I immensely enjoyed our Holy Thursday celebration at St. Cletus Catholic Church in St. Charles, Missouri, during Holy Week. As usual, the regular Mass was enhanced with a “washing of the feet” ceremony and a procession with the Eucharist through the church. At the close, the congregation and choir sang/chanted these words:
Stay with me. Remain here with me. Watch and pray.
That recalls the request Jesus gave three of his disciples as he prepared to enter into his agonizing time of prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane on the night of the Last Supper. Of course, we know that those three men couldn’t stay awake to pray with Jesus.
Prayer is so important. It’s our way of communicating with God. And there are so many forms of prayer – song, speaking standard prayers, openly sharing whatever is on our heart, silently speaking to the Lord or just sitting and listening to God speak to us.
But there was another form of prayer modeled for us on Holy Thursday. It came in that washing of the feet.
That was prayer as well: prayer by action.
Yes, we can communicate with God by doing things, by serving our fellow man. In reaching out to the poor in material things or the poor in spirit, for instance, we are showing our Lord how much we love him in the people around us. As Christ washed the feet of the apostles, he displayed the fact that service to our fellow man and woman is a high calling, one that anyone who wishes to follow him must heed.
Sometimes we don’t give ourselves enough credit for the things we do, for the love we show people in our lives. Sometimes, as a matter of helping my self-esteem, I force myself to answer the question: Whose life is better because you woke up today? It can remind me that I do have a purpose in this world and that I am doing more to fulfill that purpose than I often realize.
But we always can do more and do better.
So what if we look at that same question with a slight twist? How about if you and I ask ourselves this question each day? Whose life can be better because I woke up today?
True men and women of prayer don’t simply close their doors and talk to God. They don’t just attend Mass, be it daily or weekly, or recognize how grateful they are to God when they see a sunrise or a sunset of great beauty.
True “people of prayer” also are “people of action.” At least that’s what I have observed and what I want to work toward. Yes, we are called to spend time listening and worshiping every day, asking with confidence and blessing the Lord as he gives and takes away. But when we put aside our Bibles and rosaries after devotions, we are called to live out our calling by being Christ in the world.
God recently laid some ideas onto my heart after I prayed, reflected and pondered on the example of Holy Thursday. I’d like to encourage you to prayerfully read them, perhaps write them down, look over them for a couple of days and then celebrate Easter by tackling one or more of them in the coming days and weeks. Take a few moments to actually schedule one of the actions for a specific day – or more than one day. Your saying “yes” each day will give God the power, through you, to bless people in your lives.
So I present these to each of you:
Someone needs a card or letter from you. Search your mind and heart, pray for a name to come to you. Then, pull out a piece of paper or buy a card and put something in writing that is encouraging or supportive to that person. We have moved away from a culture that finds people sending “snail mail” to each other. But we still love to receive that kind of mail, to know that someone took the time to let us know someone cares about us, is praying for us.
To have that written down makes those feelings more intense and personal because of the permanent nature of the letter. You don’t have to write a long letter. Just a note with some heartfelt thoughts, maybe to someone we think of now and then but to whom we haven’t regularly expressed those thoughts.
Call a family member to say hello. We each have relatives that don’t live near us – parent or sibling, aunt or uncle or cousin. Maybe you have warm Christmas memories that involve that person and you haven’t been able to share the holidays with them for a long time. Call them just to say hello, inquire how they are doing and let them know they are a wonderful part of your life’s story.
Give up something this week that costs a little bit of money. If you are like me, you could drink less soda, give up that cup of foo-foo coffee, not eat at a restaurant one or more days. Then, donate the money you save to a favorite charity. Many charities are hurting. Perhaps you regularly contribute to St. Jude’s Hospital or Food for the Poor or Cross International; add a little extra because of this week’s sacrifice. Or maybe you just take the 10 bucks that you save and add it to the basket when passed around at church next Sunday. When giving is down, every little extra means something to someone. And you won’t just be giving, you will be donating out of sacrifice.
When you first see each member of your household one day this week, embrace them or kiss them and give a heartfelt greeting. Make sure it is in the first moment you are with each of them. So instead of yelling to one of the kids “Hurry up, we’re going to be late for school,” hug your son or daughter and say, “Happy Tuesday! So glad to see your face this morning!” Or to your spouse, “Hi, honey! I hope you slept well. I’m really glad we’re married.” If your kids aren’t in the house anymore, really step out of the routine and call them just to say you love them.
Every time you encounter a service-industry person, make a special point of asking how they are. Thank them for their help, wish them a particularly good day. You might be surprised how often you interact with such people: filling up the car with gas, getting a coffee or Coke at the QuikTrip, dining in a restaurant, shopping at the grocery store, taking a bulletin from the usher at church. If you want to really take it a step further, find something unique to give that service worker – maybe a bookmark you bought or something similar.
Finally, make use of the new technology at your disposal and send a brief e-mail to three people. Anyone in your e-mail address book. Read the names slowly and prayerfully and names will jump out at you. Tell them something special – that you are dedicating a rosary to their intentions that day, that something they did for you one day still means a great deal to you, that you wish you saw them more often and would like to schedule a lunch together to catch up. You will know when the names come to you what you are called to do. Or just a “Hello, hope you are well.”
Faith in Christ should be an active faith. Father Henri Nouwen said: “Will people be able to say of us, See how they love each other, how they serve their neighbor, and how they pray to their Lord?” Can people say that about you?
Yes, we are called to deepen our relationship with Jesus by prayer – and prayer should be the most important part of our days. There are those among us who are either without work or fearful of possibly losing their jobs. There are those among all those people who read this blog regularly who are struggling in their marriage, are battling health issues, are suffering through a crisis in faith. Friends, you are in my prayers.
But we also are called to love each other as we are loved by Christ. Yes, he regularly took a break from the world and spent time praying to the Father.
He also healed. He also comforted. He also washed feet.
Let’s do the same.