By Barb Arland-Fye
Traveling home from out of town, my husband Steve wondered how our son Colin handled the Mass of the Lord’s Supper without our presence. This Mass is one of Colin’s favorites. He looks so forward to the foot-washing ritual, and participating in it with Steve while I watch from the choir.
Rituals fulfill a need for our son with autism, in part because of their orderliness. Steve’s participation fits into that orderly series of actions that represent Christ’s humility and love of his disciples. Every Holy Thursday, until this year, Steve and Colin washed each other’s foot during the foot-washing ritual at Our Lady of the River Church in LeClaire. In the days preceding this year’s Mass Colin expressed anxiety about our absence from the Mass of the Lord’s Supper. Would our son disrupt the Mass? I prayed for God’s guidance for Colin.
God provided an answer during our drive home with the sound of a ping that alerted me to a message on my iPhone. My friend Cheryl who sings in the choir wrote: “Hi Barb. I just wanted to share with you how touched I was by Colin tonight. … During the washing of the feet he came up to have his foot washed, then in turn washed another’s, and I was so touched, for in my understanding of Colin, that interaction should have been uncomfortable, but it wasn’t. The Holy Spirit was truly at work in Colin! See you tomorrow.
I responded: “I have tears in my eyes reading your message. Thank you for sharing this sacred story with me. The Holy Spirit works in such marvelous ways, including through messengers like you…”
“He was so enthusiastic,” she replied. “And now reflecting back, while he was receiving and giving, he was no longer Colin, the person with autism. He was Colin, the servant.”
As I read Cheryl’s messages to Steve, he jokingly said, “I wonder if the person’s foot he washed is still wet!” I laughed but, humor aside, pointed out that perfection in the foot-washing ceremony is not what the ritual is about. It symbolizes our call to walk humbly with our God through service to one another.
When I asked Colin about his participation in the foot-washing ritual, he said it went well. Of course, he had to tell me that his brother Patrick did not participate in the ritual. That didn’t matter to me; I rejoiced because Patrick attended the Mass. Period.
Patrick’s presence, and that of our pastor, Father Joe Wolf, provided the assurance Colin needed to participate on his own in the foot-washing ritual. I asked him if he had any help, and he said no. He told me Jesus washed his disciples’ feet because they were dirty. It’s in the New Testament, Colin told me. That’s the Gospel truth and it comes to life for him in the Mass.
A favorite hymn, “The Servant Song” by David Haas echoes in my mind thinking about Colin’s journey of faith. One of the lines: Will you let me be your servant, let me be as Christ to you …”
(Editor Barb Arland-Fye can be reached at email@example.com.)