Renewed Interest: Open letter to Pope Francis: foot-washing, exorcism and being surprised by the Holy Spirit

Update: There’s pretty heavy traffic from the high places zeroing in the more controversial posts I’ve put up about Pope Francis. Here’s one of special interest:

Holy Spirit Saint Peter Window

VINDICATED: See great comments and links…

Most Holy Father, Vicar of Being-Surprised-by-the-Holy-Spirit,

Thank you for teaching us how to be surprised by the Holy Spirit. I speak about your homily on this subject at length: Brilliant spiritual direction of Pope Francis.

The foot washing bears an example par excellence of the Church as a field-hospital. Holy Father, I was surprised, and rejoiced. The conclusion of my surprise is that the event of the foot washing is about the need for exorcists. And we all know that you are not adverse to taking people out of the darkest of existential peripheries and that you have perhaps mentioned the devil in these few years of your pontificate more than any previous Bishop of Rome. But so many are afraid of being surprised in this way. This open letter to you is, I hope, one of my acts of mercy as your Jewish Missionary of Mercy; I hope it opens the eyes of many to a beauty of our Catholic faith that they did not know existed; I hope it surprises them about the Liturgy, about you, about them, about God visiting His people.

Those who do not know how it is that one goes about being surprised by the Holy Spirit have been upset with you ever since you washed the feet of prisoners at Casal del Marmo during the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday in the first year of your pontificate. However, you have already given them the key to this surprise since you first greeted the Church and the world after your election: humility, humility, humility.

Yet, you are being roundly mocked by Catholics on this subject of the foot washing once again since you have changed the rubrics for the Mass of the Lord’s Supper in this regard. We’ve all seen emotional commentary, legal commentary, liturgical commentary, but it seems there is a fear of Scriptural commentary, as the Scriptures are especially inspired by the Holy Spirit, who does not hesitate to surprise us. So many are so afraid to be surprised. You are right in saying that the “It’s never been done that way!” approach is merely the self-referential, self-congratulatory idol worship of cowards. But we have no time for cowards in a field hospital. We need the exorcists which are demanded by the foot washing.

pope francis prison washing feet

Permit me to show you how I was surprised by recalling the following:

  • lourdes serpentIn the Garden of Eden, the serpent was cursed to eat the dust of the cursed ground into which the dead body of Adam and the rest of us would return. Note well that the dust of the ground is cursed and is the home of Satan (see Genesis 3:14.17-19).
  • There was a time when a very particular patch of dirt was un-cursed, made holy, because of the presence of He-Who-Is in the burning bush. Moses was ordered to take off his sandals, which had raised him up above the cursed dust, because right there, right then, that dust was not cursed. It had been taken out of the realm of Satan (see Exodus 3:2-5).
  • Jesus commanded his disciples to kick the dust off their feet when their preaching had been rejected by any village, because in doing this, the Divine Son of God Himself explained, a sign would be provided against that village, indeed, a curse. That dust is the home of Satan, just as those in the village are for rejecting the Kingdom of the Heavens. The curse is so fierce that our Lord says that their lot will be worse than that of Sodom and Gomorrah. Pretty bad, that (see Matthew 10:14-15).
  • At the Last Supper, when Jesus washed the dust off the feet of the disciples and said that his Apostles were to imitate this service, our Lord was referring to being charitable and humble (see John 13:12-16).

But there is much more, with the essence of the foot washing being about exorcism:

