In years past for my Thanksgiving blog, I made a list of some of the things for which I was thankful over the past year and have probably bored you by now with a list that hasn’t changed much at all. (I don’t tool around Ft. Lauderdale any more in my red Mitsubishi eclipse spyder convertible.) I have a red 2011 mustang hard top instead, which I am very grateful to own along with the finance company.
So I’ve reached out to some old friends and asked them to share their thoughts with me and I’ll tell you how I know them.
Monsignor Jim Fetcher is the pastor of St. Sebastian’s beachside parish here in Ft. Lauderdale and has been a friend and mentor of mine for a number of years . . .
I’m grateful that COVID-19 has given me an appreciation of people, even my “thorns,” because we’re all in this together, like it or not.”
I’ve known Mrs. Chris DiComo (and her husband Chuck) for about thirty years when I was stationed in St. Bartholomew’s parish they live in about thirty miles south of here in Miramar. We’ve kept a close personal friendship all these years . . .
“I am grateful that the Lord has seen fit to give me the strength to care for a loved one, while dealing with my own difficulties. In addition I am grateful for two wonderful sons and their wives, who are always there for me when I encounter a problem.”
I’ve known Mrs. Chris Lafser for about fifty years since my seminary years at Theological College in DC and then all the way through at different points and visiting at her home and watching her three children grow up. She and her husband Bill live in Richmond, Virginia. . . . .
“I am grateful for my family – For my loving husband, and my dear children, and now precious grandchildren. But for the last several years, I have been more and more aware of what a special gift my parents were. They showed me that they loved me, shared their faith with actions, not just words, provided structure, safety and love. They gave me confidence, encouragement, and discipline. They were humble and kind, and exemplified hospitality and charity to all. They were brave, and funny, fun-loving, and creative, hard working and generous. It is because of their love that I can believe in the loving God.”
I’ve known George Ducharme for sixty years now and he is one of my closest friends. We met at St. Thomas Seminary in Bloomfield, Connecticut and he invited me to his home for thanksgiving because I was a Floridian and, though distance is an issue, we are as close as ever. He and his partner at Communitas, Pat Beeman, work with people with disabilities all over the state of Connecticut. . . .
“Thank you for asking me to share a moment of Profound Gratitude!
For me Friday, August 21 is a special day for us! This day we (Pat Beeman and our Communitas Family) celebrated the stolen life of Richard LaPointe (age 74). I was his conservator till his death on 8/4/2020! Richard was imprisoned for 26 years for a crime he did not commit! With the remarkable pro bono work of Centurion Ministries he was exonerated and freed in 2015! He always had a smile and positive attitude for his 5 years of freedom! I am profoundly grateful to have had him in my life for 31 years! Peace and Blessings.”
I’ve known Msgr. Ray East since I was in Washington, DC in the early 1980’s. He was a young priest at the time; I was 40. I’ve always loved living in Washington. Ray and I became fast friends during that time and have been ever since. Today, he is the pastor of St. Teresa of Avila Parish in southeast Washington across the river. Ray is black and the parish is largely a poor black parish. And he wrote this magnificent piece for us . . .
“Today, as I prepare for another funeral on Saturday, I am grateful for the MINISTRY OF BEREAVEMENT in this time of COVID19. I am grateful for God’s grace poured out on those front-line hospital personnel who hold the hands of the dying and close their eyes after their last agonizing breath. I am grateful for hospice nurses who come to my neighborhood late at night. I’m thankful for police officers and medical examiners, and for funeral home personnel who come to pick up the body of a loved one who has died at home. I’m thankful for funeral directors who go the extra mile to make services affordable and dignified.
I am grateful for parishioners whose ministry involves sitting with families and patiently planning funeral liturgies. I could not pastor without those members who are always ready to usher and read and cantor and play instruments and who clean up afterwards and get ready for the next funeral. I am grateful for our deacon who always serves at the altar, accompanies me to the cemetery, and locks up the church after every funeral. I thank God for our Catholic Cemeteries personnel who help me find resources to bury the poor. I’m grateful for the un-thanked caretakers who dig the graves, cover them with earth and who keep the cemeteries beautiful. And finally I thank Our Creator for the bereavement ministry member, the hospice staff volunteer and the friend who calls the family a year later and asks: “How are YOU doing?”
I also asked two friends outside the United States to contribute as well.
I’ve known Marie Denis for the past twelve years or so since I’ve been living in this Condo Association. She’s a Canadian, living in Ottawa, and one of our “snowbirds”and a nearby neighbor of mine on the first floor when she comes south. My dog Shoney liked to go to her door to see what’s up.
‘’It is a pleasure to tell you how grateful I am to see two of my grand daughters with their little ones regularly. The four babies are 3 yrs to 8 weeks old. It’s a blessing for me and I thank God every day”
I mostly know Michael Moshe Shein, Esq. from Facebook because we’ve only met in person once outside the Broward County Jail as both of us were waiting to see inmates! Moshe and his family live in Israel but still has an office here in Fort Lauderdale. He keeps me up to date on their family Jewish customs. . .
“B”H – I’m grateful, thank G-d to be able to connect with my friends and family worldwide through technology, even if I am not with them physically.”
Now there are two more.
This one is mine . . .
“The day my little dog Shoney passed—this past May 23rd . He shared my home and my life intimately for eleven years. If you’ve never had a furry companion, they have a way of burrowing a way into your heart. I was so thankful for the loving-kindness he gave to me all those years. His last day with us was the day before my 51st ordination anniversary so I’ll never forget him.”
And I leave the last word to my bishop, Bishop John Noonan of the Diocese of Orlando . . .
“Thanksgiving may be different this year; not having our families around us, but there is something that will never change and that is the meaning of Thanksgiving. Giving thanks is recognizing God’s grace in our lives. So let give thanks to God for the many gifts, family, friends, faith, freedom, forgiveness, peace, hope, love, and more.”
Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good. His love endures forever. Give thanks to the God of gods. His love endures forever. Give thanks to the Lord of lords: His love endures forever.
to him who alone does great wonders, His love endures forever.
He remembered us in our low estate His love endures forever. and freed us from our enemies. His love endures forever. He gives food to every creature. His love endures forever.
Give thanks to the God of heaven. His love endures forever.
And now before you go, here’s a hymn for you, “For the Beauty of the Earth” Click here.
Advent begins this Sunday. I will publish my blog for the first Sunday of Advent on Friday. Also Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Washington, DC is in Rome to receive his red hat as a cardinal! He will be the first black cardinal in the U. S. Please pray for him.
The Feast of Our Lord Jesus Christ King of the Universe ~ Sunday November 22, 2020
Today’s feast is Good News for most of us who are weary (and fed up?) with all that’s gone down with the election and it’s aftermath and the Pandemic too. There are two sections to my comments. First are those on the scriptures of the day followed by a reflection on the title of today’s Feast. I just did a bit of research in the liturgical archives: this feast has gotten an upgrade! Before it was just “The Feast of Christ the King.” Now it’s the Feast (we give it the fancy name of Solemnity) of Our Lord Jesus Christ King of the Universe. That offers us a lot more richness for our spirituality and even our politics as you’ll see in a few moments.
In our last blog, we shared about the worldwide organization ONE devoted to caring for the poor, a humanitarian organization putting pressure on the governments of the world to do what they should be doing in caring for the least of society.
Now here are the opening lines of today’s gospel . . . .
Jesus said to his disciples: “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit upon his glorious throne, and all the nations will be assembled before him. And he will separate them one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will place the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. Then the king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?’ And the king will say to them in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of the least brothers of mine, you did for me.’ Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, a stranger and you gave me no welcome . . . .
Scripture scholar William Barclay, thinks this is one of the ‘most vivid’ parables Jesus ever told, and that his lesson is very clear—that God will judge us according to how we react to human need. He won’t judge us by the amount of knowledge we’re able to cleverly use, or the fame or social status that we’ve acquired, or the wealth that we’ve somehow amassed, but the help we’ve given. And he suggests that the parable describes how we should give.
Whatever we do, must be help in simple things. The things Jesus picks out—giving a hungry beggar a meal or a thirsty child a drink, welcoming a stranger or a new neighbor, cheering the sick, visiting a prisoner—are things anyone can do. These don’t require giving away hundreds or thousands of dollars or even just twenty. These are things we can do when we meet people every day.
The second point Jesus seems to make is that our giving must be uncalculating; that is, “so we could get our eternal reward” or get in the good graces of the bishop or the mayor! Our attitude should simply be to help because we could not stop ourselves. To help as the result of a natural, instinctive reaction of a loving heart, without any calculation.
The attitude of those of those who failed to help was: “If we had known it was you we would’ve gladly helped, but we thought it was some common man not worth helping.” There are those who’ll help if they’ll get the praise and publicity, but that’s not help, it’s to pander to self-aggrandizement; it’s certainly not generosity.
* * * *
Jesus Christ, King of the Universe
And as we look forward to Thanksgiving and Advent and Christmas—the New Year and the upcoming inauguration of our new president, this feast brings us, not just a sigh of relief from all we’ve been through this past year and, for me at least, but an explosion of new hope and wonder as we realize we the implications of living in Jesus’ kin-dom here and now!
I was blown away by the insights of famed Franciscan author Father Richard Rohr’s recent book The Universal Christ from which I unabashedly quote extensively here.
I am making the whole of creation new . . . It will come true . . . It is already done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, both the Beginning and the End. ~ Revelations 21:5-6
Jesus didn’t normally walk around Judea making “I AM” statements; if he did, he very soon would have ended up being stoned to death. He didn’t normally talk that way. But when we look at the phrase we all love, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life,” we see a very fair statement that should not offend or threaten anyone. He’s describing the “Way” by which all humans and all religions must allow matter and Spirit to operate as one.
Once we see that the Eternal Christ is the one talking in these passages, Jesus’ words about the nature of God—and those created in the image of God—seem full of deep hope and a broad vision for all of creation.
The leap of faith that the orthodox Christians made from the early period was that the eternal Christ presence was truly speaking through the person of Jesus. Divinity and humanity were somehow able to speak as one, for if the union of God and humankind is “true” in Jesus, there is hope that it might be true in all of us too. That is the big takeaway from having Jesus speak as the Eternal Christ. He is indeed “the pioneer and perfector of our faith,” as Hebrew puts it (12:2).
As the “Father of Orthodoxy,” St. Athanasius (296—375) wrote when the church had a more social, historical and revolutionary sense of itself: “God was consistent in working through man to reveal himself everywhere, as well as through the other parts of creation, so that nothing was left devoid of his Divinity and self-knowledge . . . so that the whole universe was filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters fill the sea”.~ Athanasius De Incarnatione Verbe 45
I have a note in the margin or Rohr’s book at that quote: WOW!!!
Athanasius was writing in the Fourth Century! Think about that when today we’ve seen images of our blue planet taken from the moon; when scientists are discovering black holes and other solar systems beyond our own. And mystics like Athanasius are still with us too! And yet for a Christian—Catholic or otherwise—who clings only to Jesus as their personal savior in a “Jesus and me” kind of faith is much too myopic and narrow-minded—Rohr would say, and therefore missing the real depth of their faith.
