Discernment Retreat Week Seven
Each year, during the Holy Week liturgies we are given the opportunity to be drawn more closely into the mysteries of Christ. We follow Christ on his journey from Jerusalem to Calvary. One of the ways in which we enter more fully into this journey is through symbolic action. The practice of foot washing at the celebration of the Eucharist on Maundy Thursday is one such action. This simple practice originated in monasteries and was eventually incorporated into the liturgy.
St Benedict makes reference to foot washing in Chapter 35, The Weekly Kitchen Servers:
On Saturday the brother who is completing the work will do the washing. He is to wash the towels which the brothers use to wipe their hands and feet. Both the one who is ending his service and the one who is about to begin are to wash the feet of everyone.
Washing the feet of another is a sacred act, something which is performed with self-less love. It is this attitude that Benedict wants his monks to have in all that they do in the monastery. We are called to imitate Christ in all that we do.
In our 21st Century culture it is rare for us to actually wash the feet of another. We try to embody this part of the Rule of St Benedict in different ways. Much of the day in a monastery is filled with very ordinary tasks: cooking, cleaning, laundry, administration, planning etc. Some jobs may be physically demanding; others will be mentally demanding. What is important is that each job is done in a spirit of self-less service.
One element of the life of the monastery that demands a very specific type of service is that of care of the sick. In fact, it is so important to St Benedict that he ranks it alongside the prayer life of the monastery, the celebration of the Divine Office.
Care of the sick must rank above and before all else, so that they may be truly served as Christ, for he said: I was sick and you visited me (Matt 25:36) and what you did for one of these least brothers you did for me (Matt 25:40).Ch 36, Care of the Sick
Let the sick on their part bear in mind that they are served out of honour for God.
Care of the sick is to a priority for the whole community. Everyone has a part to play, everyone has an opportunity to serve Christ in the sick.
Biblical Perspectives on Service
If you faithfully obey the commandments which I enjoin on you today, loving the Lord your God and serving him with all your heart and all your soul. I will give your land rain in season, autumn rain and spring, so that you may harvest your corn, your wine, your oil: I shall provide in the fields for your cattle, and you will eat and have all you want.Deut 11:13
Do not turn aside after empty idols which, being empty, are useless and cannot save, since for the sake of his great name the Lord will not desert his people, for it has please the Lord to make you his people. For my part, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by ceasing to plead for you or to instruct you in the good and right way. Only reverence and serve the Lord faithfully with all your heart, for you see the great wonder he has done among you.I Sam 12:24
Acclaim the Lord, all the earthPsalm 100:2
serve the Lord gladly,
come into his presence with songs of joy
Give and there will be gifts for you: a full measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over, will be poured into your lap; because the amount you measure out is the amount you will be given back.Luke 6:38
Each of you has received a special grace, so, like good stewards responsible for all these different graces of God, put yourselves at the service of others.I Peter 4:10
- Use the quotations from the Rule for your reflection over the next few days. Notice the words and phrases which strike you.
- Spend some time reflecting on your own experience of selfless service. Are there times in family life or in your work life when you are called to put others first and serve?
- Have you ever been in the position where you needed the help and service of another? How did you experience this?
- Consider the small ways in which you can be of service to others: giving up your seat on the bus or tube, letting someone go in front of you in the supermarket queue, making space for someone on the pavement, holding a door.
- Pay attention to the small ways in which others serve YOU in your day to day life.
- Use the Scriptural quotations for your prayer and reflection. Notice the different ways in which serving is expressed. Which texts speak to you?
- Consider committing yourself to some form of service in your local community or parish.
- In the monastery we are assigned specific tasks. Some we will do with ease; others will be much more difficult for us. How do you think you would cope with tasks that you haven’t chosen and may find difficult?
Rule of St Benedict: ©1981 by Order of Saint Benedict. Published by Liturgical Press, Collegeville, Minnesota. Used with permission.
Scriptural quotations from THE JERUSALEM BIBLE, ©1966 by Darton, Longman & Todd, Ltd. and Doubleday, a division of Random House/ Penguin, Inc. Reprinted by Permission.