who is not usually in that role.

At my parish many members of the community wash feet, not just the priests. I volunteered to be one of those people because I wanted to ritually demonstrate that I serve my parish through the ministries I embrace. We were given our instructions and told to simply do as the priest did when he washed our own feet. So I got up at the appointed time and sat before the pastor, who lovingly washed and dried my feet.

Then he kissed my feet. "Oh no," I thought, "do I have to do that, too?" Washing people's feet is one thing--kissing them is another. So for the next few minutes as I went to get my basin and apron, I couldn't stop thinking: "Do I or don't I?"

I approached the first person, smiled, and got down on my knees in front of him. The server gave me my basin, and the man placed his feet in it. I gently poured the water from the pitcher over his well-groomed feet. I stroked the feet, top and bottom, and swirled the water around them. It reminded me of washing my children, pouring the warm water gently over their heads, using the washcloth to get into all those little rolls of baby fat.

Then I finished up, dabbing his feet with my soft towel. I was struck by a sense of reverence for him as a child of God, and by the end it seemed as natural as could he to lean in even lower and place a kiss on each of his feet.

Washing and kissing feet, on my knees on the floor, all seemed very natural to me, perhaps because I was busy doing my task. Perhaps because as a mother of three I had often been on the floor, cleaning or playing of helping or kissing.

When we got to the Lord's Prayer that night, it so happened that the man whose feet I had washed was across the aisle from me. We held hands during the prayer, and at the sign of peace he hugged me and with tears in his eyes he said, "No one has ever kissed my feet before."

Months later when I was changing my grandson's diaper, I kissed his pudgy little foot, and I thought, I bet the man in church was mistaken. I bet his mama kissed his feet, too.

SO WHY DID JESUS WASH THE FEET OF HIS DISCIPLES? LIKE A teacher running out of time as the school year concludes, there's time for only one great lesson. For Jesus, that was to teach us how to live by humbly serving one another.

And just as it was for Jesus, there is a time to care for others and a time to allow others to care for us. Whether our ministry is public or only to our families, in the end it is the simplest needs we meet. We lovingly prepare the altar or the dinner. We pour water over the heads of babies, in the baptismal font or in the bathtub.

When we are in need, we graciously accept tender mercies and a homemade meal. In turn, we silently stroke the arm of a loved one when there are no words to say. We quietly whisper words of love and forgiveness, in the confessional or at night in the dark. We remember what Jesus has done for us, and so we do for each other.

KAREN H. DIX, a religious educator from St. Charles, Illinois.
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Title Annotation:practicing Catholic
Author:Dix, Karen H.
Publication:U.S. Catholic
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Apr 1, 2004
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