As a counterpoint, he says, the Eastern church, has a sacred word for this process, which in the West we call “incarnation” or “salvation”. They call it “divinization (theosis). If that sounds provocative, Rohr suggests, know that they are building on 2 Peter 1:4 where the author says, “He has given us something very great and wonderful . . . . you are able to share the divine nature!
Most Catholics and Protestants still think of the incarnation as a one-time and one-person event having to only with the person of Jesus of Nazareth, instead of a cosmic event that has soaked all of history in the Divine Presence from the very beginning. Therefore, this implies . . .
· That God is not an old man on a throne. God is Relationship itself, a dynamism of Infinite Love between Divine Diversity, as the doctrine of the Trinity demonstrates.
· That God’s infinite love has always included all that God created from the very beginning (Ephesians 1:3-14). The Torah (first five books of the Hebrew bible) calls it “covenant love,” an unconditional agreement, both offered and consummated on God’s side (even if we don’t reciprocate)
· That the Divine “DNA” of the Creator is therefore held in all creatures. What we call the “soul” of every creature could easily be seen as the self-knowledge of God in that creature! It knows who it is and grows into its identity, just like as seed and egg.
Faith at its essential core is accepting that you are accepted! We cannot deeply know ourselves without knowing the One who made us, and cannot fully accept ourselves without accepting God’s radical acceptance of every part of ourselves. And God’s impossible acceptance of ourselves is easier to grasp if we first recognize the perfect unity of the human Jesus with the divine Christ. Start with Jesus, continue with yourself, and finally expand to everything else. As John says, “From the fullness (pleroma) we have all received grace upon grace “(1:16).
And for my concluding prayer this day, I rely on the wisdom of David in Psalm 37 . . . .
Do not fret because of evildoers, Be not envious toward wrongdoers.
For they will wither quickly like the grass And fade like the green herb.
Trust in the LORD and do good; Dwell in the land and [fn]cultivate faithfulness
Delight yourself in the LORD; And He will give you the desires of your heart
Commit your way to the LORD, Trust also in Him, and He will do it.
He will bring forth your righteousness as the light And your judgment as the noonday
Rest in the LORD and wait patiently for Him; Do not fret because of him who prospers in his way, Because of the man who carries out wicked schemes
Cease from anger and forsake wrath; Do not fret; it leads only to evildoing.
For evildoers will be cut off, But those who wait for the LORD, they will inherit the land
Yet a little while and the wicked man will be no more; And you will look carefully for his place and he will not be there
But the humble will inherit the land And will delight themselves in abundant prosperity.
When I prayed this psalm the other evening, it calmed me because of our present post-election / pre-inauguration quandary and anxiety, It was just perfect for what I was thinking and feeling. Perhaps for you as well.
I will offer my Mass on Sunday for all of you, my readers—for yours and your families’ needs and intentions, Blessings to you this day!
Now before you go, I’m offering you a choice of music.
The first is “Crown Him with Many Crowns with about 3,000 voices. Click here,
The second is “Worthy is the Lamb” by the Australian young people’s group Hilsong. Clickhere, And here are the Mass readings for today’s Feast, if you’d like to reflect on them. Click here.
Acknowledgements . . . .
William Barclay The Daily Study Bible Series / the Gospel of Matthew –Volume 2 revised edition / The Westminster Press Philadelphia 1958
Richard Rohr The Universal Christ / Convergent Books New York 2019
Have you been one of those who’ve been fascinated by angels? Many have, whether they’ve been into religion or not. You may recall the popular TV series Touched by an Angel, starring Della Reese, Roma Downey, Toby Keith that ran from 1994- 2003.
The Feast of the Archangel
Michael, Gabriel and Raphael
Tuesday, September 29, 2020
Angels have a very big role in the Bible and in our history. Angels have been declared a part of our dogmatic Catholic tradition;. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church states in Paragraph 328:
The existence of the spiritual, non-corporeal beings that Sacred Scripture usually calls “angels” is a truth of faith.
The witness of Scripture is as clear as the unanimity of Tradition. For Jews, it’s impossible to not believe in the literal beings known as angels because the Old Testament makes numerous references to them. For them, it’s an article of faith that cannot be ignored if you want to be a sincere and devout Jew. Witness the angel that led Israel’s camp and protected them from Pharaoh.
The same is especially true of Christians. In addition to what is given to us in the Old Testament, almost every book of the New Testament shows us that the angels are a real and active force in our lives. And in the life of Jesus as man and his eternal existence as God has numerous encounters with the angels, you cannot believe in Jesus as Christ without encountering angels.
So what are angels? The Catechism of the Catholic Church states in Paragraphs 329-330:
St. Augustine says: “‘Angel’ is the name of their office, not of their nature. If you seek the name of their nature, it is ‘spirit’; if you seek the name of their office, it is ‘angel’: from what they are, ‘spirit’, from what they do, ‘angel.’” With their whole beings the angels are servants and messengers of God. Because they “always behold the face of my Father who is in heaven” they are the “mighty ones who do his word, hearkening to the voice of his word”. (329)
As purely spiritual creatures, angels have intelligence and will: they are personal and immortal creatures, surpassing in perfection all visible creatures, as the splendor of their glory bears witness. (330)
Christian doctrine thus teaches that the angels are spiritual beings who were created by God to serve him. Some say they can appear in human form and interact with us, but those bodies are only temporary illusions and pass away when their interaction with certain humans ends. As purely spiritual beings, angels thus do not have DNA and those bodies may feel tangible but are not part of the angelic nature and thus vanish after the encounter because they have no use for physical bodies as we do. (Think of Tobias’ encounter with Rafael). But as created beings, they exist within time as we do and do not know the future unless God reveals it to them.
What is the purpose of the angels?
The purpose of all of the angels is to serve, and praise God, worship, and pray to God. In the process of serving God, they also protect us, pray for us, inspire us, encourage us, and guide us during our journey on Earth. Some early Christian traditions indicate that even after our death, the angels continue to guide us in our journey to our final place, whether it is to Heaven or to Hell. It is speculative that those who have to go through the final state of purification on the way to Heaven known as Purgatory might also have their guardian angels (Psalm 91:9-12; Matthew 18:1-4,10) with them during their time of purification of sin.
And yes, everyone has a guardian angel. As Paragraph 336 of the Catechism tells us:
“From it’s beginning until death, human life is surrounded by their watchful care and intercession. Beside each believer stands an angel as protector and shepherd leading him to life. Already here on earth the Christian life shares by faith in the blessed company of angels and men united in God.”
Our Guardian Angels love us and do everything within God’s Will to protect us from harm. Sometimes though we reject God’s protection, and by consequence theirs, when we reject God, we have to deal with the consequences of our sins when we do not repent.
Angels also pray for us. We see in Isaiah 6:3 and Revelation 4:8 that the angels continue to sing and pray to God, “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of Hosts!” We also see in Tobit 12:12 and Revelation 5:8 and 8:3 that along with the Saints who are in Heaven, the angels serve as intercessors for us in prayer to God. Jesus tells us in Matthew 18:10 not to despise or bring harm to children, “for I tell you that in heaven their angels always behold the face of my Father who is in heaven.”
Cf. Catholic 365.com for the above information.
St. Gregory the Great notes that angels do not have names unless and until they are given a mission from God to announce a message. There are untold millions of angels in heaven, all created as pure spirits, in continual praise and adoration of our God. Our faith tradition teaches us that God assigns to each of us a “guardian angel” to protect and guide us in our daily effort to grown in wisdom and grace. Scripture also makes clear that at great events of salvation history, God sends an “archangel” to proclaim a message.
The three Archangels Michael, Gabriel and Raphael are three of the seven archangels named in Sacred Scripture and all three have important roles in the history of salvation.
Saint Michael is the “Prince of the Heavenly Host,” the leader of all the angels. His name is Hebrew for “Who is like God?” and was the battle cry of the good angels against Lucifer and his followers when they rebelled against God. He is mentioned four times in the Bible, in Daniel 10 and 12, in the letter of Jude, and in Revelation.
Michael, whose forces cast down Lucifer and the evil spirits into Hell, is invoked for protection against Satan and all evil. Pope Leo XIII, in 1899, having had a prophetic vision of the evil that would be inflicted upon the Church and the world in the 20th century, instituted a prayer asking for Saint Michael’s protection to be said at the end of every Mass. (I’ll include that prayer at the bottom of this blog, though it was suppressed with the Vatican II changes in the liturgy.)
Christian tradition recognizes four offices of Saint Michael: (i) to fight against Satan (ii) to rescue the souls of the faithful from the power of the enemy, especially at the hour of death. (iii) to be the champion of God’s people, (iv) to call away from earth and bring men’s souls to judgment.
Gabriel is, he who stand before God.” (Luke 1, 19)
Saint Gabriel, whose name means “God’s strength,” is mentioned four times in the Bible. Most significant are Gabriel’s two mentions in the New Testament: to announce the birth of John the Baptist to his father Zacharias, and at Incarnation of the Word when he announces to Mary that she will be the Mother of the Most High and again appeared to Joseph in a dream and guided them on their way to Egypt to flee from Herod’s clutches.
Christian tradition suggests that it is he who appeared to the shepherds, and also that it was he who “strengthened” Jesus during his agony in the garden of Gethsemane.
“I am the angel Raphael, one of the seven, who stand before the Lord” (Tob 12:15)
Saint Raphael, whose name means “God has healed” because of his healing of Tobias’ blindness in the Book of Tobit. Tobit is the only book in which he is mentioned. His office is generally accepted by tradition to be that of healing and acts of mercy.
Raphael is also identified with the angel in John 5:1-4 who descended upon the pond and bestowed healing powers upon it so that the first to enter it after it moved would be healed of whatever infirmity he was suffering.
And let’s not forget our unnamed guardian angels. I’ve dubbed my own guardian angel Claretia— after the famous guardian angel Clarence—in the old movie with Jimmy Stewart it’s a Wonderful Life. All I know is she’s gotten me out of a helluva a lot of scrapes—near car accidents and falls and all. That’s what guardian angels do for us, ya know. They just watch over us Their Feast Day for our guardian angels is October 2nd. Do you remember the prayer your mother taught you? (I don’t know whether young parents still teach their children this little prayer or not.) But you can teach it to them now.
Angel of God, my guardian dear,
to whom God’s love commits me here;
ever this day be at my side; to light, to guard, to rule, to guide. Amen
And here’s Psalm 91 that speaks of the protection of the angels . . . .
Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.”
Surely he will save you from the fowler’s snare and from the deadly pestilence. He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.
You will not fear the terror of night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness, nor the plague that destroys at midday. A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you. You will only observe with your eyes and see the punishment of the wicked.
If you say, “The Lord is my refuge,” and you make the Most High your dwelling, no harm will overtake you, no disaster will come near your tent. For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone. You will tread on the lion and the cobra; you will trample the great lion and the serpent.
“Because he loves me,” says the Lord, “I will rescue him; I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name. He will call on me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honor him. With long life I will satisfy him and show him my salvation.”
I have always recommended this psalm to people who were experiencing any kind of trauma, for them to pray often. It reflects what soldiers on the battlefield have often known: bullets whizzing by them and not harming them. Their angel protecting them!
And here are today’s Mass readings, if you’d like to reflect on them. Click here.
And here’s the old prayer to St. Michael.
