Monday, April 1, 2013

Pope Francis at the Prison for Minors: Easter 2013 Part 1

Easter caught me feeling pretty spiritually unprepared this year…as it did last year… Fortunately, the Holy Spirit showed me once more that God, and not my preparations or lack thereof, makes these Holy Days holy and spiritually fruitful.

It started with Pope Francis on Holy Thursday. It didn’t surprise me that he would visit a juvenile prison. What surprised me was that he prayed Mass there in place of the big Mass at St. John Lateran’s. It crossed my mind: what about all the hundreds of people who might have wanted to celebrate with the Pope? And how did these young people get so lucky? Now, these very messed-up, probably a little jealous thoughts were soon interrupted by thoughts of how annoyed the Pharisees etc. were with Jesus for eating with tax collectors and sinners, and how Jesus said he’d come to heal the sinners, since the righteous didn’t need healing. Now, I hardly mean to say that the hordes of pilgrim-tourists in Rome for Easter are more righteous than the kids in this prison. (Having been one of these pilgrim-tourists myself four years ago, I remember how un-righteous the crowds and the jostling and the long hours in line can leave you feeling, even if the overall experience is way cool, for once in a lifetime.) But the young people whose lives were literally touched by this beautiful feet-washing ceremony were probably much more in need of healing than many of the people who just wanted to see the Pope, and probably got a lot more out of the experience than a few blurry pictures. Alone the message that, yes, they are totally worth the attention of such an important personality on such an important day, is a powerful message to the young people, and maybe even more so to the rest of us.

The message of the Pope’s actions on Holy Thursday carried over to Good Friday for me, when I actually saw a clip of the Mass on the evening news. I was so surprised that, after washing the young people’s feet, he kissed them! I’d never seen any priest do that before. Apart from briefly wondering just how awkward it might feel to have my feet kissed, my thoughts immediately jumped to the Good Friday tradition of kissing the feet of Jesus on the Cross. I happen to like this gesture very much, and always manage to overcome my fear of germs to kiss those little wooden feet as a sign of love for the One hanging on the cross for me. (The last couple years I’ve had to do without, since this custom doesn’t seem as prevalent here in Germany.) But anyway, the Pope’s gesture got me wondering whether I could imagine myself kissing the feet of my fellow humans, in whom Jesus is more present than he is in a carved crucifix. Whatsoever you do for the least of my people, that you do unto me…

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