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Lessons of the Basin and the Towel - Bishop's March Column

Posted on March 29, 2021 in: News, Lent

Lessons of the Basin and the Towel - Bishop's March Column

March 2021 Four County Catholic

Lessons of the Basin and the Towel

“I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do.”

John 13:15


My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

Our 40-day Lenten journey of sacrifice and self-reflection is well underway. As we move toward Holy Week it is easy for us to become distracted by current events.  I pray that you can free yourself from the distractions of the world to contemplate Christ’s suffering, death, and resurrection and allow the peace of His love, forgiveness, and joy to wash over you.

It has been one year since we all began to deal with the pandemic. Reflecting on the past year, I was struck by the many changes we made to our way of life. Holy Week 2020, for example, was celebrated without you, the faithful, present in the Cathedral. This teaches us to not take anything for granted. 

This year, following Covid-19 safety guidelines, we will be able to have a limited number of parishioners in attendance. However, this will only be the second Holy Thursday since becoming the shepherd of the Diocese of Norwich that I will not be washing the feet of 12 parishioners at the Cathedral. 

Let us not view this as a loss, rather let us focus our attention on a few of the details of this powerful event of the basin and the towel. 

This gesture of Jesus washing His disciples’ feet is an image of what it means to be compassionate as God is compassionate. It is, as Jesus tells us in sacred scripture, a model to follow.

Certain details of this simple act may be lost on our modern-day sensibilities.  When I symbolically wash the feet of parishioners at the Cathedral, their feet are already clean.  In the first century, that would not have been the case. Walking in sandals on dusty roads that were also used by beasts of burden, would have made this a very unpleasant task.

Scripture indicates that Jesus “took off His outer garment.” (John 13:4) By removing this outer garment, Jesus was shedding Himself of more than just a sash that might get in the way when He stooped down. In the eyes of the disciples, Jesus was stripping off outer things such as superiority, pride, and personal dignity. He truly humbled Himself to show the disciples, and us, how to “wash the feet of others.”  

Jesus knowingly performed this task on the one who would deny Him (Peter) and the one who would betray Him (Judas). How often are we hesitant to help someone because we might not think they are deserving of our compassion.

It is important to recognize that the giver of compassion is not the only one who is humbled. As Peter demonstrated, it is sometimes difficult, and humbling, to be on the receiving end of compassion. I am aware that this year many of you, due to the pandemic, had to humble yourselves to ask for help from one of our many ministries. Catholic Charities and the Saint Vincent DePaul ministries in the Diocese of Norwich experienced an increase in the number of individuals and families that they helped. 

This would not have been possible had it not been for those of you who were able to “wash the feet” of those in need by your continued support of the Annual Catholic Appeal (ACA) campaign, “One Faith, One Family.” Many of you increased your donations to help meet the increased demand during this unprecedented time.

Please do not be disheartened should you not be able to offer financial assistance.  Know that making a difference in someone’s life often comes through small actions. Taking the time amid your busy schedule to pray for and be present with someone else is one of the greatest gifts you can give this world. 

To share completely in Jesus' life, we must journey with Him to Jerusalem, to Calvary and to Resurrection.  This journey requires reflection upon our own lives and the way in which we are called to serve the Lord and one another.  

Ask yourself, “whose feet can I wash?” In other words, “How can I be the one that brings kindness in the midst of chaos?”

Lent sets us on a spiritual journey of renewal with heightened awareness of the Lord's unconditional and unyielding love for us. A love that was evident as He stooped with the basin and the towel at the feet of His disciples.

Through a well-lived Lent, may we come to the glory of Easter and may we discover new life in Christ.


Sincerely yours in Christ,

Michael R. Cote
Bishop of Norwich


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