Saint Michael Archangel, defend us in battle, be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil; may God rebuke him, we humbly pray; and do thou, O Prince of the heavenly host, by the power of God, cast into hell Satan and all the evil spirits who prowl through the world seeking the ruin of souls. Amen.
Jesus had said this to his disciples shortly after his entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. I’m thinking about the issue of Dying to Self these September days because this favorite feast day of mine brings me back to a long association with the Cistercian Abbey of the Holy Cross in Berryville,Virginia, nestled on the Western side of the first ridge of the Blue Ridge Mountains and the shore of the Shenandoah River. I’m also thinking of the issue of Dying to Self these September days because of some personal issues as I’m preparing to move back to my home diocese of Orlando.
If you name the trauma(s) that have altered your life over the years . . . how did you deal with them? How did they affect you? What about Dying to Self? Can you ~ do you ~ do that?
Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life will lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life (John 12:24.) Does this make sense to you?
For you? In another place, Jesus says to his disciples . . .
If any wants to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life? (Luke 9:24-26 ~ NRSV)
Obviously, this is not the wisdom of the world with its emphasis on Power Prestige and Possessions. A priest-friend sent me a Christmas card a couple of years ago that I framed and placed on my dining room table —a quote of St. Paul’s:
My grace is enough for you, for in weakness power reaches perfection. And so I willingly boast of my weaknesses instead, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For when I am powerless, then I am strong (2 Cor. 12:9-10).
Now here you have three koans to mull over, dear friends, and to try to grasp:
I / Unless a grain of wheat dies, it will not bear fruit.
II / Those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. I
II / When I am powerless, then I am strong.
What is a koan, you might ask? A koan is a Zen saying often used by Buddhist monks to teach their novices: “To meditate on a koan is to engage in an active process, like that we engage in when we try to solve a mathematical problem. As in mathematics, the solution is supposed to come suddenly.”
So, rather than giving all your energy to the three P’s of the world, why not write these three Christian Scriptures on index cards and pull them out when you’re idle, waiting for something else to happen? Try it! You just might be enlightened, as I somehow receive the gift of some in wisdom, as I have from time to time when I have been attentive to my prayer-life.
Jesus, of course, shows us the way. Let’s look at the famous “Kenosis” passage of Philippians Chapter 2:6-11 “Kenosis”—meaning here Jesus’ self-emptying . . .
Though he was in the form of God, [Jesus] did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross.
There it is, dear friends! Jesus gave his life for us. The movement was downward. Earthward. Earth-bound. Into the muck. Humility comes from the word humus, meaning muck. So, that’s what Dying to Self involves—getting down into the nitty-gritty of our lives and those of our loved ones and those we are called to serve. Being obedient to what life demands of us. And beckons us to, whether we might like it not. Real Life elicits from our inner depths our best resources. Then . . .
Then . . . God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
And so, too, with us! We will be lifted up! I have experienced this several times.
But Jesus is faithful! Dying and rising is a continual process in nature and in our lives as well. We are taken down in some burden or crisis but, through faith, we are lifted up again! This is the Paschal Mystery. The Pasch ~ Passover ~ Passage ~Transition ~Transformation ~ Change. The Dying and Rising of Jesus in our lives is celebrated for us Catholics throughout the liturgical year and in every Mass.
Think about how you have experienced—and continue to experience the Paschal Mystery ~ this dying and rising ~ in your own life. And so, dear friends, I will bring this missive to a close by returning to the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross and conclude with the wonderful words of the hymn Lift High the Cross. I remember when I first heard it. Trumpets and timpani sent shivers down my spine and goose bumps all over!
Lift high the cross The love of Christ proclaim,
Till all the world Adore His sacred name
Led on their way By this triumphant sign,
The hosts of God In conquering ranks combine. Refrain:
Each newborn servant Of the Crucified
Bears on the brow The seal of Him who died. Refrain
O Lord, once lifted On the glorious tree,
As Thou hast promised Draw the world to Thee. Refrain.
So shall our song Of triumph ever be:
Praise to the Crucified For victory. Refrain:
Now here is the hymn for your listening pleasure. Click here. Be sure to turn up your speakers.
And here are today’s Mass readings, if you’d like to reflect on them. Click here.
THE FEAST OF ASSUMPTION OF THE BLESSED VIRGIN MARY
AUGUST 15th, 2020
In 1950 Pope Pius XII declared as a dogma of the church something that Catholics have believed throughout the church’s history ~ that Mary was taken up into heaven, body and soul to sit at her Son’s side for all eternity. In that document Pope Pius had this to say . . . .
It was fitting that she who carried the Creator as a child at her breast, should in the divine tabernacles. It was fitting the spouse whom the Father had taken to himself should live in the divine mansions. It was fitting that she, who had seen her Son upon the cross and who had thereby received into her heart the sword of sorrow . . . should look upon him as he sits with the Father.
It seems impossible to think of her, the one who conceived Christ, brought him forth, nursed him, held him in her arms, and clasped him to her breast, as being apart from in body after this earthly life ….. Hence the revered Mother of God … finally obtained, as the supreme culmination of her privileges, that she should be preserved free from corruption of the tomb and that, she might be taken up body and soul to the glory or heaven where as Queen, she sits in splendor at the right hand of her Son, the immortal King of the Ages …..
And so we may hope that those who meditate upon the glorious example Mary offers us may be more and more convinced of the value of a human life entirely devoted to carrying out the heavenly Father’s will and to bring good to others [and that] in this magnificent way all may see clearly to what a lofty goal our bodies and souls are destined. Municetissimus Deus—The Apostolic Constitution; i.e.The Most Provident God. By Saint Pius XII defining the dogma of the assumption of the Asumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary
On August 22nd, the octave of the Assumption we celebrate a minor feast ~ the Queenship of Mary. I honor her as my queen. Now this may sound a bit odd, my friends, but I take her shopping with me. I thanked her for my lovely condo. I signed the documents for the condo on August 15th, 2008, so this year I will be in this lovely home for twelve years now and when I celebrate holy Eucharist on her feast day I will thank her and our dear Lord once again.
Here’s a bit about this Feast (or Solemnity, as we call it in the liturgy.)
First of all, it’s a celebration of the body and an exaltation of womanhood.
Everyone was quite startled when the distinguished psychiatrist Carl Jung, who was not a Catholic, said that this declaration about Mary was “the greatest religious event since the reformation.”
Here’s the entire text of what he had to say. You ought to read this; what he says is truly amazing coming from a psychiatrist and a non-Catholic!
The promulgation of the new dogma of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary could, in itself, have been sufficient reason for examining the psychological background. It is interesting to note that, among the many articles published in the Catholic and Protestant press on the declaration of the dogma, there was not one, so far as I could see, which laid anything like proper emphasis on what was undoubtedly the most powerful motive: namely the popular movement and the psychological need behind it. Essentially, the writers of the articles were satisfied with learned considerations, dogmatic and historical, which have no bearing on the living religious process.
But anyone who has followed with attention the visions of Mary which have been increasing in number over the last few decades, and has taken their psychological significance into account, might have known what was brewing. The fact, especially, that it was largely children who had the visions might have given pause for thought, for in such cases, the collective unconscious is always at work …One could have known for a long time that there was a deep longing in the masses for an intercessor and mediatrix who would at last take her place alongside the Holy Trinity and be received as the ‘Queen of heaven and Bride at the heavenly court.’ For more than a thousand years it has been taken for granted that the Mother of God dwelt there.
I consider it to be the most important religious event since the Reformation. It is a petra scandali for the unpsycholgical mind: how can such an unfounded assertion as the bodily reception of the Virgin into heaven be put forward as worthy of belief? But the method which the Pope uses in order to demonstrate the truth of the dogma makes sense to the psychological mind, because it bases itself firstly on the necessary prefigurations, and secondly on a tradition of religious assertions reaching back for more than a thousand years. What outrages the Protestant standpoint in particular is the boundless approximation of the Deipara to the Godhead and, in consequence, the endangered supremacy of Christ, from which Protestantism will not budge. In sticking to this point it has obviously failed to consider that its hymnology is full of references to the ‘heavenly bridegroom,’ who is now suddenly supposed not to have a bride with equal rights. Or has, perchance, the ‘bridegroom,’ in true psychologistic manner, been understood as a mere metaphor?
The dogmatizing of the Assumption does not, however, according to the dogmatic view, mean that Mary has attained the status of goddess, although, as mistress of heaven and mediatrix, she is functionally on a par with Christ, the king and mediator. At any rate her position satisfies a renewed hope for the fulfillment of that yearning for peace which stirs deep down in the soul, and for a resolution of the threatening tension between opposites. Everyone shares this tension and everyone experiences it in his individual form of unrest, the more so the less he sees any possibility of getting rid of it by rational means. It is no wonder, therefore, that the hope, indeed the expectation of divine intervention arises in the collective unconscious and at the same time in the masses. The papal declaration has given comforting expression to that yearning. How could Protestantism so completely miss the point?
I was amazed and thrilled when I discovered this text and again when I’ve just now re-read it. And I’ve always loved to pray and sing these words from the preface of the Mass of the day:
Today the virgin Mother of God was assumed into heaven
as the beginning and the image
of your Church’s coming to perfection
and a sign of sure of hope and comfort for your people
on their pilgrim way.
Mary is the first disciple of her Son.
She is the one who said Yes! “Be it done unto me according to Your word.”
Each of us who bear witness to Christ give birth to him in our own way.
May we honor Mary on this wonderful feast day and enjoy this late summer weekend ~ safely, of course!
Now here before you go, are some young people in quarantine singing our old favorite hymn honoring our Lady “Hail Holy Queen enthroned above” Click here. And be sure to turn up your speakers and enter full screen.
We continue our series on Racism in America with four short articles this time. I hope you had a chance to dig into Bishop Mark Sykes’ courageous pastoral on racism and white supremacy that I published in Tuesday. If not, you can find it on the right side of my site at the top of the archive column.
The first one today is from Archbishop Wilton Gregory, of the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C.,who is black. The middle two are the New York Times 1619 Project, a large research project on slavery and its effects on America life and our economy since its the first slave ship came to our shores. And the last one is from the Sierra Club about how the Trump administration has made our air pollution worse especially on our black communities.
(The images on this page are taken from the Peace and Justice Memorial in Montgomery, Alabama to commemorate the lives of lynched and murdered black folk.) Hundreds of there names are memorialized on huge upside down bronze blocks and some of their ashes are there as well.
First, we hear from Archbishop Wilton Gregory . . . .
Our nation is in pain and in crisis, with angry, peaceful protesters demanding justice; with some lawless attacks on places and people; and with leaders who are failing us. At the same time, a deadly COVID-19 pandemic that touches all of us has exposed pervasive injustices which leave people and communities of color far more likely to suffer and die, lose work and wages, and risk their health and lives in essential jobs.
For Catholics and all believers, racism is more than a moral and national failure; it is a sin and a test of faith. Racism is America’s original sin, enduring legacy, and current crisis. Racist attitudes and actions, along with white supremacy and privilege, destroy the lives and diminish the dignity of African-Americans and so many other Americans. Racism also threatens the humanity of all of us and the common good. Racism divides us, reveals our lack of moral integrity, limits our capacity to act together, denies the talents and contributions of so many, and convicts us of violating the religious principles and the national values we proclaim.
