Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
This weekend we hear the story of Moses and the burning bush. As he approaches this amazing sight, God calls out to him, “Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground.” The act of removing his sandals is, for Moses, a sign of his obedience to God and his reverence for the holiness of God present in that place. This interior disposition of reverence, accompanied by the outward sign of the removal of shoes is translated in many ways in our modern day. During this season of Lent, we are invited to tread on holy ground and we are called to deeper reverence for the holy things of God.
Removing one’s shoes in imitation of Moses, for the Jewish people, became a symbolic way of leaving behind the profane things of this world. In the ancient liturgical practice of Israel, the priests would ceremonially wash before offering sacrifice. The sandals and clothing they wore outside would never accompany them to the altar. Think for a moment of how Jesus washes the feet of the Apostles. In a traditional home in ancient Israel, a servant would wash the feet of guests upon their arrival, after they had removed their sandals. Even today, many people make the request that shoes be left at the door. For the residents, it helps them keep the home clean, but for guests, removing shoes is a sign of respect for the host. This symbolic act is shared in multiple cultures and religions. Popular literature picks up the theme, as well: J.R.R. Tolkien highlights the fact that his hobbits never wear shoes, a symbol of their simplicity and closeness to the land. While we do not remove our shoes upon entering the church, we are invited to tread on holy ground and to be aware of the burning bush in our midst.
We bless ourselves with holy water as we come through the door of the church, a sign of leaving behind whatever is unholy. Then, aware of the holy ground on which we stand, we genuflect to the Holy of Holies, the Tabernacle, the burning bush in our midst where the Lord remains for us. Before, during, and after the Mass, the sanctuary stands as a reminder of that which is especially holy and set apart. To approach the sanctuary then is a great privilege, one which calls us to the utmost reverence.
The reverence we show our Lord in the church trains us for the other elements of our lives. Just as the Lenten practice of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving can and should bear fruit in our spiritual lives throughout the year, so our heart-level removal of our sandals as we approach the sanctuary can and should influence our daily life. Reverence to God is something we demonstrate in church, in speech, in the respect we show to those around us, the way we reverence our friends, neighbors, co-workers, and even our enemies. This week, let us remove our sandals and recognize that the ground on which we tread is holy and the Lord calls us to reverence.