On St. Peter’s Conduct 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 St. Peter’s Conduct at the Washing of Feet.
Imagine yourself to be present at the washing of feet and observe the conduct of the prince of the apostles towards our Lord on this occasion. He cannot, he will not entertain the idea of his Master washing his feet, rendering this menial service to him, a servant, a sinner. At the sight of such humility a holy alarm takes possession of him, and in his profound astonishment he exclaims: “Lord, dost thou wash my feet?” (St. John xiii. 6.)
1st. Consider the deep reverence which the apostle felt for our Lord. This was, according to St. Cyril’s explanation, the chief reason why Peter opposed his Master’s design: “Lord, dost Thou wash my feet?” the apostle asks in amazement, as if to say: Thou, my God, the Lord of hosts, at whose name every knee should bow! Dost Thou wash my feet, wash the feet of one such as I am, a sinner, a servant? Dost Thou wash them with those wonder-working hands, the hands that have given health to the sick, that have made the deaf to hear, the blind to see, and even restored life to the dead? Oh never, never can I agree to that; I ought rather to esteem it a great favor to be allowed to wash Thy feet. Pause and reflect on these respectful sentiments that fill the apostle’s heart, and ask yourself: Where is the reverence I ought to feel when like Peter, I stand in the presence of my Lord, and that same Lord condescends to wash, not my feet merely, but to cleanse my sin-stained soul. Nor does He content Himself with thus ministering to me as in the washing of feet. He makes Himself the spiritual, supernatural nourishment of my soul in Holy Communion. Well may you ask where is the reverence that it behooves you to feel. How indifferent, how careless is your state of mind too often, when you present yourself before the Lord Jesus! How seldom it occurs to you to take on your lips the words of holy awe which we read in the Imitation: “When I consider Thy greatness, Lord, and my own vileness, I tremble exceedingly and am confounded in myself. For if I come not, I fly from life; and if I intrude unworthily, I incur Thy displeasure. What then shall I do, my God, my helper, and my counsellor in necessities?” (Imit. B. iv. ch. 6.)
2d. Consider the similarity of St. Peter’s sentiments with those of St. John the Baptist. As in this instance the apostle will not consent that our Lord should wash his feet, and considers it to be far more fitting for the Redeemer to permit him to render Him that service, so the holy Baptist replied to our Lord’s request that he would baptize Him with no less humility and astonishment: “I ought, he said, to be baptized by Thee, and comest Thou to me? “ (St. Matt. iii. 14.) The great precursor did not regard himself as worthy to loose the latchet of our Lord’s shoes, much, less to administer baptism to Him. How different are truly great men, how different are great saints to ourselves! They always have too low an opinion of themselves, and we always think too well of ourselves. They always think too much honor is shown them, whereas we complain of the scanty recognition our merits meet with. They consider themselves unworthy of the divine favor and the grace of God, while we are at a loss to understand His dealings if He withdraws from us the least measure of His consolations. When shall we learn to follow the wise counsels of the great master of the spiritual life: “Thou hast not anything in which thou canst glory, but many things for which thou oughtest to hold thyself of small repute; for thou art much weaker than thou art able to comprehend. Let nothing then of all thou doest appear much to thee; let nothing seem great, nothing precious or admirable, nothing worthy of esteem, nothing high, nothing truly praiseworthy or desirable but what is eternal.” (Imit. B. iii. ch. 4.)
3d. Consider that sanctity and humility increase in equal proportion. The holier a man is, the humbler he is. The greater a man is in reality, the more lowly is his opinion of himself. The prince of the apostles was more humble than his brethren in the apostolate, who let their feet be washed without a word of expostulation, and he was surpassed in the same virtue by the Blessed Virgin, the Queen of Apostles; whilst the King and Sovereign of all saints, Jesus our Lord, outshines every one in humility as completely as the light of the sun exceeds that of all the stars in the firmament of Heaven. It is of Him, who is unequalled in grandeur and majesty, that man first learnt true humility, and she who approached most nearly to Him in sanctity and sublimity was also the humblest of creatures. Think well on this, my soul. The further a man has advanced, says St. Bernard, the less progress he counts himself to have made. Now if you would fain know how and why this is so, listen to the words which one who attained a very high degree of humility, the Seraphic St. Francis, once uttered: “It is my firm conviction that the greatest of all sinners, had he received the same graces which have been bestowed upon me, would have made a better use of them, and shown far more gratitude for them than I have. And on the other hand I have not the slightest doubt that I should have fallen into the most terrible sins and should have become the very worst of men if God had for a single moment withdrawn from me His sustaining hand. Therefore I justly look upon myself as the greatest, the most ungrateful of sinners.” Such is the manner in which the humble saint speaks of himself. We are indeed mere beginners in the practice of this virtue. In a mystic sense we quietly let our Lord wash our feet, without so much as exclaiming with the apostle in amazement at such condescension: “Lord, dost Thou wash my feet?”
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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