It's a little late for this Easter theme, but since no one reads my blog I can only assume that maybe by next Easter it will be relevant.
Thoughts on Humility and Self Esteem
This was a busy Holy Week for my small family. We were invited to participate in the Washing of the Feet at our parish. That meant the Archbishop of Omaha, Eldon Curtis, would be seeing my icky toes and my husband’s bunions. My son, who makes his First Communion later this spring, was balking a bit at having to cut his toenails, but was otherwise looking forward to that Holy Thursday Mass.
When we were asked, our first response was, “Thank you. We are much honored to be asked, but we don’t feel comfortable participating. We will find someone else to take our place.” We tried 6 or 7 families with no luck.
I don’t really believe women should be on the altar for this event. In taking the place of the Apostles, I prefer a more literal interpretation. I also think that women should wear skirts, and all should be as dressed-up as possible when attending Mass in general, but especially when on the altar. Does a woman dare wear toenail polish to get her feet washed, or is that too much of a symbol of decadence and tartiness? The weather was too cool that night for me to leave my home without stockings, so I opted for the most formal pants I could muster. My men wore suits.
Looking around at the others who would have their feet washed, my sense of unworthiness escalated. A WWII veteran, a Holy woman who volunteers for everything in spite of her constant battles with cancer, a young family who would enter the church in full at the Easter Vigil… Why were we there?
Sitting in the front row of pews, I didn’t have to look at anyone who would witness this beautiful reenactment of Jesus’ teaching about the meaning of service. I was grateful for that. And then we walked up to sit on the benches and remove our socks and shoes.
At that moment, I finally stopped thinking about me. The small child across from me was smiling and swinging her little legs. We held hands as we waited for our turn. The water was surprisingly warm. Archbishop Curtis was gentle as he poured the water and dried it with a towel. He smiled at my son in a way that suggested hopes for a vocation to the priesthood. I shed a tear of gratitude as I replaced my socks and shoes.
The lesson in humility may have been lost on my young son. As we knelt at our pew, he said, “Mommy, I want to do that again.” Maybe he will someday. Maybe he will do the washing.
My mentally handicapped brother who lives with us had an infected ankle that took about a month of treatment to heal. During that month, every morning and every night, I would be sure he took his medicine, rub his ankle and foot with antibiotic ointment, and wrap it with an ace bandage. I was so proud of the gentle service I provided to my brother. I imagined the scoreboard of heaven tallying every little kindness. I was racking up the points.
Then it was my turn to be served. Publicly. By the Archbishop. In the Cathedral. In front of my family and friends. In front of people who don’t like me very much. In front of people I don’t like. In front of people who might be thinking ugly thoughts about me and my family. With my icky toes out there for all to see. All my pride in what I do for others dissolved in the face of what Jesus has done for me.
I don’t know that I can maintain that pervasive sense of humility in the days, weeks, months and years ahead. Perhaps the fact that I’m writing about this now is a sure sign that I can’t, or won’t. I do recommend that everyone should be served in that manner at least once in their lives. It is in receiving service that we understand the value of any service we give to others.
Good Friday gave my family an opportunity to continue this recognition of our own foolish pride. We attended the Stations of the Cross, followed by confession. The Sacrament of Reconciliation is another way to be served and recognize how our pride diminishes the good we do. I returned from those services with my family and spoke to my husband. “I love being Catholic. I am so happy that we have had this chance to fall in love with our faith.” He didn’t want to talk about it for fear that he would lose the lesson. We were silent.
Of course, Holy Week is the preparation time for Easter. My sister is getting married next month, so we were having a shower at our house for her on Easter Sunday. When the day arrived, the food was laid on the table, the guests arrived, children played and hunted eggs, balloons were tossed about, cocktails were sipped, the Masters golf tournament was won and lost. And conversations were shared.
“I bought a book for Sara for Easter. My older girls read it to her and came running to tell me. They’ve re-written the story. When the Easter Beagle comes in the video, Charlie Brown is last and he doesn’t get an Easter Egg. But the self-esteem police have re-written the story. Charlie Brown gets an Egg!” one of my sisters said as we chatted.
If Charlie Brown gets an egg, what do children learn? Do they learn that we should love and serve others, even if there is nothing in it for us? Do they learn that the love of the Easter Beagle is gift enough? What does it teach us if Charlie Brown doesn’t get the egg? What do we learn when he does?
The honor of being included in the Washing of the Feet means more than just getting the egg. Serving others is quintessential to being a Christian. The Easter Beagle serves in giving eggs and in giving his love to Charlie Brown no matter what. But Charlie Brown as the Everyman loses an opportunity to do more and be more if in being served (an Egg) doesn’t have the chance to serve in return (loving Snoopy even without the gift).
Serving and being served. It is very easy when serving others to feel that one is powerful and necessary. The feeling of being needed is much harder to understand when one is receiving service from others. If Charlie Brown gets the egg, Snoopy and Charlie lose the deeper lesson.