Five years ago, I had what was probably the worst morning of my life. The morning started out normally with my alarm going off at five. I got up, got the dogs out of their crates and headed down the stairs to take them out. That’s when things got a little weird. What I can still remember of the experience is getting an odd queasy feeling in my stomach as black spots began to form in front of my eyes. To this day I still don’t know how I did it, but I managed to hook the dogs to their leashes and let them out the door before everything turned black. The next thing I remember is being on the floor in the front hallway of the Rectory and hearing Maureen on the phone with 911. I had passed out, and from what I can tell had been out for several minutes.
When I started to get up, Maureen yelled for me to stay down. Maureen did not have to say this twice, because every time I tried to move, or breathe deeply a sharp pain shot through my chest and abdomen. So there in in the middle of the hallway floor I laid helplessly as we waited for the EMT’s to arrive.
I think this is the only time in my adult life I have ever felt this helpless. Although the EMT’s and everyone at the hospital were very nice, in fact wonderful, I did not like being that vulnerable, I did not like needing other people to help me move about the ER, to watch me constantly to make sure I did not pass out again. I did not like giving up control and letting others take care of me even if it was only for the short while. Because like you, I have been taught to be independent and self-reliant.
Independence and self-reliance are wonderful values which can help one go far in life. However, they do have their down side. For the most part,the need for independence can lead to an inflated sense of pride that prevents us from allowing others to fully love us or help us in our self-care. As a priest, it is my job to take care of the spiritual and often the emotional needs of others, at times it is difficult for me, like many of my colleagues, to allow others to do the same for me.
For many of us, the same holds true in our relationship with God. During the early weeks of the 19th annotation retreat, participants are asked to contemplate how they are loved by God. As I contemplated the question, I realized the challenge is not about whether I am loved by God, I already knew that. What I began to see in my contemplation was a greater question, can I allow God to love me.
You see I am a lot like Peter, in fact, I would guess most of us are like Peter. We are loyal, hardworking and enthusiastic followers of Jesus. We know what it means to tend to the sick the poor, the widowed and the orphaned. What we don’t know how to do is let Jesus love us. In this evening’s Gospel, Peter refuses to let Jesus wash his feet. Why? Because that’s not how things were supposed to work. It was Peter’s job to take care of Jesus needs, not vice versa. But Jesus insists, in fact he goes so far as to say that if Peter does not allow him to wash his feet, Peter can have no part of him. Why? Because in order for us to love the way Christ loved us, we have to first allow Christ to love us.
One of the things I enjoy about youth mission trips is the energy and the enthusiasm the young people have when setting out on these trips. Most are ready and eager to save the world and often have a list in their heads as to how they are going to take care of others. As part of the preparation, I often warn our young people to remember the very people you are being called to serve, will minister to you as well. So be open, I would remind them, it is possible you will experience God through one of them.
This very thing happened during my first mission trip to Puerto Rico. It took the group by surprise. “What could these people offer them” they wondered, after all the young people I was with, were some of the most advantaged teens in the United States.” But again, God has a way of sneaking up on you. In the midst of our journey, we were invited to tour an older parishioner’s home that had been built for her after hurricane George. She was very proud of her three room house which she showed us with great pride, and told us how it was built. And then as we were leaving through the garden gate, She offered each of us a mango from one of her trees. This was a woman who did not have much, and the mangos she offered could have been sold road side to help support her meager income. Most of the kids were blown away by the woman’s generosity, some felt guilty for accepting her gift, others wanted to find ways to thank her but sadly there was no real way to repay her for her gift. This frustrated the kids until I reminded them that in order to offer the love of God, we must be willing to accept the love of God.
This woman had offered them the love of God in the same way Jesus offers Peter the love of God by washing his feet. The challenge was to just accept that love and let it be.
Tonight, we will again celebrate the offering of divine love through our own ceremony of foot washing. I know this is a tradition that many of us would rather avoid. I realize many of us are very self-conscious about our feet and believe there is just something plan wrong about walking around the church bare foot. Despite all these issues, I invite you to put yourself in the story, to let yourself be Peter, and to accept Christ’s command to let him love you and tend to you so you can love and tend to others as Jesus does for us.