The Upper Room

“The Clergy and Consecrated Persons” is this year’s CBCP theme for the Catholic Church in the Philippines. It is a historical-spiritual milieu to prepare our journey towards the 500th anniversary of the Catholic Faith in 2021.

I then pondered on how the clergy and consecrated persons — including all the faithful who are called to become disciples of Christ — can delve deeper into their identity and mission within the Church. Naturally, one’s spiritual identity stems from his intimate encounter with Christ who constantly seeks us out and asks us to follow Him.

But is there, so to speak, a common point where all callings converge? Or a spiritual wellspring to return to, nourish and strengthen ourselves in? A specific place or event where our identity as priests or consecrated persons may be spiritually renewed and revitalized?

Obviously, there is no one episode in the Gospel that exhausts the notion of our calling and mission. The whole Gospel is a rich portrait of Jesus’ invitation, encouragement and formation of His disciples. But I believe there is one place that merits our attention: the Upper Room.

The Upper Room isn’t so much for the place itself but what transpired within. There our Lord instituted two very important sacraments: the Holy Eucharist and Holy Orders. Through these Sacraments the Church would be built upon and extend. However, in this room I wish to focus on Jesus’ humble gesture of washing the Apostle’s feet.

St. Peter protests, “Lord, you shall not wash my feet!” Perhaps, Simon thought that this reaction would further mark his conviction and commitment to his discipleship. Moreover, it was neither customary nor proper for a servant’s feet to be washed by his Master.

Jesus, however, replied compassionately, “If I do not wash you, you have no part in Me!” He teaches that being His priests and consecrated disciples doesn’t depend on our personal knowledge or capability, but in allowing Jesus to play His part which ultimately incorporates us to Himself. Jesus wants to see if we will allow Him to work in us and through us, even when what He requires is not easy to understand or accept.

The gesture of ‘washing their feet’, thus becomes the ‘mission-icon’ of the priesthood or discipleship. Christ is the only Priest, and we participate in His priesthood with no merit on our part but only when we allow Him to take possession of us: we disappear and only Christ shines. Sacramentally this occurs when the priest is no longer his own, upon praying the words of the liturgy in the Person of Christ: this is MY Body… this is MY Blood….”

Moreover, this lesson has a mission: our capacity to wash other people’s feet is fruitful and enduring insofar as we allow Christ to constantly wash us. He has already washed us once through Baptism, then anew in Confirmation, constantly when we confess, through the Eucharistic celebration and through other numerous sources of grace.

May we, as priest or consecrated persons, learn to avoid Peter’s external reaction rejecting Jesus’ gesture of converting love. And may we reject the temptation to be like Judas, who may have hypocritically allowed his feet to be washed but not his heart.

We will not fall into either reaction if we learn frequent our personal Upper Rooms of prayer and examination asking ourselves: do I always allow Jesus to wash my feet?

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