January 13, 2006

2006 Religious Vocations Supplement

‘Washing the feet of others’

By Fr. Eric Johnson
Director of the archdiocesan Office of Priestly and Religious Vocations

On the day of my ordination to the diaconate, I was given a small icon of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples.

It is a beautiful image, recalling the Gospel of John’s story of the Last Supper in which Jesus, gathered for one last time with those he loved, humbly washed and dried the feet of those who followed him.

While the icon was certainly a nice gift, I believe it was also meant to serve as a reminder of what my own life as a deacon and later a priest was to be about.

As one who is called to be an image of Christ’s presence to others through priestly ministry, I too am to be about humble service. As one who is asked to love as Christ loved, I too am called to wash feet.

The image of Christ washing the feet of his disciples remains a powerful one for me. As I look at that icon today, I am reminded of the countless people—parents, teachers, friends, family, priests, couples, brothers and sisters—who have washed my feet, who have witnessed this service to me.

It is this image of Christ washing the feet of his disciples and his command that his disciples do the same that is the theme for this year’s Religious Vocations Supplement. As such, I believe it serves as an invitation to ask ourselves how we are called to wash the feet of others.

But it also offers us an opportunity to reflect with gratitude on the ways in which others—particularly priests, brothers and sisters—have washed our own feet, and witnessed to Christ’s action of loving service.

Indeed, all of us are called to wash the feet of others. In John’s Gospel, after Jesus set aside his towel and returned to his place at that table, he said to his disciples: “If I, your teacher and master, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet” (Jn 13:14).

To wash another’s feet is to take on the role of a servant. It is to place the needs of others before our own, to care for them, support them, encourage them, heal them and forgive them.

The invitation to wash another’s feet is an invitation to enter into the ordinary, routine, dirty and sometimes mundane aspects of people’s lives and experiences, and allow God’s life, presence and goodness to touch them.

This supplement contains stories of individuals and communities who have accepted Christ’s invitation by embracing a vocation to the priesthood, the permanent diaconate or the religious life.

They are stories filled with joy, hope, faith and the desire to respond generously to God’s love. They are stories of men and women imitating the example of Jesus by washing the feet of others.

In some sense, these stories belong to all of us. The lives and witness of these sisters, brothers, deacons, seminarians and priests enrich us all and make us all a little more fully human, a little more true to what God calls us to be.

Most of all, these stories offer to us a unique glimpse of God’s love.

As with all Christian vocations, it is love that roots us in the mystery of Christ, love that is witnessed in generous self-giving, love that is practiced by washing one another’s feet. †


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