“He emptied himself, taking the form of a human slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbles himself, becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” Phil. 2:7-8
When I heard these words proclaimed last Sunday my mind drifted to replaying what we have witnessed from our new Pope these past few weeks. It seems few can stop talking about Francis - a man who seems to have no sign of ego, rather is focused on serving others.
And, once again, this was witnessed yesterday as he broke with tradition. In the past Francis’ predecessors washed the feet of priests in the Basilica of St. John in Lateran -- the most important of the four major basilicas in Rome. Instead Francis chose to kneel down before young offenders at the Casal del Marmo Penitentiary Institute for Minors. The inmates were aged between 16 and 21 and chosen from different nationalities and religious backgrounds - including two Muslims…and two women.
"This is a symbol, it is a sign — washing your feet means I am at your service," Francis told the young prisoners. "Help one another. This is what Jesus teaches us. This is what I do. And I do it with my heart. I do this with my heart because it is my duty, as a priest and bishop I must be at your service."
What is most remarkable is that Francis would include women in his inaugural Holy Thursday Mass as pope, given that current liturgical rules exclude women. Really? What a surprise!
Canon lawyer Edward Peters, who is an adviser to the Holy See's top court, noted in a blog that the Congregation for Divine Worship sent a letter to bishops in 1988 making clear that "the washing of the feet of chosen men ... represents the service and charity of Christ, who came 'not to be served, but to serve.'" Peters went on to say "By disregarding his own law in this matter, Francis violates, of course, no divine directive. What he does do, I fear, is set a questionable example." Questionable? For who?
Fr. Federico Lombardi, a Vatican spokesman, said he didn't want to wade into a canonical dispute over the matter. However, he noted that in a "grand solemn celebration" of the rite, only men are included because Christ washed the feet of his 12 apostles, all of whom were male.
I doubt that this nonsensical fodder bothers Francis. Christ heard the same sort of ego centered rhetoric from the Pharisees…albeit it led to his death.
So what we are left with on this Good Friday 2013 are some refreshing photos of our new Pope, wearing a deacon’s stole and humbling himself to serve others, along with the message he gave each inmate before he left them, "Don't lose hope," he said. "Understand? With hope you can always go on."
What more can you say…..but Amen.