Pope Francis, Foot-Washing, and the Cross

Meister des Hausbuches,
Christ Washing the Feet of the Apostles (1475)
The more I read about our new Holy Father, the happier I am.  He seems to combine outspoken orthodoxy with flagrant and outspoken love of the poor and downtrodden.  In short, there is plenty for Catholics (and non-Catholics) of all stripes to like.  One of the most heartening things that I have read in response to his election came from a reader of John Thavis’ blog calling himself “Non-practicing Catholic”:

“This makes me want to go back to Mass ASAP. All I can say is WOW! This is simply stunning, and I think Pope Francis will be good for the Church.”

That reaction gives credence to something that Pope-emeritus Benedict XVI has said,

“Today, for faith to grow, we must lead ourselves and the persons we meet to encounter the saints and to enter into contact with the Beautiful.”

This world is full of people who will ignore rational arguments for the faith, but fall to their knees in the face of authentic sanctity the Beautiful.  Beauty and Goodness still seep through in a world that denies Truth.  And as Dostoyevsky said (and Solzhenitsyn explained), “Beauty will save the world.”  Pope Francis appears to have lived this out in a life of humility and simplicity.
A dispute also arose among them, which of them was to be regarded as the greatest. And he said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you; rather let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves. For which is the greater, one who sits at table, or one who serves? Is it not the one who sits at table? But I am among you as one who serves.
“You are those who have continued with me in my trials; as my Father appointed a kingdom for me, so do I appoint for you that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.

“Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you [plural], that he might sift you [plural] like wheat, but I have prayed for you [singular] that your faith may not fail; and when you have turned again, strengthen your brethren.
– Luke 22:24-32
Pope Francis (then-Cardinal Bergoglio) washing the feet of a young AIDS patient, Holy Thursday, 2001

Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, rose from supper, laid aside his garments, and girded himself with a towel. Then he poured water into a basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel with which he was girded. 

El Greco, Jesus Carrying the Cross (1580)
He came to Simon Peter; and Peter said to him, “Lord, do you wash my feet?” Jesus answered him, “What I am doing you do not know now, but afterward you will understand.” Peter said to him, “You shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no part in me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” Jesus said to him, “He who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but he is clean all over; and you are clean, but not all of you.” For he knew who was to betray him; that was why he said, “You are not all clean.”

When he had washed their feet, and taken his garments, and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you?  You call me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am.  If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.
– John 13:3-14
Nor does this charity and care for the downtrodden come at the expense of bold proclamation of the Gospel.  In his first homily as pope, Pope Francis called us all to the Cross, and to confession of Jesus Christ:

[W]e can walk as much we want, we can build many things, but if we do not confess Jesus Christ, nothing will avail. We will become a pitiful NGO, but not the Church, the Bride of Christ. [….] 

This Gospel continues with a special situation. The same Peter who confessed Jesus Christ, says, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God. I will follow you, but let us not speak of the Cross. This has nothing to do with it.” He says, “I’ll follow you on other ways, that do not include the Cross.” When we walk without the Cross, when we build without the Cross, and when we profess Christ without the Cross, we are not disciples of the Lord. We are worldly, we are bishops, priests, cardinals, Popes, but not disciples of the Lord. 

I would like that all of us, after these days of grace, might have the courage – the courage – to walk in the presence of the Lord, with the Cross of the Lord: to build the Church on the Blood of the Lord, which is shed on the Cross, and to profess the one glory, Christ Crucified. In this way, the Church will go forward. 

My hope for all of us is that the Holy Spirit, that the prayer of Our Lady, our Mother, might grant us this grace: to walk, to build, to profess Jesus Christ Crucified. So be it.

Viva il Papa!


    1. …and here’s what the Ukrainian Patriarch Sviatoslav had to say:

      Today’s Pope, during his time as a student of the Salesian school, awoke many hours before his classmates to concelebrate at our Divine Liturgy with Fr. Stepan. He knows our Tradition very well, as well as our Liturgy.

      Papa Francisco’s language (“presides in love” and constant use of “Bishop of Rome” rather than “Pope”) suggest that he has his eye to renewed union with the East. This makes me very, very happy.

  1. Pope Francis looks a bit shy, but friendly. I look forward to seeing what he will do. And I have to smile when I think of him speaking to Benedict. “So what do I say, Your Holiness?” “Vell, ve are both brothers in Christ.”

  2. With such a strong Eastern background I wonder what the pope thinks on married priests as an exception in the West.

    I noticed that married with children Lutheran priest Leonard Klein became married with children Roman Catholic priest without a Lutheran ordinariate a decade ago.

    I think this is him.


    I wonder how that process was then and what it is now?

    Someone who speaks Lutheranese should ask Rev Klein how it went and his thoughts on improving the process.

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