At the Foot of the Cross
To be at the foot of the cross is to be at the feet of Christ.
On Friday, I took my rosary with me when I walked. Someone asked me to pray for someone they loved who was sick. My mind wandered over the mysteries and fell upon moments when I had attended to someone close to dying.
Back in 1992, before my favorite high school teacher died, I managed to get in a visit at his hospital bed. There were other former students there too and we took turns rubbing his feet. He had taught religion and drama at our Catholic high school and sang at my wedding. It was a little thing, but we knew it was goodbye.
In 2014, visiting my father at the facility where he was being cared for, while rubbing his feet, we found an open wound that needed dressing. This too would be the last time I'd see him alive. I reached the fifth sorrowful mystery and my mind turned to the taking down from the cross. Someone removed the nails. Someone took away the crown of thorns. Someone took out splinters where they could.
These people who accompanied the Blessed Mother, whoever they were, were doing little things that didn’t change the reality of the wounds’ existence, but were sacred duties of love none the less. They comforted Mary by their tending her son. Taking care of my teacher and father didn’t stop their dying or change the reality of their imminent death, but it did mitigate the pain ever so slightly for them, and for all of us who grieved. That is the nature of acts of mercy — they blunt the sharp edges of the fallen reality with a reminder of the greater reality we all long for.
I called my mom the next day and told her about how, while praying the Rosary, I thought of these times when I was allowed to “wash the feet.” She shared a memory of hers. Her sister, while biking to our home, had an accident and fell in the mud. When she arrived at our house, my mom took her into the dining room, had her sit and helped her clean up. It was a little thing, it was what one should do, and yet that moment it held in it more than what needed to be done. None of these moments were planned, but they were deliberate responses to suffering and grief.
In this time when connection and community is so threatened by the pandemic, we need the incarnational nature of spiritual and corporeal acts of mercy to remind both ourselves and others of the better reality awaiting those who show themselves to be God’s friends.
We are Christ’s friends if we do as he commanded — the acts of mercy that reveal God’s love to the world. We need to be deliberate in removing the splinters and the nails when the opportunity presents itself. We need to be a comfort to his mother and dress all the wounds that required her son to undergo his passion and death. In this time of worldwide distress and anxiety, when we find ourselves facing the foot of the cross, we need to remember that it is an opportunity to “wash the feet.”