On the Answer Which Our Lord Gave to Peter at the Washing of Feet..
PRAYER BEFORE MEDITATION.
My God, I firmly believe that Thou art here present. I acknowledge that on account of my many sins I am utterly unworthy to appear before Thy sacred countenance. Yet, confiding in Thy infinite goodness and mercy, I venture to address Thee, to call upon Thy holy name, and meditate upon Thy commandments, in order that I may acquire a better knowledge of Thy holy will, and accomplish it with more fidelity. Wherefore enlighten my understanding that I may perceive what I ought to do or leave undone for the promotion of Thy glory and my own salvation; at the same time excite my will, that I may repent with my whole heart of my past sins, and resolve for the future to do all that Thou requirest of me. Grant me above all to know Jesus, my divine Teacher and Guide, more clearly, that I may love Him more dearly, and consequently labor, struggle and suffer with greater generosity and self-sacrifice in imitation of His example. Holy Mary, Mother of God and my Mother, show Jesus to me now, and let me study thy divine Son to the salvation of my soul. Holy Guardian Angel, keep far from me all distracting thoughts; my patron saint, come to my assistance. Amen.
On the Answer Which Our Lord Gave to Peter at the Washing of Feet.
Represent to yourself our Lord, as, with His divine serenity and composure, He sets aside the objections which the apostle, agitated, astonished and greatly awe struck, makes to having his feet washed by his Master, with the simple, dignified answer: “What I do thou knowest not now; but thou shalt know hereafter.” (St. John xiii. 7.) As yet the apostle was ignorant of the sublime signification of the washing of feet.
1st. Nor was he ignorant of that alone; he was wanting in knowledge of himself. This washing of his feet violated his sense of the veneration due to his Master, and what was more, he thought it unnecessary, he considered himself to be clean. It never entered into his calculations that he could be capable certainly not of treachery like that of Judas but of denying his Master. “I will lay down my life for Thee” (v. 37), he said to our Lord. Yet he of all others required that our Lord should wash his feet, i.e., bestow His grace upon him. Here we remark in Peter a fault which we all have, the want of self-knowledge. We cannot and will not really believe that we are in need of being cleansed before we can have part with our Lord. Thus Thomas a Kempis truly says: “We cannot trust much to ourselves, because we often lack grace and discernment. There is but little light in us and this we quickly lose through negligence; many times also we perceive not that we are so blind within.” (Imit. B. ii. ch. 5.) Strive, my soul, to acquire this self-knowledge. The saints have declared it to be the highest and most useful knowledge; and St. Augustine when he prayed: “Grant, Lord, that I may know Thee,” always added the petition: “and grant that I may know myself.”
2d. Consider our Lord’s answer from another point of view. He does not give any explanation of what He does, but simply requires obedience on the apostle’s part. He says as much as: Let Me do as I will, for I understand what is good for thee better than thou dost thyself. Now instead of yielding and obeying in all docility, Peter says with ill-timed eagerness: “Thou shalt never wash my feet.” (v. 8.) St. Augustine says that all those who oppose the injunctions of their Superiors or contemn the divine inspirations act as Peter did. Priests and Religious who invariably take upon themselves to question the commands of those who have authority over them, who always require to be informed beforehand of the justice or the advisability of the behest, follow Peter’s example, and perhaps they also say as he did from apparently good reasons or even pious motives: Never, never shall it be so. You must not imitate the apostle in this respect. Remember, as St. John Climacus bids us, that obedience is a spontaneous movement that does not pause to examine or to weigh reasons; it is a voluntary death of the will, a life devoid of all curiosity, an act involving the renunciation of all deliberation. Our Lord simply demands implicit obedience from Peter; He gives him no explanation at the time; and hence we learn that one who is truly obedient does not stop to make inquiries as to what the command is and why it is binding on him; he must only make it his object to carry out with the utmost fidelity and humility what his Superior enjoins. What is your conduct in this respect?
3d. Consider that our Lord, desirous to induce Peter to obey, only tells him one thing, and that produces the desired result: “If I wash thee not,” He says, “thou shalt have no part with Me.” (v. 8.) In commenting on this passage St. Basil observes: If Peter had to hear so severe a sentence from our Lord’s lips as: If I wash thee not, thou shalt have no part with Me, because in one thing only he deviated slightly from the path of strict obedience, and that not from the promptings of arrogance or contempt, but from a sincere reverence for his beloved Master and his God, what will those persons deserve who persistently and scornfully resist not only the commands of God, but the orders of their Superiors who are placed over them as His representatives? Lay this truth well to heart: let this one thing be enough to ensure your obedience, the knowledge that obedience is always salutary, disobedience always hurtful. Let it suffice for you to know that as St. Jerome says: Obedience is the sum total of all virtues, for it leads a man on the straight road to Christ. Therefore obey your Superiors, yield to their will when they desire to cleanse you from your faults and defects, and see that you never offer any opposition to this spiritual washing of feet, otherwise you shall have no part with the Lord Jesus.
PRAYER AFTER MEDITATION.
My God, I give Thee heartfelt thanks for all the graces and all the light Thou hast conferred on me during this meditation. Pardon me all the negligence and the distractions of which I have been guilty, and give me strength to carry out the resolutions that I have made. Fortify me, that from henceforth I may diligently practise this virtue . . . avoid this fault . . . perform this action . . . to Thy honor. Help me to do this, sweet Virgin Mary; and if I ever forget my good resolutions, I entreat my Angel Guardian to recall them to my memory. Amen.
– Meditations on the Life, Teaching, and Passion of Jesus Christ
(Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur: New York, December 31, 1900)
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