Recently, a picture of a young man washing his bride's feet at their wedding reception has taken the Catholic Internet world by storm. As a graduate of Franciscan University, this is not an uncommon practice at weddings. In fact, I wrote about one washing of the feet moment at my friend's wedding three years ago (for Catholic Exchange). Below is the article resurrected again.
No one seems to bat an eyelash at the often sensationalized garter fetching and tossing that occurs at most weddings. I've seen my Franciscan University friends terrified by the insistence of DJs in torturing unsuspecting bouquet-catchers. Yet at a friend's recent wedding, the cries of confusion and discomfort were uttered at a completely different practice -- the groom's washing of the bride's feet.
As the groom explained to the guests the significance of his desire to wash his bride’s feet, the fellow theology of the body enthusiasts in the room smiled with understanding. Yet an older man behind me insisted on cracking jokes about the event.
“He should use ice water so she screams,” he said with a chuckle.
“Well, she’s a priss,” he remarked about the bride, who I can assure you is anything but.
“Hey, he forgot the soap,” he cracked in reference to the simple practice of pouring water over her feet, followed by a gentle kiss of the feet and drying with a towel.
The silence and reverence in the room was all that suppressed me from turning around to explain to the gentleman that his remarks were unwarranted and unwanted.
Later in the day a few of my fellow bridesmaids discussed the incident. We concluded that the negative comments were made out of discomfort. He may have never been presented with such an example of self-sacrificial love. Consequently he handled his proximity by joking in order to shield his eyes from the brightness.
One bridesmaid astutely noted that it was wonderful to see that although the couple had only been married a matter of hours, they were already serving as a countercultural witness to the world of Christ’s love for the Church.
Countless couples who have been married for decades fail to see the significance of their marriage as an icon of God’s love to the world. Yet here was a newly married couple who understood the gravity of their vows and were able to serve as witnesses without even being aware of the situation.
Certainly they knew that by the groom washing his bride’s feet, some guests might have been privy to a new explanation of the love of service in marriage. Like most moments of our life, however, they were unaware at the time of the actual comments from the uncomfortable gentleman.
And so it will be for the rest of their marriage. And so it should be for your marriage – serving as a living icon to the world. Those who see you in church, or pass by you in aisle 10 of the grocery store, or who work with you, should be reminded by your physical presence, your wedding ring, your affection to one another, that God loves each of us so much that He gave totally, freely, faithfully and fruitfully in a gift of Himself to humanity.
Part of the meaning of the vows you uttered – perhaps 50 days ago or 50 years ago – was to live that witness of life and love every moment of your married life. Perhaps you will be unaware when individuals are affected by that witness, but certainly God will allow your love to be an example to friends and strangers alike. Those moments may come when you least expect them, but they will come.
This doesn’t leave those of us who are single off the hook. We have an obligation to pray for married couples to continue in God’s grace to be able to live as unique witnesses of the great love of God for His people.
It’s a tall order, and it can’t be done without God’s grace, a strong prayer life and a willingness to be rooted in Christ.
We can all be part of that mission, though in different ways. Individually, we are all called to witness to God’s love, but there is a unique way in which married couples do this.
John Paul II always says it best: “The spousal relationship that unites the spouses, husband and wife, must – according to the author of Ephesians – help us to understand the love that unites the Christ with the Church, the reciprocal love of Christ and the Church in which the eternal divine plan of man’s salvation is realized” (TOB 90:2).
He continues, “[…] marriage corresponds to the vocation of Christians only when it mirrors the love that Christ, the Bridegroom, gives to the Church, his Bride, and which the Church (in likeness to the wife who is ‘subject,’ and thus completely given) seeks to give back to Christ in return.”
It’s amazing how such profound truths can be glimpsed through something so simple as washing feet.