Religion is a tricky topic to raise in a conversation, let alone in a blog. Nevertheless, people keep raising it in a number of interesting, occasionally irritating, often boring, but sometimes truly exciting contexts. Last year, on a site for aspiring writers called Litopia, I was told off by a forum moderator for asking one of the members about his/ her attitude towards Opus Dei. The question was purely academic, but my God... what an uproar it caused. Later I realised that the reason for that may have been the hypothetic possibility that some publisher or agent with whom the website worked/ had worked/ could work in the future might - just might - belong to Opus Dei.
So today, instead of asking awkward questions, I will use the opportunity to remind of the meaning of this day in the traditional Catholic calendar and its possible social/ political implications. Maundy Thursday, Wikipedia tells us, is the feast or holy day falling on the Thursday before Easter that commemorates the Last Supper. That is putting it mildly. Because, at least in the experience of medieval and early modern Europe, Maundy Thursday was particularly remarkable for commemorating the episode when Christ washed the Apostles’ feet. The episode (embodying the virtue of humility) was re-enacted for centuries in a very physical and immediate way – by washing the feet of beggars, peasants and other persons whom one considered below oneself in social status. In some cases – as at the court of Vienna in the second half of the seventeenth century – the poor men’s feet were ‘pre-washed’ before the emperor washed them symbolically.
What is the relevance of this today? Sometimes I think it would be nice to introduce a form of corporate-social-you-name-it reponsibility that would require a simple and physical show of solidarity with those who are living in poor conditions. Especially for those who seldom come face-to-face with those conditions. In Eastern Europe at least, one does not have to go to Africa for that experience. I would love to see ministers and MPs making a trip in a packed tram, or big company CEOs spending an afternoon helping their lowest-paid staff with budget shopping. Call me a Luddite, if you wish.