  • John 13:1 – We read that Jesus knew that His Hour had arrived. Indeed, that is the time that all hell would break loose.
  • John 13:2 – We read that Judas had already been diabolically possessed so that he might betray Jesus. Judas is unclean in every sense of the term.
  • John 13:3 – We read that Jesus knows that the Father has provided that Jesus is omnipotent, that all things are in His power and that, despite what Judas and Satan were up to, He, Jesus, was from God and was returning to God.
  • John 13:4 – We read in the very same sentence of all that precedes, including the bit about Judas being possessed by Satan, that Jesus got up, shed His outer garments, and girt Himself with a towel in view of the foot-washing to come.
  • John 13:5 – We read that He began to wash the feet of the disciples, who, in this case, are, in fact, the Apostles.
  • John 13:6 – We read of Simon Peter questioning Jesus about his feet being washed.
  • John 13:7 – We read, mysteriously, that Jesus says to him, that he does not now understand what He, Jesus, is doing, but that, in the future, he will. If this were merely about a pleasant symbol of service, that would be simple to understand, but there is more.
  • John 13: 8 – We read that Peter, obviously dismissing the observation of Jesus and thinking that he completely understands, remonstrates with Jesus, saying that He will never have his feet washed by Jesus. – “It has never been done this way! I don’t want to understand! I am a coward! Stop it! I don’t want to be surprised by the Holy Spirit!” – But Jesus’ reprimand for this cowardice of Peter is extremely severe, warning Peter that he will be cut off altogether if he does not allow this. Our Lord indicated that there was more. It is best to listen to Jesus.
  • John 13:9 – We read that Peter still dismisses the observation of Jesus that he, Peter, does not now understand (such arrogance that does not permit any surprise!), and Peter charges ahead to say that he offers not only his feet, but his head and hands as well. But it is best to listen to Jesus.
  • John 13:10 – We read that Jesus says that the one who has been cleansed (a perfect passive participle calling baptism to mind) has no need to be cleansed except for the feet (where the cursed dust of Satan clings to us), for Jesus says, he is already entirely clean. But then Jesus adds, “but not all,” that is, not all among ye all.
  • John 13:11 – We read John’s own comment: “For He knew who would betray him. For this reason, He said, “Not all of you are clean.” This is a direct reference to Judas, who is being manipulated by Satan. The connection to the cursed dust on the feet could not possibly be more clear. If we are in a field hospital and the Triage doctor yells that there is someone with the dust of Satan on their feet, we had better jump to take care of this top priority. For it is Judas who will raise his heel with its cursed dust, the home of Satan, against Jesus, a horrific reversal of Protoevangelium against the Son of the Mother of the Redeemer in Genesis 3:15. It is the Redeemer who is to raise His heel to crush Satan on the head. It is in getting crushed Himself on His heel that Jesus will defeat Satan, having gained the right in His own justice to have mercy on us.
  • John 13:12 – Having finished, we read that Jesus asks the Apostles if they understand what He has done for them, although this is a rhetorical question, for He already said that they do not now understand this. It simply looks like a pleasant service of foot-washing.
  • John 13:13-17 – We read that Jesus immediately explains that if He, Lord and teacher, has done this for them, they likewise ought to do this for one another, for they, slaves and messengers, are not above their Lord and the One who is providing a mandate, the “mandatum.” If they only understand the service aspect of this, that would be appropriate, but truly blessed are they who understand what this is really all about and then go about doing it. This is about more than just a pleasant service. The washing of the dust of Satan off their feet has to do with establishing the Kingdom of the Heavens in this Field Hospital Church by simultaneously exorcising the earthly kingdom of Satan.
  • John 13:18 – We read that Jesus immediately explains more about this: He singles out him whom He has chosen, His betrayer, Judas, possessed by Satan, speaking of the fulfillment of Scriptural prophesy (Scripture is important), namely, “He who eats my bread has lifted his heel against me,” that heel with the dust of Satan upon it, a heel of mockery of the Redeemer’s crushing heel mentioned in Genesis 3:15.
  • John 13:19 – And for those who doubt the connection that I have made to He-Who-IS in the Garden of Eden and at the Burning Bush, we read here that Jesus says that He is telling us these things before they happen so that when they do happen, that will believe that He is the One who is I AM.
  • John 13:20-26 – We read about the discovery of the betrayer, Judas, to whom Christ Jesus gives the morsel of bread.
  • John 13:27 – We read of the full possession of Judas by Satan, and that Jesus commands him (Satan) to do quickly what he is going to do.
  • John 13:28-30 – We read of the non-perception of the Apostles and then of the departure of Judas, after having taken the morsel. We read that, “It was night.” Judas is in the darkest of all existential peripheries, self-imposed and desired.
  • John 13:31ff – We read of Jesus speaking of the great glory of what is now happening with the betrayal, that is, Jesus and the Father being glorified with the great love which Jesus is manifesting, and which He commands the remaining Apostles to show to each other. It is a love that will bring Him to His death, and this is what He expects of His Apostles in their ministry of establishing the Kingdom of the Heavens while simultaneously exorcising the kingdom of Satan, namely, that they will also provide witness to Him with that love that loves even in the face of death. We read of our promises to be faithful, but that our Lord knows that we can deny Him nonetheless.

Most Holy Father, the Lord Jesus does wash only the twelve apostles feet, clearly making their service in exorcism in the Field Hospital of the Church and thus establishing the Kingdom of the Heavens an integral part of their mission as they also offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, at the ready to lay down their lives with Jesus. We can recall that, and it is good to recall, and “We have always done it that way” at the Mass of the Last Supper. However…

I thank you for bringing before the eyes of the Church and the world that the mandatum is, by definition, a mandate, and it is also good to recall what the Apostles then did during their ministry. This is recalled by gathering twelve members of the People of God (each one representing that they have received the service of the Apostles, with Matthias replacing Judas), from young and old, healthy and sick, clergy and laity. Many think that such a commemoration is evil, the end of the Church, a manifestation of your not being Catholic. But, thank God, we who need to feel the effects of the mandate can depend on you to surprise us with great mercy of God. Thank you, Holy Father.