~ Archbishop Wilton Gregory ~ Racism in our Streets and Structures.
The next two articles are from the New York Times 1692 Project.
The 1619 Project is an ongoing initiative from The New York Times Magazine that began in August 2019, the 400th anniversary of the beginning of history by placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of our national narrative.
A story of one black soldier coming back from war . . .
The day of days for America and her allies. Crowds before the White House await the announcement.
I have received this afternoon a message from the Japanese government which specifies the unconditional surrender of Japan.
Reporters rush out to relay the news to an anxious world and touch off celebrations throughout the country. Joy is unconfined.
It’s February of 1946, and a young black man is sitting on a bus watching the Georgia pines fly past the windows. He’s on his way to see his wife, and he’s probably very excited, because he’s been away at war, and he hasn’t seen her in a very long time. He’d been fighting for this country in World War II, and just that day, he’d been honorably discharged for his service. But he is a black man who is returning to the Jim Crow South.
“You can never whip these birds if you don’t keep you and them separate..
“But to tell me that I don’t even have the right to fight to protect the white race —
“We are going to maintain segregated schools down in Dixie.
“Well, I think their aim is mixed marriages and becoming equal with the whites.
“You’ve got to keep your white and the black separate.”
What happened on that day is a story that will be told across the country.
Good morning. This is Orson Welles speaking. I’d like to read to you an affidavit.
It was a story that would actually change the course of history.
I, Isaac Woodard Jr., being duly sworn to depose and state as follows, that I am 27 years old and a veteran of the United States Army, having served 15 months in the South Pacific and earned one battle star. I was honorably discharged on February 12, 1942.
He’s riding the bus through Georgia.
At one hour out of Atlanta, the bus driver stopped at a small drugstore.
He wants to get off and use the restroom.
He stopped. I asked him if he had time to wait for me until I had a chance to go the restroom. He cursed and said no. When he cursed me, I cursed him back. When the bus got to —
The bus driver gets upset with him. They have a little bit of an argument. Woodard doesn’t think much of it. He goes to the bathroom, runs back to the bus, and the bus keeps going. But then, a few miles down the road, the bus stops, and the bus driver gets off the bus, and then calls and tells Woodard that he needs to get off the bus as well. So Woodard gets off the bus, and before he can even utter a word —
When the bus got to Aiken, he got off and went and got the police. They didn’t give me a chance to explain. The policeman struck me with a billy across my head and told me to shut up.
He’s struck in the head by a police officer.
— by my left arm and twisted it behind my back. I figured he was trying to make me resist. I did not resist against him. He asked me, was I discharged, and I told him yes. When I said yes, that is when he started beating me with a billy, hitting me across the top of the head. After that, I grabbed his billy and wrung it out of his hand. Another policeman came up and threw his gun on me and told me to drop the billy or he’d drop me, so I dropped the billy. After I dropped the billy, the second policeman held his gun on me while the other one was beating me.
And the blows keep coming, and they keep coming, to the point that Woodard loses consciousness.
Woodard is still wearing his crisp Army uniform. He’s been discharged just a few hours earlier. When he comes to, he’s in a jail.
I woke up next morning and could not see.
So Woodard’s beating was not at all unusual. World War II had done exactly what many white people had feared, that once black people were allowed to fight in the military, and when they traveled abroad and they experienced what it was like not to live under a system of racial apartheid, that it would be much harder to control them when they came back. Black men in their uniforms were seen as being unduly proud.
So these men who had served their country, who had come home proudly wearing the uniform to show their service for their country, would find that this actually made them a target of some of the most severe violence.
But what was unusual was what happened after. Woodard’s case was picked up by the N.A.A.C.P., and they take him on a bit of a tour. They take photographs of him. Those photographs are sent out to newspapers and to fundraising efforts, where they’re saying, look what happened to this man who served his country. It’s that spark that finally determines among millions of black people that enough is enough.
And that’s largely seen as one of the sparks of the modern civil rights movement.
We have people coming in from all over the country. I suspect that we will have — (garbled and unfinished sentence.)
The second sustained movement of black people trying to secure equal rights before the law and an equal place in this democracy.
During the early weeks of February 1960, the demonstrations that came to be called the sit-in movement exploded across the South.
Negro youngsters paraded with placards, handed out literature, and tried to sit in at lunch counters.
I think, honestly, many of us didn’t realize just how important our movement would grow to be.
Official reaction was both swift and severe.
Don’t blame a cracker in Georgia for your injustices. The government is responsible for the injustices. The government can bring these injustices to halt.
How long? Not long. Because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice. Glory! Hallelujah! Glory! Hallelujah!
And in 1968, 350 years after the introduction of the first enslaved Africans into the colonies.
This Civil Rights Act is a challenge to all of us.
— Congress passes the last of the great civil rights legislation.
— to go work in our communities and our states, in our homes and in our hearts —
It ends legal discrimination on the basis of race from all aspects of American life.
— to eliminate the last vestiges of injustice in our beloved country.
We often think of the civil rights movement as being about black rights, but the civil rights movement was never just about the rights of black people. It was about making the ideals of the Constitution whole. And so when you look at the laws born out of black resistance, these laws are guaranteeing rights for all Americans.
This experience, which black Americans were having, did not go unnoticed by the rest of America.
I mean, basically every other rights struggle that we have seen . . .
Now we fought the public accommodations fight 10 years ago with the blacks. Are we going to have to start all over again with women?
Disability rights, gay rights, women’s rights —
That people with disabilities were still victims of segregation and discrimination.
— all come from the efforts of the black civil rights struggles.
Equal rights. Equals rights to have a job, to have respect, to not be viewed as a piece of meat.
No Americans will ever again be deprived of their basic guarantee of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Celebrations erupted on the steps of the Supreme Court.
One of its most momentous civil rights decisions. The Supreme Court found gay and lesbian Americans have a constitutional right to marry. The majority found its justification in the 14th Amendment, written after the Civil War to extend equal protection under law to freed slaves.
So we are raised to think about 1776 as the beginning of our democracy, but when that ship arrives on the horizon at Point Comfort in 1619, that decision made by the colonists to purchase that group of 20 to 30 human beings, that was a beginning too. And it would actually be those very people who were denied citizenship in their own country, who were denied the protections of our founding documents, who would fight the hardest and most successfully to make those ideals real, not just for themselves but for all Americans. It is black people who have been the perfectors of this democracy.
When I was a kid — it must have been in fifth or sixth grade. Our teacher gave us an assignment. It was a social studies class, and we were learning about different places that people came from, and this was her way of kind of telling the story of the great American melting pot. So she told us all to research our ancestral land and to write a small report about it, and then to draw a flag. I remember kind of looking up and making eye contact with the other black girl who was in the class, because we didn’t really have an ancestral land that we knew of. Slavery had made it so that we didn’t know where we came from in Africa. We didn’t have a specific country. And we could say that we were from the whole continent, but even so, there’s no such thing as an African flag. And so I remember going to the globe by my teacher’s desk — it was on the windowpane along the left side of the classroom — and spinning it to the continent of Africa and just picking a random African country.
So I went back to my desk, and I drew that random African country’s flag, and I wrote a report about it. And I felt ashamed. I felt ashamed, one, because I was lying, but I also felt ashamed because I felt like I should have some other country, and that all the other kids could trace their roots elsewhere, and I could only trace my roots to the country that had enslaved us.
I wish now that I could go back and talk to my younger self and tell her that she should not be ashamed, that this is her ancestral home, that she should be as proud to be an American as her dad was, and that she should boldly and proudly draw those stars and stripes and claim this country as her own.
0 ~ Unattributed
What does a traffic jam in Atlanta have to do with segregation? Quite a lot.
By Kevin M. Kruse / August 14, 2019
Atlanta has some of the worst traffic in the United States. Drivers there average two hours each week mired in gridlock, hung up at countless spots, from the constantly clogged Georgia 400 to a complicated cluster of overpasses at Tom Moreland Interchange, better known as “Spaghetti Junction.” The Downtown Connector — a 12-to-14-lane mega-highway that in theory connects the city’s north to its south — regularly has three-mile-long traffic jams that last four hours or more. Commuters might assume they’re stuck there because some city planner made a mistake, but the heavy congestion actually stems from a great success.
In Atlanta, as in dozens of cities across America, daily congestion is a direct consequence of a century-long effort to segregate the races.
For much of the nation’s history, the campaign to keep African-Americans “in their place” socially and politically manifested itself in an effort to keep them quite literally in one place or another. Before the Civil War, white masters kept enslaved African-Americans close at hand to coerce their labor and guard against revolts. But with the abolition of slavery, the spatial relationship was reversed. Once they had no need to keep constant watch over African-Americans, whites wanted them out of sight.Civic planners pushed them into ghettos, and the segregation we know today became the rule.
At first the rule was overt, as Southern cities like Baltimore and Louisville enacted laws that mandated residential racial segregation. Such laws were eventually invalidated by the Supreme Court, but later measures achieved the same effect by more subtle means. During the New Deal, federal agencies like the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation and the Federal Housing Administration encouraged redlining practices that explicitly marked minority neighborhoods as risky investments and therefore discouraged bank loans, mortgages and insurance there. (President Trump just today was subtly encourage this again to his base.)Other policies simply targeted black communities for isolation and demolition. The postwar programs for urban renewal, for instance, destroyed black neighborhoods and displaced their residents with such regularity that African-Americans came to believe, in James Baldwin’s memorable phrase, that “urban renewal means Negro removal.”
This intertwined history of infrastructure and racial inequality extended into the 1950s and 1960s with the creation of the Interstate highway system.. The federal government shouldered nine-tenths of the cost of the new Interstate highways, but local officials often had a say in selecting the path. As in most American cities in the decades after the Second World War, the new highways in Atlanta — local expressways at first, then Interstates — were steered along routes that bulldozed “blighted” neighborhoods that housed its poorest residents, almost always racial minorities.
This was a common practice not just in Southern cities like Jacksonville, Miami, Nashville, New Orleans, Richmond and Tampa, but in countless metropolises across the country, including Chicago, Cincinnati, Denver, Detroit, Indianapolis, Los Angeles, Milwaukee, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Syracuse and Washington.
While Interstates were regularly used to destroy black neighborhoods, they were also used to keep black and white neighborhoods apart. Today, major roads and highways serve as stark dividing lines between black and white sections in cities like Buffalo, Hartford, Kansas City, Milwaukee, Pittsburgh and St. Louis. In Atlanta, the intent to segregate was crystal clear. Interstate 20, the east-west corridor that connects with I-75 and I-85 in Atlanta’s center, was deliberately plotted along a winding route in the late 1950s to serve, in the words of Mayor Bill Hartsfield, as “the boundary between the white and Negro communities” on the west side of town. Black neighborhoods, he hoped, would be hemmed in on one side of the new expressway, while white neighborhoods on the other side of it would be protected. Racial residential patterns have long since changed, of course, but the awkward path of I-20 remains in place.
By razing impoverished areas downtown and segregating the races in the western section, Atlanta’s leaders hoped to keep downtown and its surroundings a desirable locale for middle-class whites. Articulating a civic vision of racial peace and economic progress, Hartsfield bragged that Atlanta was the “City Too Busy to Hate.” But the so-called urban renewal and the new Interstates only helped speed white flight from Atlanta.
