So, I have never professed to be an expert, much less informed on religion. This is even more so the case with Catholicism. I know very little about the rituals, specific traditions, and nuances of the Catholic Church. What I know about is stereotypes. And as we know, not only are stereotypes generally negative, in so very many cases they are hurtful. They perpetuate division and miscommunication among people. With that said, I am a person of faith. I believe wholeheartedly in God, in Christ, and in my specific responsibility and call to join my heart with as many others as I can. And I also believe (sometimes foolishly) that if you are a person of ANY faith, at the very root of your doctrine is elevating a greater purpose, a higher calling, and a shared commitment to love. Loving in action, not words or donations. Demonstrating faith through relationship, willing connection to those most in need, most fractured, most hurt. Awkward silence, and complete and utter cluelessness be damned, faith communities are called to reconcile with each other and model grace and understanding.
Of course, the execution of this gets all jacked up. In every religion, denomination, congregation, Mother’s board and even the music ministry we get distracted by our humanity. The culprits? The illusion of power, the unwillingness to pray/reflect, the need to control, and good old-fashioned fear. We choke, and in response, we build bubbles that become space, that become distance, that become detachment, that becomes a canyon between you and the “other.” You know, the one you think you have nothing in common with; the one who made their bed and now must lie in it. The one who should’ve have no better. Ironically, we forget we could say those things about ourselves on any given day.
All this to say that I was so disturbed to see the so-called outrage and discomfort traditionalists had with the new leader of the Vatican, Pope Francis conducting a Holy Week ritual of washing feet in a juvenile detention center. Last Thursday, Pope Francis washed the feet of 12 juvenile detainees, to include a Muslim and female detainees. He washed, dried, and kissed their feet to honor and re-enact the act of Jesus washing the feet of his 12 disciples just a day before he was beaten and ultimately crucified.
While some were encouraged by this act, many were angry and disturbed that the Pope would include women in this ritual, let alone someone of a faith as controversial as Muslim. Folks went so far as to speculate that because he washed the feet of female, he would eventually promote the ordination of female priests.
All I could say was pump your brakes, you nit wits. First of all, from a strictly surface level, you should be grateful Pope Francis is hitting the pavement and raising visibility for the positive and engaging work of the Catholic Church. I alluded to stereotypes earlier and we all know that priests, and the Catholic Church in general have a mighty tough road to tow around combating negative press, the assumption of ultra conservative, sexist, and even criminal activity in the church.
As a single black mom, the last place I’m looking for a supportive ear is the Catholic Church. But when I spotted Pope Francis scrubbing that young person’s tootsies, I thought, wow is that a glimmer of humility I see? It literally warmed my heart, and blessed my spirit to see.
The divisions, judgments, and condemnations perpetuated by the church (not just Catholicism) have personally hurt and shook me at very pivotal points in my life. And at the center of it all was the punitive, self-righteous, fear based gospel. Their words and actions would say:
-You are not loved by God as you are.
-You must be perfect to please God.
-You are your sins, good luck moving past them
Well damn. If, after getting up early on a Sunday, putting on eyeliner and clothes that I actually have to iron, and dropping something in the offering plate, that’s the message I receive, why would I ever want to engage with “the Church,” or let a church leader in to my heart?
I saw Pope Francis throw some of that old guard piety out the stained glass window, and literally get down on his knees to serve the “least of us.” He told them he was no better than them, that he is there for him as is God, and made himself their servant. Servant to the throw aways, the sinners, the unforgiven. Kinda sounds familiar, huh (ever heard of Jesus)?
Could it be that the naysayers’ anxiety and contempt for this act made them face a terrifying question: If the highest of our leaders made himself small to serve criminals what am I going to be on the hook for? Am I going to have to cross the bridge I’ve been building so long to look in the eyes of those I pretend not to see?
Maybe. Just maybe.
As I said, I am not hip to the complexities, contexts, and background that may also be feeding into this negative reaction. So by all means, shoot Betty a line, and educate me.
What I am hip to though, is my spirit. The God in me was greeted and blessed by this act of service to those in need of the most grace, the most love, and the most forgiveness. I appreciated the nudge to walk the walk of offering love to everyone we encounter.
Now you might say, “Whatever, Betty. I ain’t washing no damn feet, and you know you ain’t either.”
Just consider this: its not the magnitude or details of a loving act that matters. It’s just the act itself. The gesture. The offer; without expectation of reciprocity or reward.
Now that’s the kingdom, baby. That’s how I want to live out my faith while I’m here.
Go ‘head, Pope Francis.