In the Footsteps of the Saints
by Jeanne Heiberg
A sight that often entertains me at Mass appears on the feet of altar servers. They look angelic in their white albs, until one notices what's on their feetcontemporary and stylish shoes, usually tennis shoes. Their contemporary footwear stands in humorous contrast to the ancient-appearing robes.
A sight that often entertains me at Mass appears on the feet of altar servers. They look angelic in their white albs, until one notices what’s on their feet—contemporary and stylish shoes, usually tennis shoes. Their contemporary footwear stands in humorous contrast to the ancient-appearing robes.
I personally like this juxtaposition of the ancient and the modern. It tells me that the Church is calling a new generation of potential saints—just as they are—into its holy and timeless community to love and serve. Saints have come from every age since Jesus walked the earth, and those coming up in our time may well wear jazzy running shoes with lights and bells.
It’s appropriate. The Church can easily rely on contemporary culture and trends to further its eternal goal of making present the Kingdom of God. So why not running shoes, sequined sandals, shoes with bows? Whatever they put on their feet, the young people we catechize today are called to walk in the footsteps of the saints in our own time.
Symbols of the Whole Person
Today the feet of those who follow Jesus are usually clad in shoes. Shoes as well as feet are often symbols for the whole person. Think of the sayings “Do not criticize someone until you have walked a mile in his or her moccasins” and “When I put my foot in my mouth, I am at fault, not my faithful, hardworking foot.”
Feet also stand for the feelings or the disposition of the whole person. When people “drag their feet,” they are unhappy or unwilling to do something. When they are “light on their feet” or “foot loose and fancy free,” they have happy feet. They are satisfied. They are ready to dance for joy.
In Scripture, feet are symbols of the entire person. People whose feet stumble or stray into evil ways find themselves drifting away from God and getting into trouble. They end up traveling in the wrong direction. Proverbs 1:15-16 exhorts: “Walk not in the way with them (evil people) and hold back your feet from their path, for their feet run toward evil.”
Isaiah 59:7-8 links feet with character and thoughts: “Their feet run to evil, they are quick to shed innocent blood; their thoughts are destructive; plunder and ruin are on their highway. The way of peace they know not, and there is nothing right in their paths.”
Happily, feet can be turned in the right direction, away from evil and toward God. Saints can say with the psalmist, “I consider my ways, and turn my feet to your decrees; I am prompt; I do not hesitate in keeping your commands” (Psalm 119:59-60). Isaiah speaks of God’s promise to those who “hold back their foot on the Sabbath from following their own pursuits on God’s holy day.” They shall “delight in the Lord, and ride on the heights of the earth” (58:13-14). The wise writer, possibly Solomon, says in Proverbs 4:26-27, “Survey the path for your feet, and let all your ways be sure. Turn neither to right or to left, keep your foot far from evil.” In other words, “Watch where you’re going along the path of life. Walk with faith.”
Symbols of Power and Strength
Association of feet with power and strength is evident in early Scripture accounts. In Genesis 13:15, God tells the serpent, Eve’s tempter, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers. He will strike at your head, while you strike at his heel.” This association is evident in Psalms, which praises God for giving human beings “rule over the works of your hands, putting all things under their feet” (8:7). Psalm 47:4-5 exalts God who “made people subject to us, brought nations under our feet and gave us a land to live in.” Psalm 110:1 prefigures the victory of Jesus over sin and evil: “The Lord said to you, my Lord, ‘Take your throne at my right hand, while I make your enemies your footstool.’”
These kinds of associations continue in the New Testament with St. Paul saying that Christ “must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet” (1 Corinthians 15:26). Paul also makes this point at Ephesians 1:22. In Revelation, the vision of the woman clothed in the sun, the moon under her feet (often shown in art with a serpent under her foot), is a sign of both Mary, the mother of Jesus, and the Church giving birth to the Christ-life in her children. The vision is a symbolic promise that, in and with Jesus, we will triumph over sin and evil and forever be with him in heaven.
In the Footsteps of Jesus
In the New Testament, Jesus calls Simon, Andrew, James, John and many others (Mark 1:16-20, 2:14) with the words “Follow me.” He leads their footsteps all over the hills of Galilee and into Jerusalem. These Apostles, disciples, and saints then called many others to follow in the footsteps of Jesus. The feet of the Apostles were honored by Jesus, who washed them of all their dirt and dust at the Last Supper. Jesus’ example of humility in taking this servant role is another way he calls us to follow in his footsteps (John 13:1-16).
While on this earth, we may not follow Jesus perfectly. The important thing is the direction in which we point our footsteps. If our feet are taking us toward God and not away from God, we are traveling toward heaven and happiness.
Jesus came to awaken us to who we really are, God’s children, and to lead us along the path to our heavenly home. We are not alone as we travel this path. We have Jesus, the loving community of the Church on earth, and the saints in heaven to help us. Many saints forged new paths of heroism and life-giving love in their time. Jesus came to open a path for them—and us—to return to our home in heaven. He said, “I am the way and the truth and the life” (John 14:6). The saints took him at his word and placed their feet on his path. They have been reunited with their loving Creator, the Father of all that is. We, too, are called to place our feet on the path of Jesus.