Over the 1960s, roughly 60,000 whites left the city, with many of them relocating in the suburbs along the northern rim. When another 100,000 whites left the city in the 1970s, it became a local joke that Atlanta had become “The City Too Busy Moving to Hate.”
As the new suburbs ballooned in size, traffic along the poorly placed highways became worse and worse. The obvious solution was mass transit — buses, light rail and trains that would more efficiently link the suburbs and the city — but that, too, faced opposition, largely for racial reasons. The white suburbanites had purposefully left the problems of the central city behind and worried that mass transit would bring them back.
Accordingly, suburbanites waged a sustained campaign against the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) from its inception. Residents of the nearly all-white Cobb County resoundingly rejected the system in a 1965 vote. In 1971, Gwinnett and Clayton Counties, which were then also overwhelmingly white, followed suit, voting down a proposal to join MARTA by nearly 4-1 margins, and keeping MARTA out became the default position of many local politicians. (Emmett Burton, a Cobb County commissioner, won praise for promising to “stock the Chattahoochee with piranha” if that were needed to keep MARTA away.) David Chesnut, the white chairman of MARTA, insisted in 1987 that suburban opposition to mass transit had been “90 percent a racial issue.” Because of that resistance, MARTA became a city-only service that did little to relieve commuter traffic. By the mid-1980s, white racists were joking that MARTA, with its heavily black ridership, stood for “Moving Africans Rapidly Through Atlanta.”
Even as the suburbs became more racially diverse, they remained opposed to MARTA. After Gwinnett voted the system down again in 1990, a former Republican legislator later marveled at the arguments given by opponents. “They will come up with 12 different ways of saying they are not racist in public,” he told a reporter. “But you get them alone, behind a closed door, and you see this old blatant racism that we have had here for quite some time.”
African-American and white passengers on an Atlanta Transit Company trolley on April 23, 1956, shortly after the outlawing of segregation on all public buses. Horace Cort, via Associated Press.
Earlier this year, Gwinnett County voted MARTA down for a third time. Proponents had hoped that changes in the county’s racial composition, which was becoming less white, might make a difference. But the March initiative still failed by an eight-point margin. Officials discovered that some nonwhite suburbanites shared the isolationist instincts of earlier white suburbanites. One white property manager in her late 50s told a reporter that she voted against mass transit because it was used by poorer residents and immigrants, whom she called “illegals.” “Why should we pay for it?” she asked. “Why subsidize people who can’t manage their money and save up a dime to buy a car?”
In the end, Atlanta’s traffic is at a standstill because its attitude about transit is at a standstill, too. Fifty years after its Interstates were set down with an eye to segregation and its rapid-transit system was stunted by white flight, the city is still stalled in the past.
Kevin M. Kruse is a professor of history at Princeton University and the author of “White Flight: Atlanta and the Making of Modern Conservatism.
“I Can’t Breathe”
What air pollution and police violence have in common
By Kendra Pierre Louis | July 15 2020
Published in Sierra the online magazine of the Sierra Club
Even in nonpandemic times, air pollution is deadly.
Each year, it kills more than 100,000 people in the United States and 5 million worldwide. Most deadly are the tiny particles that are byproducts of the fuels we burn to power our cars, generate electricity, and create the panoply of chemicals that make up modern life. Like the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, they lodge deep in a person’s lungs, triggering a deadly cascade of health problems.
But mortality from air pollution is not evenly distributed: “Communities of color, and in particular poor communities of color, are more likely to live in places with poor air quality than their white, wealthier counterparts,” said Rachel Morello-Frosch, a professor in the Department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management and the School of Public Health at the University of California, Berkeley. A pair of studies from the University of Michigan and the University of Montana published in 2015 in the journal Environmental Research Letters found that the high concentration of polluting industries in Black and Latino communities was the deliberate consequence of racist policies.
These same communities struggling to breathe are disproportionately harmed by the COVID-19 outbreak. According to the research and analysis group APM Research Lab, Black Americans are especially susceptible to the disease, with a mortality rate that as of June 23 was 2.3 times higher than the rate for white Americans. Based on the race and ethnicity data of 93 percent of the 120,000 people who had died of COVID-19 in the United States, the researchers found that “if they had died of COVID-19 at the same rate as white Americans, at least 16,000 Black Americans, 2,200 Latino Americans, and 400 Indigenous Americans would still be alive.”
Some of these deaths can be attributed to broader social inequities. Black and Latino people, for example, are more likely to hold jobs—including many in health care—that have been declared essential services, putting them at greater risk of exposure to the disease. And because of systemic racism within health care, they’re less likely to be given adequate treatment when they become sick. Rana Zoe Mungin, a Black public school teacher in Brooklyn, was twice denied a COVID-19 test at a local hospital despite exhibiting symptoms. At one point, according to her family, she was told that she was merely having a panic attack. Mungin eventually died of COVID-19.
A growing body of research suggests that air pollution itself is an important factor in these deaths.
“We looked at whether counties that historically have higher levels of air pollution have a higher mortality rate for COVID-19,” said Francesca Dominici, a professor of biostatistics at Harvard University. “We found a statistically significant association.” Dominici was the senior author on a study on the subject that is currently out for peer review. Similar studies are being conducted in Canada, China, Italy, the Netherlands, and the UK, she said, “looking at the relationship between exposure to particulate matter and COVID mortality.” That the association seems to exist across different populations strengthens the likelihood that pollution is a factor.
To understand why, it helps to understand what air pollution does to the body—especially the fine particulate matter known as PM 2.5, which is created from burning oil, coal, and fracked gas. Over the long term, breathing in these particles can permanently damage the lungs, making it harder to breathe. COVID-19 also damages the lungs. Air pollution can damage the heart. COVID-19 also damages the heart. Breathing polluted air makes you more likely to develop type 2 diabetes, a disease that makes you more likely to die from COVID-19.
“You have almost these kinds of feedback loops where the health outcomes that are associated with poor air quality are also the same outcomes that can make populations susceptible to more severe symptoms and mortality risks from COVID-19,” Morello-Frosch said.
If air pollution is the bullet, systemic racism loaded the gun. Research by Morello-Frosch and others shows that while communities of color suffer higher overall levels of air pollution compared with predominantly white communities, it also matters where those communities are located. Segregated cities, such as Memphis and Chicago, have higher levels of air pollution overall than more integrated ones.
In the face of evidence that air pollution is harmful and air pollution during a pandemic is especially so, the Trump administration is making it easier for companies to pollute. Even as the number of COVID-19 deaths was beginning to rise, Trump’s EPA rejected recommendations to raise the national air quality standard for particulate matter and told polluters that it wouldn’t expect routine pollution monitoring and compliance because of the pandemic. Given what we know about how air pollution affects the lungs, Dominici said, “it’s not really the time to relax air pollution regulation and give license to pollute the air.”
The movement that was sparked by George Floyd’s dying words, “I can’t breathe,” is now addressing air pollution as well as police violence. In Louisville, Kentucky, which has one of the highest asthma rates in the country, demands for environmental justice merged with demands for racial justice in the upstart senatorial campaign of state representative Charles Booker. Jamell Henderson, a professor at Brooklyn College and an activist with New York Communities for Change, said in a late-June press briefing, “It’s not just about police reform. It’s about educational reform, mental health reform, social service reform. It’s about health care reform and environmental justice reform.”
Now before you go, here’s a song from the black churches Click here.
Bishop Mark Seitz of El Paso, Texas, kneels at El Paso’s Memorial Park holding a Black Lives Matter sign June 1. Seitz and other clergy from the diocese prayed and kneeled for eight minutes, the time George Floyd, an unarmed black man, spent under a police officer’s knee before dying May 25. (CNS/Courtesy of El Paso Diocese / Fernie Ceniceros
We continue with this series on Racism in America. I’m devoting this entire post to the prayerful thoughts and words of Bishop Mark Seitz who has been Bishop of El Paso, Texas, since 2013. Before that he was a priest, then an auxiliary bishop of the diocese of Dallas, having been born in Milwaukee in 1954. We’ll begin with this startling image of a bishop “taking a knee” for eight minutes along with some of his priests on June 1st, just days after the death of George Floyd along with his accompanying statement. The image went viral and Pope Francis picked it up and called him to express his solidarity in prayer for caring for racial justice in America.
Think about that for a moment: a bishop “taking the knee”! How refreshing is that in the church in the US that for the most part has no courage at all.
I think that sometimes we can fall into the trap of thinking that Christianity is a dead letter religion. That it’s about things that happened a long time ago or about words on a page.
But every day at Mass, when I kneel before Jesus in the Eucharist, I’m reminded that he is alive and present. That Christianity is an event happening right now. The drama of salvation is something playing out every day. And we all have a role to play.
I taught liturgy in seminary. In good liturgy, our faith is brought to life. I think what we’ve seen play out over the last couple days is maybe a little bit like liturgy.
The other day I saw a video of a young white woman at a protest near the White House who put her body in front of a young kneeling black teenager as police officers in riot gear approached. As Jesus said, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
It’s a scene of solidarity and self-giving that has played out across the country so many times in the last week. In El Paso, Texas, there were two young police officers who knelt down with protesters during a demonstration here and it helped defuse some tension.
There is something profoundly eucharistic about these moments and I’m so inspired by our young people. They are teaching us something.
When religion becomes stagnant, we can forget that the Word always comes to us crucified and powerless. As James Cone put it, in America, the Word comes tortured, black and lynched. Today, we meet Jesus in those tear-gassed, tased, strangled and snuffed out. That’s the reason why the church teaches a preferential option for the poor. And why the church stands up for life wherever and whenever it is devalued and threatened.
To say, as all who eat from the table of the Eucharist should be able to say, that black lives matter is just another way of repeating something we in the United States seem to so often forget, that God has a special love for the forgotten and oppressed.
Many are understandably upset by the destruction and looting. It’s true, none of us should crave the thrill of violence or revenge. That’s wrong. We also need to recognize that we are seeing the effects of centuries of sin and violence and rights denied playing themselves out. And frankly, civil rights are not enough. That’s the minimum and clearly, we’re not there yet. We also need to be building a society with housing, and education and health care and just wages for all as well as the right to migrate. And then we can begin to heal.
[ . . .]
I think leaders in the church today, and leaders everywhere really, should perhaps say a little less right now. Instead, we should stand with and give the microphone and listen to those who have been unheard for too long. To those who have suffered our shameful history of discrimination and racial profiling and police brutality. To those who are putting their bodies on the line in protest and in defense of others.
Let’s look at the grace in all of this. Look at the witness of those who are bravely taking up their parts in the drama of salvation unfolding in front of us. If we look past the static, they’re pointing the way to redemptive transformation. They are showing us what the reign of God looks like and what our country can look like when we all have a place at the table. Let’s encourage them. And pray with them. And thank them.
With grace, they are joining the living ranks of a long faith tradition of laborers for greater justice, like Moses, Jesus of Nazareth, Joan of Arc, Harriet Beecher Stowe, James Earl Chaney, Oscar Romero, Thea Bowman and so many others. Thank God. Thank God.
In August 3, 2019 there was a horrifying massacre at a Walmart in El Paso in which 22 people were gunned down by a white supremacist. As a result of that, Bishop Seitz wrote a pastoral letter for his people on both sides of the Rio Grande entitled Night will be No More. It’s long because it includes the history of the the colonial times to the present and the church’s role in white supremacism as well. For those of you who just want to read the highlights, I’ll denote those in the margins in color for you. But this is important stuff for us to know.
