Abbot Damien Toilolo, O.S.B.
Tonight’s Gospel passage reminds me of an image I have in my room. It is an image of St. Rose of Lima. It was a gift from a friend of mine because he knows of my connection to St. Rose of Lima.
I was born in San Diego, but I was baptized in American Samoa on the feast of St. Rose of Lima. When my family moved to Los Angeles, I received First Holy Communion and Confirmation at the parish of St. Rose of Lima. In 2014, I went back to American Samoa for an episcopal ordination. While there I visited my family in the village where my parents grew up. I also visited the pastor of the village parish whom I knew; he and I were in seminary together.
He asked me how long I would be on the island and whether or not I had time to celebrate a daily Mass for the village. I told him that I was leaving the next day, so unfortunately I did not have time. However, daily Mass in the village was at 5:45 a.m., so in actuality I did have time. So I celebrated Mass the next day in the village church. It ‘just so happened’ that it was the feast of St. Rose of Lima!
So in essence, I returned to the place of my baptism, to the church of my baptism, on the day of my baptism, some 5000 miles away—as a priest(!), to celebrate Mass.
Some might say, “Wow, what a coincidence!” I say, “Wow, how mindful God is of details!”
There is a detail in today’s Gospel that often goes undetected. Pope Benedict talks about it in his book Jesus of Nazareth. In tonight’s Gospel from John, the setting is not the Passover meal, like most people think it is….but it is the day before Passover. It is the Preparation day. Meaning the Passover is the next day. Why is this significant? This means that Jesus, the Lamb of God, was crucified the next day at the time when all the Passover lambs were being slain in the Temple. Jesus the Lamb of God was being sacrificed on the cross, at the same time the lambs were being slaughtered for the Passover meal. That’s a powerful detail….too full of meaning and detail to be a coincidence.
This reminds us that nothing is by chance with God; nothing is a coincidence. Every single detail in our life does not go unnoticed by God. He does not necessarily cause every detail in our life…like bombings and lawless people and car accidents…..but He allows them, is completely aware of them, and He can bring good from them.
This attention to detail shows us just how important we are to God…how careful and precise and gentle He is with us when He calls…when He forms us and shapes us. ‘Even the hairs on your head are numbered.”
Our salvation has been worked out down to the last detail. Our call in life, our vocation, our journey, if we took the time to reflect on it, is filled with the details of God, the fingerprints of God. Nothing escapes His notice.
Some people don’t like to hear that….because they think it makes God to be like a micro-manager…too controlling. But as you can see….this truth about God has never stopped any of us from doing whatever we want. He always allows us to choose and to act. God works out all the details, but we have the ultimate decision regarding our life, not Him.
And the obvious detail in tonight’s Gospel is Jesus humbled Himself and emptied Himself and surrendered Himself to the will of the Father. And this is a detail of the spiritual life that most of us prefer to not pay attention to: to surrender…. because it’s very difficult to do.
But if there is no attempt in our life to surrender to the Lord everything we are and desire: our dreams, our status, relationships, our pride, our reputation, then there is very little chance of us living life to the full. In other words, we don’t surrender these things as an ascetical practice or because that’s what good Christians do. We surrender in order to live. We cannot live if we don’t surrender….if we don’t deny ourselves. There is no other way for a Christian to live. Jesus gives us that model Himself tonight: the cross, the sacrifice, the Eucharist: broken and poured out for us.
There is no other way for us to live than to pick up our cross and die to self and all the other things that we are attached to…to allow Jesus to wash not only the dirt from our feet with water, but our heart and soul from pride with His blood…
The washing of the feet in today’s Gospel is the centerpiece of the Gospel passage, but pay attention to the details. When we pay more attention to the details of our life, we are able to see more of God…. more of His presence and more of His love in our life.