I can only hope that this recalling of the mandate-in-action will bring those who are so afraid of the surprises of the Holy Spirit to get to work in what they dread: the Church as a field hospital. There is no room for cowards in a field hospital. We invite them not to be cowards any longer. No more self-referential, self-congratulatory, self-idol worship Church!

Holy Father, what you have done is, of course, the logical continuation of your pre-Conclave speech. One aspect of that speech is examined here: “Pope Francis and The Judas Crisis.”

I am thankful to Almighty God for you, Pope Francis. Please, keep on being the Vicar of Being Surprised by the Holy Spirit for the entire Church and world.

Thank you. I beg your blessing.

Father George David Byers
Missionary of Mercy (Andrews, NC USA – January 22 2016)


UPDATE: I’m getting some rather sharp feedback on this (not from Pope Francis!). Please, for the sake of us all, don’t just condemn, but educate. Where am I going wrong?

UPDATE: An interlocutor has directed me to Saint Augustine’s tractate 56 on John 13. To which I respond, see not just that one tractate out of context, but all of his tractates on John 13, namely, tractates 55-66. I love Saint Augustine, and from what I can see, everything I have written above is consonant with what he wrote for all of us so long ago. I introduce no new novelty in the sense of something more than what the Catholic Church already has been given by our Lord Jesus, nor does Pope Francis do such a thing.

Tractate 55 John 13:1-5
Tractate 56 John 13:6-10
Tractate 57 John 13:6-10, Song of Solomon 5:2-3
Tractate 58 John 13:10-15
Tractate 59 John 13:16-20
Tractate 60 John 13:21
Tractate 61 John 13:21-26
Tractate 62 John 13:26-31
Tractate 63 John 13:31-32
Tractate 64 John 13:33
Tractate 65 John 13:34-35
Tractate 66 John 13:36-38


Filed under Exorcism, Jesus, Pope Francis

8 responses to “Renewed Interest: Open letter to Pope Francis: foot-washing, exorcism and being surprised by the Holy Spirit

  1. sanfelipe007

    I fully agree with your assessment that the mandatum has to do with exorcism. I have never subscribed to the belief that it was about the idea of social service, gahh!

    Not to be a grumbler, but I have endured “abuses” of the mandatum where a priest washes one (!) person’s foot (!) and then that person takes his place and washes the next person’s foot, and so on. I thought (aghast) to myself, “Oh, as that how Jesus did it?” So I expect that the harsh feedback may include remarks like “so, are all the laity to be exorcists?” or something like that. Perception tainted from the start because of the vantage from where they stand. But what do I know?

  2. Cathy

    Father Byers, if I am weak for the sake of the weak, forgive me. There are those who perceive this change as a weakening resolve on the part of our Holy Father and the Church to exclude women from Holy Orders. It is precisely this type of confusion that is unavoidable. If, as a woman I am perceived to be self-referential, I can only claim place with the woman who washed the feet of Jesus with her tears. Pray, console me, I have already been through so much fog.

    • Father George David Byers

      @ Cathy — Thank you for washing the feet of Jesus with your tears. Very beautiful, that.

      The confusion for everyone comes in with conflating what Jesus did for the Apostles and then and only then with the mandate that he gave them to do likewise for others. The mandate doesn’t refer to what Jesus did for them, but to what they were to do for others. This latter group who are getting washed can and must be those of the People of God, whoever they are, if that’s what you want to demonstrate. The one washing, however, is always done by a priest. If it is the former that is to be demonstrated, Jesus washing the Apostles feet, then the group must be all men. The Holy Father wants to show what happens when the Apostles now having had their feet washed, turn and do the same for others, that is, bringing them out of the realm of the kingdom of Satan and brought into the Kingdom of God. That’s what they are to do for others. But it is always Jesus, or later, them or their successors who do the washing, never any indiscriminate group. Only the Apostles can first be washed by Jesus, but they can wash anyone from the people of God. But again, it is always the priests who do the washing.

      P.S. The WOC is going to do whatever the heck they want to do. I hope they read this, though. It would be good to get them back for Jesus.

  3. sanfelipe007

    Thank you for the link, Cathy.

  4. pelerin

    Out of curiosity I had a look at the link given by Cathy as I did not know what WOC was. I now need a stiff drink!!

  5. Shelly

    It is interesting to look into the history – the pre 1950’s history – of the Mandatum. Here is an article with which to begin: . It was also interesting to read your commentary, Fr. Byers, which was something I had not considered previously.

    • Father George David Byers

      Thanks for the link, Shelly. In other words, Pope Francis gave a middle ground.

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