Night will be no more, nor will they need light from lamp or sun, for the Lord God shall give them light, and they shall reign forever and ever.
(The Revelation to John 22, 5)
Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus,
Who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God something to be grasped.
Rather, he emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
coming in human likeness;
and found human in appearance,
he humbled himself,
becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.
Philippians 2, 5-8
Racism is not merely one sin among many; it is a radical evil.
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Brothers and Sisters to Us
¡Lo que no nos deja dormir
es que nos han amenazado de Resurrección!
¡Porque en cada anochecer …
todavía seguimos amando la vida
y no aceptamos su muerte!
Julia Esquivel, Threatened with Resurrection
Jordan /Andre /Arturo /Jorge / Leo / Maribel / Adolfo / Sara
Angelina / Raul / Maria / Alexander / David / Luis
Maria / Ivan / Gloria / Elsa / Margie / Javier / Teresa
Juan de Dios
Pastoral Letter to the People of God in El Paso
Night will be no more, nor will they need light from lamp or sun, for the Lord God shall give them light, and they shall reign forever and ever.
(The Revelation to John 22, 5)
In the Name of the Most Holy Trinity. Amen.
August 3rd, 2019: Matanza (massacre) en El Paso
My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?
Why so far from my call for help,
from my cries of anguish?
Psalm 22, 2
On August 3rd, 2019, El Paso was the scene of a massacre or matanza that left 22 dead, injured dozens and traumatized a binational community. Hate visited our community and Latino blood was spilled in sacrifice to the false god of white supremacy.
Dear reader, I would like to note here that this is a bishop using the word WHITE SUPREMACY. He’s not afraid to name what the issue is right up front.
The killing became part of a growing litany of deadly shootings in the United States. It is a list so long that each mass murder competes for our attention and memory. What happened was swallowed up in a spectacle of debate on gun control that holds our children and families hostage. It made our community cannon fodder in a political battle rending the soul of our nation. Yet once the country’s attention moves on, who will remember the names of the dead?
Faith assures us that because of the Resurrection of Jesus, death cannot have the last word, for ‘death no longer has power over him’ (Romans 6, 9). But to encounter meaning in the matanza (massacre) of August 3rd with integrity, we must brace ourselves for the task of naming truths which are uncomfortable and perhaps buried inside all of us.
4.After prayer and speaking with the People of God in the Church of El Paso, I have decided to write this letter on the theme of racism and white supremacy to reflect together on the evil that robbed us of 22 lives. God can only be calling our community to greater fidelity. Together we are called to discern the new paths of justice and mercy required of us and to rediscover our reasons for hope (cf. 1 Peter 3, 5).
This letter comes shortly after the recent pastoral letter against racism by the bishops in the United States, Open Wide Our Hearts: The Enduring Call to Love, which I recommend to our priests and community. My brothers in the episcopate have also published penetrating reflections on the intersection of race and violence, especially Bishop Edward Braxton.1This letter is an attempt to complement those efforts and to reflect on these issues from the perspective of the border.
In the first part of this letter, I hope to bear some of the weight of the reality of racism that has been part of the experience of many here on our border. In the second part, we will shoulder this reality in the light of the life, death and Resurrection of Jesus. Finally, we will ask how grace can heal the shared wounds of our borderland community and transform the awful events of this summer into something meaningful.
This may be hard. I know it will be difficult at times for me. Words like racism and white supremacy make us uncomfortable and anxious and I don’t use these labels lightly. We live in a brutally unforgiving culture where these words are tossed about like weapons. But perhaps we are also aware that these conversations may require changes to the way we think and live. Challenging racism and white supremacy, whether in our hearts or in society, is a Christian imperative and the cost of not facing these issues head on, weighs much more heavily on those who live the reality of discrimination.
Perhaps we thought that prejudice and intolerance were a cancer of years past. Maybe we felt that El Paso was immune from the xenophobia ravaging the United States. On August 3rd, we were robbed of that innocence. But do not be afraid. The Lord Jesus can lead us through this dark moment into something bright and unexpected. For even if a whole army of hate should threaten us, if we are faithful to Jesus and hold on to love, in the words of the poet Julia Esquivel, what can they do but threaten us with Resurrection?
This is Racism
Do not stay far from me,
for trouble is near,
and there is no one to help.
Psalm 22, 12
How do we begin to understand the El Paso matanza (massacre)? How should we think about racism and white supremacy?
The never-ending mass shootings leave us feeling dazed, wounded, fearful and helpless. Causes and solutions seem evasive and our nation’s political life is broken. The Catholic Church in the United States supports the ban on assault weapons that lawmakers senselessly let expire in 2004 and our Church continues to advocate for reasonable regulations on firearms that Congress still won’t pass. The constant pressures on families and the embarrassing lack of access to mental healthcare in this country surely also play a role.
But the mystery of evil motivating attacks like the El Paso matanza goes deeper than these. It is something more complex than laws and policies alone can fix. What else explains the perversity of attacks on African Americans, Jews, Muslims, Sikhs and other communities?
This mystery of evil also includes the base belief that some of us are more important, deserving and worthy than others. It includes the ugly conviction that this country and its history and opportunities and resources as well as our economic and political life belong more properly to ‘white’ people than to people of color. This is a perverse way of thinking that divides people based on heritage and tone of skin into ‘us’ and ‘them’, ‘worthy’ and ‘unworthy’, paving the way to dehumanization.
In other words, racism.
Racism can make a home in our hearts, distort our imagination and will, and express itself in individual actions of hatred and discrimination. Racism is one’s failure to give others the respect they are due on account of being created in the image and likeness of God. And it is more than that.
If we are honest, racism is really about advancing, shoring up, and failing to oppose a system of white privilege and advantage based on skin color.When this system begins to shape our public choices, structure our common life together and becomes a tool of class, this is rightly called institutionalized racism. Action to build this system of hate and inaction to oppose its dismantling are what we rightly call white supremacy. This is the evil one and the ‘father of lies’ (John 8, 44) incarnate in our everyday choices and lifestyles, and our laws and institutions.
The theologian Father Bryan Massingale has aptly named all of this soul sickness.Truly we suffer from a life-threatening case of hardening of the heart. In a day when we prefer to think that prejudice and intolerance are problems of the past, we still find acceptable groups to treat as less than human, to look down upon and to fear.
A series of shootings — Roseburg, Charleston, Orlando, Pittsburgh, and Oak Creek, just to name a few — now undeniably demonstrates that our unwillingness to stamp out racism continues to accrue debts being paid for in blood, the blood of people of color and those we deem different. Abraham Lincoln’s anxious premonition about the terrible consequences of slavery seems to ring true — ‘if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.
The matanza in El Paso focused our attention on the grave racism directed at Latinos today, which has reached a dangerous fever pitch. Latinos now tell me that for the first time in their lives they feel unsafe, even in El Paso. They feel that they have targets on their backs because of their skin color and language. They feel that they are being made to live in their own home as a ‘stranger in a foreign land’ (Exodus 2, 22).
Our highest elected officials have used the word ‘invasion’ and ‘killer’ over 500 times to refer to migrants treated migrant children as pawns on a crass political chessboard, insinuated that judges and legislators of color are un-American, and have made wall-building a core political project. In Pope Francis’ words, these ‘signs of meanness we see around us heighten our fear of the other.
The same deadly pool of sin that motivates the attack on migrants seeking safety and refuge in our border community motivated the killing of our neighbors on August 3rd. Sin unites people around fear and hate.
We must name and oppose the racism that has reared its head at the center of our public life and emboldened forces of darkness.
This hatred of Latinos is not new. Ancient demons have been reawakened and old wounds opened. One of my brother bishops has rightly called racism ‘the ugly, original sin of our country, an illness never fully healed. The El Paso matanza is reminiscent of a long history of importation of hate here in this community, killings, matanzas and racism directed at Latinos, Asians, Blacks, Indigenous, mulattoes and mestizos in the southwest that goes back centuries. El Paso historian Dr. Yolanda Leyva has observed that the El Paso matanza ‘is the predictable outcome of 200 years of a White supremacist idea’s growth.’ It is a story often forcibly pushed underground.
In the next section I will attempt to summarize some of the history of white supremacy in our borderland community, though it is not exhaustive. A sincere reckoning with our past and lamentation over it are essential for transformation. We need spaces in our churches and community to do that. As Bishop Mario Enrique Ríos noted when publishing the definitive account of the racially motivated massacres of the Guatemalan conflict, ‘The recovery of memory is irreplaceable in the work of winning peace So the first step for all of us in El Paso is to recover a buried memory that lives in each of us. It is a story of race, deeply embedded in our society, yet deeply counter to Jesus’ life and teaching.
‘Heart-Sick’: The Legacy of Hate and White Supremacy on the Border
They open their mouths against me,
lions that rend and roar.
Psalm 22, 14
Tú no vales. You don’t count.
We in the borderlands understand in our bones the reality of hate directed at Mexicans and how people can be ‘othered’. Our faith community was born in the fraught encounter between Indigenous communities and Spanish colonists, a ‘choque de culturas’. In that encounter, an insidious message was sent like the report of cannon fire throughout the American continent which reverberates to the present day:Tú no vales. You don’t count.
A sober reading of the history of colonization can discern both the presence of a genuine Christian missionary impulse as well as the deployment of white supremacy and cultural oppression as tools of economic ambition, imperial adventurism and political expansion.
The Spanish colonists who brought faith to the Americas also brought with them their own human circumstances intertwined with the ‘tricks and powers’ of the world. They came from the experience of a nation newly united just as much around Catholicism as a nationalism built on the violent subordination and expulsion of Jews and Muslims. They brought these exclusionary attitudes with them to the New World. It was in the encounter between the Spanish colonists and Indigenous communities that fateful identities were co-produced and sinful notions of civilizedversus uncivilizedand the invention of the savage were born. Such notions began a new era of a ‘heart-sick’ world. It was Pope Benedict XVI who told us that ‘it is not possible to forget the suffering and injustice inflicted by colonizers on the Indigenous populations, whose fundamental human rights were often trampled upon’
Few things were more important in the story of race and the community in El Paso than Popé’s Pueblo Revolt in 1680. The successful revolution resulted in the expulsion of colonists from New Mexico to Paso del Norte where the provisional capital of the royal province was established. At this time, Paso del Norte also became home to the Ysleta del Sur Pueblo, who have shaped the history of the borderlands ever since. The suffering, exploitation and divestment of culture, language, religious tradition and memory experienced by the Pueblo peoples at the hands of colonists and, yes, members and leaders of the Church, must be acknowledged. The pain and experience of estrangement is still experienced by some communities today.
Rooted in our history, many here can rightly say that we did not cross the border but that the border crossed us. Even the Church in El Paso fell at different times under different national flags and under the jurisdiction of the Mexican dioceses of Guadalajara, Durango and then under Texas dioceses only after the Mexican-American War. ‘Manifest Destiny’ as well as shifting colonial, nationalistic and expansionist winds led to constantly shifting borders.