Say to the Children
Feet are important to us. They are the base on which we stand and they take us where we want to go. In the Bible, and in common language, the feet are symbols for our whole person: who we are. Most important is the direction in which our feet take us: toward God and all that is good, holy, and happy; or away from God, toward darkness, unhappiness, and misery. The saints directed their feet toward God and now are forever happy with Jesus in heaven. Jesus invites you and me to follow in the footsteps of the saints.
Your feet can plod, drag, stomp, run, or skip and dance in happiness. Throughout your lifetime, at one time or another, you likely will do all of these. If you stay on the path with Jesus, however, and run toward love and serving others in Jesus’ name, there will be more times of walking in happiness and dancing for joy. Even those of us without feet or with feet that cannot support the weight of our bodies can still run and dance in spirit. The important thing is that you join Jesus, follow him in your mind and heart, and spiritually walk in the footsteps of the saints.
As a sign that you want to follow in the footsteps of Jesus and the saints, you can trace your own foot to create your very own footstep. You may want to place your footstep into the cutout of a larger foot, or draw in your footstep some ways you can follow in the footsteps of the saints by living always with kindness, love, and service. In your footstep, you can show yourself doing a good deed like helping your parents, your teacher, or a friend. You can also put in your footstep words or pictures that show you are on your way toward God.
ACTIVITY: Footstep Crafts
* construction paper, craft paper, or cardstock in a variety of colors
* pencils, markers, crayons
* cutouts of large footsteps traced from an adult foot
1. Remove shoe and sock from one foot. (There may be students who are uncomfortable doing this. See Option below.)
2. Place bare foot on a piece of construction paper, craft paper, or cardstock.
3. Spread toes as much as possible and trace around foot with a pencil.
4. Cut out tracing of foot. This is your footstep. (Replace shoe and sock.)
5. On footstep, write or draw words and images that represent the things you can do to follow in the footsteps of the saints.
6. Glue footstep to a larger footprint of a contrasting color. (Students may also write or draw on the larger footstep instead of pasting their own footstep on it.)
Note: The Oriental Trading Company (1-800-228-2269) offers a kit (IN-48/5649) involving this kind of activity. It includes the famous “Footprints in the Sand” poem.
Option: Have children trace around one of their shoes (on or off the foot, it doesn’t matter) instead of a bare foot. Or use pre-cut templates of a child-size foot. Shape-cutting equipment from companies such as AccuCut (accucut.com) and Ellison Educational Equipment (Ellison.com/educators) can be used to form footprints.
Extreme-fun Option: Spread washable finger paint or tempera paint on a large dish or slab of plastic. Have children place a bare foot into the paint and then onto a sheet of paper to make their footstep. Be sure to have plenty of water and towels for clean-up if you use this option.
Display: As the ritual in the Footstep Prayer, have children place their footsteps on a bulletin board or arrange them in a path of faith around the classroom walls or on the floor leading to your prayer table or a picture of Jesus or the saints.
Opening Song: “Our God Reigns”(© 1974, 1978 Leonard E. Smith. New Jerusalem Music. Google search “song Our God Reigns” for words and tune)
Prayer: Loving Jesus, you are the way, the truth, and the life. Teach us to follow in the footsteps of your saints, who walked to places and lived in ways that helped others know the love of God. Just as you washed the feet of your disciples in humble service, help us to love and serve others with the same humility and love, especially our families, teachers, and friends.
Readings: Isaiah 52:7 (celebrates the feet of all who walk in the footsteps of Jesus and the saints to spread the Good News of God’s love); Psalm 110:59-60 (we turn our footsteps in the direction that follows God’s commands); Proverbs 4 (we watch the path our feet are on so we walk sure in the way of good); John 13:5 (Jesus washes the feet of his disciples)
Ritual: Jesus wants to reign in our hearts. When Jesus reigns in our hearts, we accept other people, we offer friendship to others, and we live in peace and joy. When we follow in the footsteps of the saints, we bring more of Jesus’ reign into the world. As a sign of your willingness to follow Jesus by walking in the footsteps of the saints, place your footstep along the path of faith. (See “Display” in Procedure in “Footstep Crafts” above. You might want to play soft instrumental music during this time.)
Blessing: Loving God, bless these symbolic footsteps. May they be signs of our love for you. We pray for your reign to grow in us and in our world. Bless our feet to carry us toward you and our heavenly home, where you and your saints are happy forever. May our paths always praise you, celebrate you, and help those around us, so that our footsteps always lead toward you—and lead others toward you. We ask this in Jesus’ name, with all the saints, in whose footsteps we follow.
Closing Song: “I Danced in the Morning” (Shaker song; text by Sydney Carter © Galliard Publications. Worship, GIA Publications)
Jeanne Heiberg is the author of Advent Arts & Christmas Crafts (Paulist Press) and Advent calendars (Creative Communications). She has taught art, writing, creative catechetics, and meditation, and has directed parish catechetical programs. Jeanne writes, paints, and gives writing workshops in upstate New York. Jeanne welcomes visitors at her blog: jeannesarts4you.blogspot.com.
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