It was December 2003 I was on my way to Medjugorje in Bosnia for the first time. I opened my carry-on bag looking for something to read and found this mysterious Catholic newspaper called the “Sunday Visitor.” I do not know where this came from, but knowing I had A 7-hour flight ahead of me I opened the paper and started to read. It had a full interview with Jim Caviezel and his role in the Passion of Christ that took up most of the newspaper. Now keep in mind this movie has not been released yet, so I had no idea who Jim Caviezel was or anything about the movie. By the time I had finished this article I felt strangely connected to Jim Caviezel in a way, I could not explain. Once we arrived in Medjugorje, we went to see Fr. Jozo at his parish and as I exited the gift shop guess who was standing right in front of me? Jim Caviezel and his wife I know strange right? What are the chances of that happening? It seemed like Mary had prepared me for this encounter with Jim and the upcoming movie by this article ending up in my bag. I’ve heard it said many times that she calls people to Medjugorje, she prepares them for the pilgrimage and takes care of every detail along the way. I have found this to be true for the two times I have been there. Jim was extremely handsome in person, and I made conversation with him and then asked him for a picture and he graciously accepted.
Jim Caviezel, Karyn Michelle Fusco, baby Luke Fusco, Jim’s wife and me before going blonde lol.
He invited us to a private screening of the movie with a special message for us in Medjugorje from Mel Gibson at the orphanage in two days. In the meantime, we climbed Apparition Hill. When I reached the top and saw the special statue of Mary, I felt oddly empty as though this was not what I was meant to encounter here. It was weird. I watched all the people taking pictures and heard the story behind the statue and for some reason nothing was resonating with me. I found myself being pulled away as though an invisible person was leading me to another location on the hill or a magnet was pulling me. I ended up in front of this wooden statue of Jesus on the cross. An artist beautifully carved it then donated it to this site. It wasn’t far from the Mary statue. At the moment my eyes saw Jesus I felt in awe and as though he were truly present to me alive on that cross. Then as though someone had their hand on the back of my head I felt my head pushed until my face was at Jesus feet. My head was held there until I kissed His feet, which I was happy to do. Then I dropped to the ground in love and admiration. I also felt like strange things were happening inside of my heart. I have no idea how long I had been there and when I stood up, I was surprised that no one came to be near this beautiful statue too and that I was granted so much alone time with Jesus. I know, my experience sounds crazy, and I completely understand why you may think it is. If it didn’t happen to me, I might think so too. However, it did happen to me, and this experience was something that I will never forget. As a matter of fact, I have pondered the meaning behind embracing and kissing Jesus’ feet since this experience and can you believe after all these years of pondering I just received the answer this past Monday, the day after Easter? But before I get to that I want to take you back to my time in Medjugorje and the viewing of this unedited movie “The Passion” the day after my experience. There were scenes we saw that were later cut out and Jim had the bluest eyes I’ve ever seen they were piercing. However, the scene that almost brought me to my feet and gasping out loud was the scene where the blessed mother kisses the feet of Jesus on the cross and stepped back to stare at her beloved son with blood all over her face. I felt at that moment as though she wanted me to know this scene had something to do with me and my experience the day before and was a connection to her and her son. Now, getting to my answer on Monday the day after Easter, I read this most powerful Gospel passage in Matthew 28:8-9.
Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went away quickly from the tomb, fearful yet overjoyed, and ran to announce the news to his disciples.And behold, Jesus met them on their way and greeted them. They approached, embraced his feet, and did him homage.Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.”
(Image: Tissot, “Noli me tangere.”)
Mary Magdalene did the same thing so what does this mean? I wondered the same thing then found this reflection by Ronald Rolheiser.
Embracing someone’s feet was, at the time of Jesus, a symbolic image for discipleship. The idea was that the disciple was meant to embrace the feet of the master by sitting at his feet and walking in his footsteps. In essence, the idea was that the feet of the master laid out the road to be followed, and he gestures of embracing the master’s feet and walking in his steps designated a certain acquiescence of the will, an obedience to someone and something higher than oneself.
But, prior to Jesus, this normally implied a relationship of non-equals, a master and a disciple, a teacher and a pupil. There was obedience, but not necessarily friendship and intimacy. What changes with Jesus is that the embrace now becomes one of intimacy. One now falls at the feet of Jesus akin to how one falls in love. In love, we embrace each other’s feet; the acquiescence is not a bending to power but a genuflection in love. Jesus had tried to instill into his followers this shift in obedience: “I no longer call you servants, but friends.” The God that Jesus incarnated is not a God who demands obedience on the basis of power and fear. This God, rather, invited us to acquiescence in love. Genuine intimacy is nothing other than a mutual genuflection in love. That is also the essence of discipleship. Jesus’ early disciples already knew that and, hence, upon meeting him on Easter morning, they give him the deepest, most robust, intimate hug of all: they embraced his feet.
I find this reflection to be true, because if I think back to my experience on Apparition Hill I recall the feeling of being consumed to overflowing with love for Jesus that superseded thought or any other emotion. And I am grateful; that His mother, Mary, showed me that she experienced the same at the foot of the cross. She, like me, and you are disciples of her son expressing our love.