In Latin America there has been more fluidity between races through inter-marriage and more blending of cultures and religions when compared to the experience of Native Americans and African Americans. Yet the attitudes of the Spanish colonizers included the erroneous notion of racial purity based on light skin, a belief which in some places continues today, even in internalized fashion. This type of racism collided in the borderlands with the more overt racism of the United States. This was the racism of the ‘one-drop theory’ (whereby one drop of African blood renders all descendants the members of a slave class) used to justify the criminal practice of chattel slavery. Both the racism that privileges lighter skin over Indigenous, Ladinos, Mulattoes and Mestizos as well as the racism based on hypo-descent used to subjugate African Americans linger troublingly on the border today.
Prior to 1835, the area known as Texas was part of Mexico. American immigrants settled in the Mexican territory and brought with them Black slaves. By 1825 one out of five American immigrants living in Texas was an enslaved African.10Historians acknowledge that the most significant factor in determining the economic development and ideological orientation of Texas at the time was slavery.11The 1835 Texas Revolt and the establishment of the Republic of Texas in 1836, were driven, among other factors, by the will to protect the institution of Black slavery after its abolishment by Mexico in 1829.
During this time, many Irish, too, arrived to escape the stifling racism they were subject to in the eastern United States. Many Irish felt more solidarity with Mexicans on account of their shared Catholic faith and shared experience of racial discrimination; the famous San Patricios battalion fought on the side of Mexico during the Mexican-American War. The coming of the railroad not long after the entrance of Texas into the United States in 1850 brought more Irish as well a large number of Chinese laborers into our region as part of the project to connect the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. These workers were paid much less than their White counterparts and received the most dangerous and even deadly assignments. After the railroad was completed, the Chinese workers quickly became the target of racist anti-immigrant legislation and policies like the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 one of the first examples of anti-immigrant legislation in US history.
After its entry into the United States, Texas saw dramatic mass migration into the state from White settlers from other parts of the country. These settlers brought new industrial farming practices which cleared desert brush and cacti as well as the expansion of the railroad network and impressive economic growth. But they also brought with them harsh, prejudicial attitudes towards Mexicans, Mexican Americans and Indigenous in the region as well as legalized discrimination against African Americans. In their wake came ‘Juan Crow’ laws of segregation, the prohibition of then-common interracial marriage, new racial hierarchies, the dispossession of tribal communities, efforts to disenfranchise Mexican residents and a true campaign of terror. This campaign included the lynching and murder of likely thousands of Latinos, terror undertaken just as much by vigilantes as by official state actors like the Texas Rangers, and often in concert. What was it that they feared?
Just one example of this campaign of terror was the Porvenir matanza, which took place only hours from El Paso in Presidio County. 15 men and boys of Mexican descent were murdered, with impunity, by vigilantes, army soldiers and Texas Rangers. In that moment of horror, did not Jesus look through the eyes of those young children at their victimizers and ask, ‘What do you fear?’ Their families, petrified, took their bodies across the river into Mexico for burial. This experience of persecution at the hands of state authorities was the experience of many families in this region. Their stories were brutally suppressed and their pain has been passed down in intergenerational trauma. The ripple effects of this campaign shape perceptions of law enforcement and immigration enforcement to this day in our region.
We can see uncomfortable parallels in the treatment of asylum seekers from Mexico during the time of the Mexican Revolution in the early 1900s and in current policies like the deployment of troops to the border, the punitive Remain in Mexico policy and the forced detention of families. Then as now, fears were callously whipped up and there was talk of ‘invasion’ which led to brutal actions against refugees. In 1913, ‘Texas governor Oscar Colquitt dispatched over 1,000 state militiamen and the Texas National Guard to appease residents of Brownsville and El Paso. These soldiers transformed the border into a militarized zone, replete with ‘barbed wire, spotlights, tanks, machine guns and airplanes used to surveil Mexican residents A prison camp was constructed for refugees across 48 acres at Fort Bliss, which included electrically charged barbed wire16. Deployments like these would happen again and again.
The legacy of hate towards Latinos is not just part of the distant past. Many in our community are the proud children and grandchildren of braceros, Mexican workers who supplied agricultural labor needs from 1942 to 1964, including the time of the Second World War. Just as the Chinese were greeted with harsh repressive measures after the completion of the railroad, many braceros were forcibly deported back to Mexico after laying down roots here in the United States as part of the infamous Operation Wetback, the largest mass deportation in American history.
Older generations of El Pasoans still talk about entrenched attitudes against Latinos and how the system was stacked against them growing up. Latinos were excluded from political life by a closed network dominated by White, wealthy men. Latino children at school didn’t see themselves, not in the faces of their teachers or school leadership, but only custodial and cafeteria staff. It was expected that they would be confined to schools and neighborhoods south of the I-10 highway. It was forbidden to speak Spanish outside the home or at least highly discouraged. Names were frequently anglicized and many were denied opportunities for higher education and pigeonholed for low-wage jobs. Many Native Americans felt even more homeless, doubly discriminated against, and sometimes still feel impelled to hide their roots.
The wall is a powerful symbol in the story of race. It has helped to merge nationalistic vanities with racial projects. Wall building at the border didn’t start in 2016. El Pasoans have watched its growth in fits and starts. We saw steel barriers go up at the time of NAFTA; at the very moment when NAFTA ensured the right of wealth to cross the border freely we limited and criminalized human mobility.
Some cannot understand the visceral reaction of many in the borderlands to the wall. It is not just a tool of national security. More than that, the wall is a symbol of exclusion, especially when allied to an overt politics of xenophobia. It is an open wound through the middle of our sister cities of El Paso and Ciudad Juárez. The wall deepens racially charged perceptions of how we understand the border as well as Mexicans and migrants. It extends racist talk of an ‘invasion’. It perpetuates the racist myth that the area south of the border is dangerous and foreign and that we are merely passive observers in the growth of narco-violence and the trafficking of human beings and drugs. The wall is a physical reminder of the failure of two friendly nations to resolve their internal and bi-national issues in just and peaceful way. It validates James Baldwin’s fear that Americans are addicted to innocence. It is a destructive force on the environment. The wall kills families and children. There will be a day when after this wall has come crumbling down we will look back and remember the wall as a monument to hate.
Everyday in El Paso there are subtle ways that the voice of the poor is removed from them. Our biases prevent us from seeing that the slow erosion through active neglect of our communities south of the I-10 highway, as well as the loss of schools, housing, and culture to gentrification, are really an attack on the right to a good and dignified life. Our bias won’t let us feel within our bellies the injustice of the environmental contamination in the Chamizal and its effects on their children. Those communities, too, have every right to be, as Pope Saint Paul VI said, ‘artisans of their destiny.
The Mexican farmworkers who pick our pecans, pistachios, onions, tomatillos and chiles often sleep on our streets downtown. Invisible to many of us on the street and in the fields, they labor to exhaustion to produce abundance on our tables but are still paid little more than slave wages, without adequate health, disability or retirement benefits. Why don’t we reward their efforts and their skills when the work they do is so essential for our life and health?
After 9-11, our people felt the interrogating stares of authorities and fellow citizens, questioning whether they belonged. Today, darker skinned residents and citizens are routinely asked to show identity cards by border enforcement agents when crossing in the middle of the international bridge while lighter skinned individuals pass by unimpeded. Recently we saw the frightening presence of armed militia from outside our community herding migrants like cattle. Even some of our seminarians have talked about experiences in seminaries in different parts of the country where it was presumed that their academic preparation was inferior and when they were the butt of jokes suggesting that their families must know something about drug trafficking.
This is a history of racism and its deadly effects. Why is there greater poverty, less access to education and health care and lower wages in our border community? Not because anyone is inherently inferior, criminal or lazy. But because on these criminal pretexts people on the border have had less opportunity. This is institutional racism.
And yet the people of the borderlands are not victims. Resilience and dignity are the jewels in the crown of this long and ongoing struggle and are the mark of our people. The people of the borderlands have built a real community. Against walls and inequality and fear, we have maintained our vital connection with Ciudad Juárez (the city in Mexico just opposite El Paso on the other side of the Rio Grande). In spite of this story of oppression, railroads and highways are built, food is grown in abundance, our sons and daughters battle and die with valor in the armed services, our people build wind turbines and airplane consoles, we paint murals of beauty, we speak many languages, our young people are passionate about justice and the environment, we thrive in the desert.
Great progress has been made in recent years, with the passage of civil rights legislation, victories in the courts, and hard won wins of civically engaged communities, genuine public servants and organizers in the workplace. Latinos have worked hard to build a more just society. Our schools and universities are more reflective of our population and are more bilingual. Our children have graduated from distinguished academic institutions to become fine theologians, teachers, doctors and lawyers. Our community has demonstrated remarkable hospitality to migrants and refugees. Borderland culture is more and more seen as an asset to celebrate rather than a deficit of which to be ashamed. Our Church has also made progress; Patrick Flores was named bishop of El Paso in 1978, the first Mexican American bishop in the United States. Latino/a theologians have long offered inspired insights on these matters. In my pastoral reflections here I stand upon their shoulders. Those in leadership in our diocesan church increasingly reflect our population. Our liturgies, with diverse language and song, more fully anticipate the diversity and unity of the Reign of God.
The Ysleta del Sur Pueblo talk about how by the 1970s their people had dwindled in number to only around 400 members. Today, the community numbers around 2,000 and they have created worthy spaces to develop their economy and promote their cultural heritage. They have invested generously in renewing and restoring their mission church, where they were not even permitted to enter through the front door in the nineteenth century. Now during Mass they can proclaim the Scriptures and pray the Our Father in their native language. They can invoke the intercession of the canonized Kateri Tekakwitha through song and dance.
In the aftermath of the matanza, we immediately saw the unique spirit of El Paso in an overwhelming community response, a people united in prayer and service, regardless of race, age, nationality, gender, religion or political belief. Yet August 3rd also reminded us that our achievements are to be defended and deepened, not taken for granted.
Purification of Memory
Pope Saint John Paul II set an example for us all during the Jubilee Year 2000 when he asked pardon for the violation of ‘the rights of ethnic groups and peoples and ‘contempt for their cultures and tradition. On many occasions leaders in the Church did little to disrupt patterns of sin that demonized those who thought differently. looked different and prayed differently. We often took the European experience of Christianity to be normative and failed to appreciate the ways that God was already at work, and still at work today, in indigenous peoples and cultures. We perpetuated damaging notions of power and the desire to dominate and so contributed to the exploitation of peoples and the environment. There are some who still feel estranged from the Church on account of those actions and omissions which diminished the credibility of the Gospel.
I am grieved as I reflect upon this and I realize that and nothing I can say will undo that harm. Nor do I have the answers as to how we can move forward together. But I extend my hand in humility and friendship to those individuals and communities who feel estranged from the Church. I want you to know that the Church is with you and stands beside you in your work to build a more just world. I stand beside you and am ready to learn from you.
The example and lives of the martyrs also shows us what genuine Christian witness is. We see this example in the lives of Saint Oscar Romero; Blessed Father Stanley Rother; the four Maryknoll women missionaries killed in El Salvador in 1980; the six Jesuits, their housekeeper and her daughter killed in El Salvador in 1989; our own San Pedro de Jesus Maldonado. In the spirit of these examples which make the Gospel credible I wish to build a bridge. They show us that true evangelization is ‘to lay down one’s life for one’s friends’ (John 15, 13). Like them I pray that I may speak without fear when it is called for and help to give voice to those who have not been heard.
