I don’t think I’ll ever forget the photograph of the group of little kids.
They were gathered on the edge of the dance floor — five of them — sitting in their dresses and dress shirts watching, at full attention, as the new husband knelt at his bride’s feet, poured water over them, and washed them. The bride, Our Sunday Visitor’s very own Ava Lalor, looked at her husband with a smile of joy and love, as smartphones around the room were raised to capture the moment that would be posted on social media later.
The “wedding foot washing” has become more popular at wedding receptions in recent years, and it’s not hard to understand why. It’s a moving visual of the Christlike service that spouses will have to render to one another during their years of marriage, and it is a direct obedience to Jesus’ instruction to his disciples the night before he was put to death.
“Do you realize what I have done for you?” Christ asks after he has washed his disciples’ feet. “You call me ‘teacher’ and ‘master,’ and rightly so, for indeed I am. If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet. I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do” (Jn 13:12-15).
In our family, we have done some version of the foot washing for the past three years on Holy Thursday, and it is a powerful thing to see my husband pour water over the small feet of those that he serves day in and day out. Even more striking, the kids, even at their young ages, want to then take up the pitcher and wash each other’s feet, and then those of their parents. “I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do.”
I’ve been thinking about this photograph of small children at the wedding a lot because it seems to me that it captured a moment of pure evangelization. Through the witness of Ava and her husband, those children were taught that marriage is about dying to self and living like Christ. And maybe the rest of us were reminded, too.
I believe that most of us would agree that the U.S. Church is in an uncomfortable posture these days. For many reasons, fewer people are identifying as Catholic, while the segment of those who are disaffiliated is growing. Fewer people are attending Mass, and some of those who do go aren’t sure why they’re there. Fewer sacraments are being celebrated. Dioceses are pivoting to strategic planning, parishes are being consolidated, and some religious groups are shuttering longtime facilities in order to accommodate diminishing resources and shifting needs. It’s a time of prayer, evaluation, and discernment that can feel wrapped in great uncertainty about the future.
But when rightly examined, too, it’s a great opportunity. For we know that, though numbers might be diminished, the Catholic Church is not going anywhere. This one, holy, Catholic, and apostolic faith was instituted by Jesus Christ Himself, built upon the rock of Peter, and given to the apostles — and to us — to share with the world. This is our mission and our call. And this is what Ava and her husband got so right on their wedding day. The best way for us to share our faith with the world is to witness to it: to treat one another with dignity and respect, to model service, to show love to all.
Though the Church may look different institutionally now than it did 50 years ago, and though it may look different still 50 years down the road, the need for strong, effective witness to the Faith not only remains but is ever more urgent.
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