The Pope will be celebrating the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday not in St Peter’s Basilica or in the Lateran, but at a facility for the elderly and those with disabilities. The Mass of the Lord’s Supper is the occasion when the Pope will perform the washing of the feet, just as Jesus washed His disciples feet at the Last Supper, a powerful sign that as Pope he is Servant of the Servants of God. The Pope when Archbishop of Buenos Aires was well known for going out to the margins of the city, particularly the villas, the dreadful slums, where so many new arrivals lived. Now the Pope is doing the same, going out to a part of Rome that the tourists never see, by the side of the city’s ring road. Thus, one hopes, the washing of the feet will be a ceremony that underlines a fundamental truth about the Church and her mission.
Meanwhile, in Great Britain, after a long and undignified struggle to hold onto office, a cabinet minister has resigned. The case of Maria Miller started with expenses but went far beyond that. It was not simply that she fiddled her expenses, or that her fellow MPs slashed the amount that she was forced to pay back, or that her apology was grudging and, at 32 seconds, very short. That was how it started, but what really made so many want Mrs Miller gone, I suspect, was her overwhelming sense of moral entitlement. One need not argue that Mrs Miller was in any way exceptional in her behaviour: what seems clear to me that she sums up everything that is wrong about out political class, its arrogance and its removal from the concerns of everyday life, as explained at great length in Peter Oborne’s superb polemic The Triumph of the Political Class.
The greatest Christian virtue is humility, and people who feel no affinity to the Christian Gospel might, along with us believers, like to meditate on humility as a necessity for civilised societies. If we are all out for what we can get, if we are all obsessed with our own entitlements, if we are all determined to be pushy, then life will be hell. The only possible basis for a civilised social life is that we should all seek to serve not ourselves, but each other.
In other words, the Pope, in washing feet out in the suburbs on Holy Thursday, is drawing to our attention the greatest lesson of Jesus. Christ the Lord came among us as one who serves. The opposite of love and service is the love of power, which corrupts human nature. Perhaps this Easter our politicians, if they want to get our respect back – and an election is coming, which may help concentrate their minds – might try something similar: not a publicity stunt, not a photo opportunity, but something in a local community that shows their sincerity when they make the claim that they entered public life in order to serve.