Posted April 09, 2009 in Lent and Easter, and in The Pope's Corner:
The Washing of the Feet

by Pope Benedict XVI.

If we listen attentively to the Gospel of Holy Thursday, we can discern two different dimensions in the event of the washing of the feet.

The cleansing that Jesus offers his disciples is first and foremost simply his action—the gift of purity, of the "capacity for God" that is offered to them.

But the gift then becomes a model for the duty to do the same for one another.

The Fathers of the Chruch described these two aspects of the washing of the feet with the words sacramentum and exemplum.

Sacramentum in this context… means the mystery of Christ in its entirety—from the Incarnation to the Cross and the Resurrection: all this becomes the healing and sanctifying power, the transforming force, for men and women. It becomes our transformation into a new form of being, into openness to God and communion with him.

But this new being which, without our merit, he simply gives to us, must then be transformed within us into the dynamic of a new life.

The gift and example overall, which we find in the passage on the washing of the feet, is a characteristic of the nature of Christianity in general. Christianity is not a type of moralism, simply a system of ethics. It does not originate in our action, our moral capacity.

Christianity is first and foremost a gift: God gives himself to us. He does not give something but himself. And this does not only happen at the beginning, at the moment of our conversion. He constantly remains the One who gives. He continually offers us his gifts.

He always precedes us. This is why the central act of Christian being is the Eucharist: gratitude for having been gratified, joy for the new life that he gives us.

Yet with this, we do not remain passive recipients of divine goodness. God gratifies us as personal, living partners. Love given is the dynamic of loving together. It wants to be new life in us starting from God.

Thus, we understand the words which, at the end of the washing of the feet, Jesus addresses to his disciples and to all of us: A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you must love one another. (Jn 13: 34).

The "new commandment" does not consist of a new and difficult norm that did not exist until then. The new thing is the gift that introduces us into Christ’s mentality. If we consider this, we perceive how far our lives often are from this newness of the New Testament and how little we give humanity the example of loving in communion with his love.

Thus we remain indebted to the proof of credibility of the Christian truth which is revealed in Christ’s love.

For this very reason, we want to pray to the Lord increasingly to make us, through his purification, mature persons of the new commandment.

—Excerpted from the pope’s homily for Holy Thursday, March 20, 2008.


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