It was 1965, Holy Thursday evening at the Motherhouse in Rome, Italy.

I pressed my back against the straight chair, one of twelve lining the fringed edge of the Oriental rug covering the marble floor, then stole glances around the great parlor, transformed into a sanctuary for this evening’s ritual. Candelabra of beeswax candles cast shadows upon twenty-foot ceilings. Across from me stood a white-draped lectern, the Mass book opened to the gospel of John. Next to it was a table with white towels, a china basin and pitchers of water. Raised platforms held cloisonné urns filled with flaming gladiolas and bridle wreath that perfumed the air.

Behind me, footfalls of nuns formed concentric rows, their Libers in hand, some clearing throats, sneezing.

All was ready, but was I?

From an opposite door emerged the Superior General of our community and her counselors. In no time were the opening prayer and reading from John’s gospel read. A long pause followed. Like Jesus that night centuries ago, the stooped Superior General girded herself with a long towel and prepared to wash my feet and those of the other probanists sitting with me. She nodded to her counselors, then approached the first “disciple.” Strains of the chant Ubi caritas carried the profundity of this event as the washing began. I shuddered.

Then, it was my turn. I lifted the hem of my black habit and extended my bare foot over the basin held by one of the counselors. Water trickled over my instep, followed by its wiping, followed by the Superior General’s kiss.

It was over, the lesson learned, my body chilled with perspiration.

Throughout my life, other washings/purifications have offered correction, encouragement, forgiveness, and courage from which I‘ve emerged with élan. Yet, my end time’s psychic washing contains more shadow stuff to process: there seems no end of it—I’ll keep surrendering to the washing.