Triduum With Littles: A Mommy Processes The Heart Of Holy Thursday

Pope Francis waves to crowds
Pope Francis waves to crowds (Photo credit: Christus Vincit)

Triduum with young children is not a blissful devotional experience. But we do it anyway, because it’s important.

Michael is a wiggleworm during church at all times, but at bedtime, after immunization shots, it increases exponentially. I kept having to take him to the back so he could run back and forth, put his arms up to be picked up only to squirm back to the floor (rinse & repeat). Then he grabbed my face between his hands and started playing Eskimo kiss. It was less charming than it sounds, considering his version involves crashing foreheads and a runny nose.

But somewhere amid toddler wrestling and trying to show the 6- and 4- year-olds what’s so special about this particular day and why we go to Mass at night, something occurred to me that had I had never processed before:

Jesus washed Judas’ feet.

Now that has some pretty profound implications. And it seems to underscore the point about humility that our new Pope keeps making. Francis is rocking the whole world. No limo? No papal palace? You can hardly catch your breath between stories. I can’t help thinking this man knows exactly what the Spirit is calling him to do with his pontificate, and that is to wake up a Church that’s been so myopically focused on liturgy wars and the blame game (re sex scandals) that we’ve let ourselves ignore the call to live the Gospel, which is the reason we exist in the first place.

And that brings me back to the washing of the feet. Because Pope Francis did something really big yesterday. He washed the feet of girls.

Now, if you’re not Catholic or if you are not passionate about matters liturgical, you might shrug and say, “So what?” Certainly that was me until a few years ago, when I discovered that this is, indeed, a hot-button liturgical issue. Some insist that only men may have their feet washed, because the Apostles were men. So for the Pope to go to a prison and wash feet of both sexes is a big deal.

Maybe he’s making a larger statement about gender roles, maybe not. To me Pope Francis’ actions keep reiterating, gently and yet firmly, that the things we’re spending so much time and emotional energy on, things that cause so much division and bad feelings, really are incidental. That if we’d spend more time on the corporal and spiritual works of mercy we’d probably stop bickering about whether Tridentine or Novus Ordo is better, or whether organ music is a funeral dirge or guitar music is sacrilegious.

I’m going to get myself in so much trouble with this post. But there comes a moment amid wrestling babies and trying to pass the faith to small people–for whom the faith has to be distilled to its core essence–it’s hard not to confront how petty our biggest internal arguments really are. On both sides.

After the Lord’s Prayer, Christian took Michael to the back of church. We didn’t see them again until after Mass. In the midst of trying to keep Alex focused and negotiate a truce between Nicholas, who was putting his legs on top of Julianna, and Julianna, who wanted to pull her skirt up and show everyone her purple My Little Pony underwear and receive her First Communion two years early…amid all that, I didn’t have any attention to spare for Christian and Michael’s Holy Thursday moment. Apparently, Michael self-destructed at being ripped from his beloved Mommy’s arms (Christian says I’m like chocolate to Michael 🙂 ). He fussed and cried all the way through the Sign of Peace, the Lamb of God, and Communion as Christian went up the main aisle to receive. He had his head down on Christian’s shoulder and just kept crying. Until the deacon made the cross blessing over him…and he stopped crying instantly. That was it. It was the end of the drama. “You know,” Christian said, “every once in a while you just need one of those reminders that this is all real.” I’m not sure, but I think my non-demonstrative husband might actually have choked up telling that story.

So yes, Triduum with small children is, ahem, less than choice soul food. But it also strips away the non-essentials. And perhaps that’s what I most need right now, anyway.