He Took the Form of a Slave
But you, LORD, do not stay far off;
my strength, come quickly to help me.
Psalm 22, 20
Year after year, after fall winds bring cooler weather into our desert valley, the ground beneath us in El Paso literally begins to hum in the evenings. Throughout the land, danzantes and matachines are rehearsing their ritual dance in preparation for the explosion of rhythm, chant, theatre, light and color that will take place on the 12th of December. It is the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. The origins of devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe are veiled in mystery. But to generation after generation she reveals the solidarity and closeness of God.
Why do they dance?
Perhaps like nowhere else, the people of our border community identify with Our Lady of Guadalupe. She is in shopping malls, restaurants, Ubers, hair salons and family altares. There is a beautiful Virgin in the Chamizal special to the women there who lost their manufacturing jobs, whom they lovingly call Nuestra Señora de los Desplazados, Our Lady of the Displaced.
Despite everything others tell us, we in the borderlands know that this valley between the Sierra Madre and the Rocky Mountains is home to one binational cultural reality. We live in a state of in-betweenness, neither here nor there, ni de aquí ni de allá. The weight of a violent history, gross nationalisms, politics, walls, passports, the global economy and the legacy of race compete to define our people, to define us. To make our people feel like foreigners in a foreign land. Truly we are suffering from a heart sickness ‘that says we are able to be only one or the other.
The dehumanization of Indigenous and Blacks, and the displacement of the American Indian meant that these communities were deprived of the narratives, land and religious traditions that gave their life consistency and meaning. New racialized narratives for self-understanding were forced upon them and they were forced to see themselves through the eyes of their masters. In order words, tú no vales. But no one has the right to impose that type of identity.
Against that dehumanization, as once she said to San Juan Diego, who represented a people dehumanized and disenfranchised, Guadalupe says to our people today, ‘you count’, tú vales.
To the refugee turned away at the border, she says ‘tú vales’ ~ you count. To the worker displaced by free trade, she says ‘tú vales’. To the border agent who envisioned giving your life in service to a just cause but now struggle in confusion, and to your family, she says ‘tú vales’. To the family with mixed immigration status, she says, ‘ustedes valen.’ To the millennial who left family and culture and tradition in search of success and the American dream but now feel empty inside, she says ‘tú vales’. To those at home in neither English or Spanish or who feel awkward at not knowing enough of either, she says ‘ustedes valen.’ To the family that bears the weight of intergenerational trauma expressed in depression, abuse and divorce, she says ‘ustedes valen’.
Her simple message persuades us, as it did that day on Tepeyac, that she is the God-bearer, Theotokos. Only a woman such as this young, brown, mestiza empress, born on the edges of empire and who revealed herself anew on the edges of empire, could have convinced our people of the nearness and tenderness of God. She who shares in our in-betweenness. She is the Mestiza, who takes what is noble from each culture, elevates it and points out new ways towards reconciliation. She takes on our people’s pain and trauma and she transforms it to give birth to hope and redemption.
Guadalupe teaches us how we might go about repairing the sin of racism. She shows us that our deepest identity is not given to us by empire, or politics or the economy or the colonist, but is a gift of God.
Our identity is formed in the grace-filled relationships we freely pursue with God, others and Creation. In the words of Pope Francis, ‘human life is grounded in three fundamental and closely intertwined relationships: with God, with our neighbor and with the earth itself On our border we have seen that racism radically undermines those relationships.
The story of Guadalupe is the story of Jesus, who divested himself of the privileges of divinity, ‘taking the form of a slave’, to become flesh like us. His was a Jewish body that embodied Israel’s universal vocation to be a blessing for all the nations (cf. Genesis 28, 14). If after the Resurrection, the Church continues Jesus’ mission of restoring the ‘unity of the whole human race, then to speak of the Church and the Reign of God is to speak of inclusion and diversity. This is the very opposite of the racist obsession with whiteness and purity and the false promises of resurgent ethno-nationalisms. Understood in this way, racism is a sign of the anti-reign and baptism and the Eucharist are the graced gateway to a fully reconciled humanity.
Every race and color and tribe and people and language and culture are threads in the vibrant and diverse tapestry of the Reign of God. Our suffering and pain and dispossession are transfigured in the Jesus who died on the Cross and who invites us to relocate our broken history, our imperfect lives, our desires and aspirations and our work for justice in the drama of His Reign which is unfolding all around us through the power of His Resurrection.
That is the drama unfolding in the dance of the matachines each year. That is why they dance.
With her knee raised in dance, Guadalupe invites us to leave behind fear and join her in the work of advancing justice in America with joy. We are called to die to an attitude of fear and rise with a will to encounter others in vulnerability, to appreciate the gifts of every culture and people, with a willingness to be changed for the better by right relationships with God, others and the earth. In the Resurrection of Our Lord, now ‘there is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear’ (1 John 4, 18).
They Threatened Us with Resurrection
All the ends of the earth
will remember and turn to the LORD;
All the families of nations
will bow low before him.
Psalm 22, 28
Our Responsibility to Build the Temple of Justice
The validation that comes from Our Lady of Guadalupe is not static acceptance. Our Lady affirmed Juan Diego against dehumanization. And that affirmation came with a divine charge to make persistent petition before the authorities and build a temple. Guadalupe validates our desire to do good, our longing for transformation and our agency to enact good in the world. And she entrusts us with a mission. To those who know the pain of racism and injustice and live in that place neither here nor there, ni de aquí ni de allá, Our Lady of Guadalupe hands on a sacred petition from her Son, to be builders of a new Temple of Justice in the Americas, a Temple of a New Humanity.
But as builders of the Temple of Justice here in the Americas, it is not enough to not be racist. Our reaction cannot be non-engagement. We must also make a commitment to be anti-racists in active solidarity with the suffering and excluded.Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. put it well when he said, ‘I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be, and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be. The same thing is said in the Mayan tradition, ‘In Lak’ech’, tú eres mi otro yo, or ‘you are my other self’. Guadalupe, the Mestiza, teaches us that our destinies are bound up with one another. We must take active steps to defend the human rights of everyone in our border community and their dignity against dehumanization as we work to forge a new humanity. What racism has divided, with the help of God, we can work to restore.
The burden of the history of injustice on the border is heavy. We must wrestle deeply with this legacy, lament over it passionately, confront our own biases candidly and repudiate racism completely. God offers us the chance to build a new history where racism does not prevail. The ‘manifesto’ of hate and exclusion that entered our community can be countered with a manifesto of radical love and inclusion. I want to see an El Paso that addresses both the legacy of racism and one which builds more just structures to eradicate and overcome that history. A new history of respect for human rights, inclusion and bridge building. The Reign of God is reflected in a community that brings together the best of all cultures, where the aspirations of all find a home and where the needs of the poor are put first. If we do this, we can make a vitally needed contribution to the nation from our border, here on the edges of empire, towards turning the page on injustice and hate and white supremacy definitively.
‘God gave the earth to the whole human race for the sustenance of all its members, without excluding or favoring anyone. We must work to ensure all our children have access to quality educational opportunities, eliminate inequality in the colonias, pass immigration reform, eradicate discrimination, guarantee universal access to health care, ensure the protection of all human life, end the scourge of gun violence, improve wages on both sides of the border, offer just and sustainable development opportunities, defend the environment and honor the dignity of every person. This is how we write a new chapter in our history of solidarity and friendship that future generations can remember with pride. This work of undoing racism and building a just society is holy, for it ‘contributes to the building of the universal city of God, which is the goal of the history of the human family. It anticipates that day when ‘night will be no more, nor will they need light from lamp or sun, for the Lord God shall give them light, and they shall reign forever and ever.’
The Need for New Leadership
This historical moment also requires a new kind of leadership to which I believe our border community can make a real contribution. In all fields, Latinos have risen to the heights of power. We should not fear power. Power has been given to us as stewards by our God, who asks of us to be co-creators in bringing about His Reign. But we must learn the use of power in new, creative and grace-filled ways, not reproducing the tactics and methods of domination and division that belong to the oppressor. This will require us to stand beside the poor as they find their voice and to take a supportive role in their work for justice. We must build each other up rather than seeking to outsmart and outflank; that is not the way of true leadership or of love. Love is spontaneous, unselfish, full of surprise, life-giving and forgiving. If we are to move our borderlands towards a reconciled community beyond faction and resentment, we must commit ourselves to a love which is not merely self-directed, a love which we must learn at the feet of Jesus of Nazareth.
This new type of leadership must restore agency to those communities and individuals who have been victimized and also center their voices, memories and hopes in discerning the path ahead. In the coming months, I commit to engaging these voices more intentionally in hopes that together we can turn back the tide of racism in our border community.
Our Catholic Community, An Oasis of Justice
The Catholic Church in El Paso must be on permanent mission, an ongoing conversion to the Lord, so that we might be salt and leaven in the work of justice in the borderlands. Charity and justice must be the work of each of our parishes, flowing from the Word of God, our baptismal commitment and our Communion at the Eucharistic table.
Our pastors should take care in the celebration of Baptism, especially baptisms during the Eucharist on Sundays, to allow the profound symbols of the sacrament to shine with clarity. In the purifying waters we celebrate the radical transformation and equality that comes from renewal in Christ. In the anointing with holy oils we proclaim a reverence for human life without distinction. The strength of these symbols should flow into our daily parish life and work for justice.
Likewise, in our celebration of Mass, pastors can lead our people to a deeper consciousness of the weight of communal and historical sin that we bring to the table of the Lord in the penitential rite. We should ask ourselves carefully who is yet not present, and whose cultures are not yet reflected at the banquet of the Lord that we celebrate at the altar. In our preaching and celebration, we should lead our people to greater awareness of the connection between the love of God celebrated in our temples, and the love of God to be practiced outside their doors, including work to end prejudice and discrimination.
Faithfulness to Our Identity
I would like to thank our priests who showed tenderness in ministering to the dead and wounded on August 3rd. Some arrived to the scene before it was even secure. I thank the courageous first responders. I thank the leaders of the interfaith community who organized prayer and vigils and a space for our people to expose their pain to the healing power of grace. I am grateful to the community organizations that organized financial support and provided legal assistance. I thank our NGOs and public leaders who have deepened their work for justice. I thank the churches and organizations which refused to give into fear and continued to receive migrants. I thank the journalists who continue to work tirelessly to witness to what is occurring at the border with compassion and truthfulness. I thank our teachers and therapists and doctors for accompanying us on the road to healing. I thank our people for their resilient spirit. I thank God for His constant presence and faithfulness to us.
I know God will never allow the hate that visited our community on August 3rd to have the last word. We must recommit ourselves to the hospitality and compassion that characterized our community long before we were attacked, with all the risk and vulnerability which that entails. We must continue to show the rest of the country that love is capable of mending every wound. What can they do but threaten us with Resurrection?
If there is anyone who feels so alone, so isolated and so tortured that you feel your only way out is to succumb to the darkness of racism and violence and pick up a gun, I say to you today: there is a place for you in our community and our church. Lay aside your weapons of hate. Put away your fear. Here there is a teacher, a sister, a deacon, a priest, a counselor … a bishop, waiting to welcome you home and greet you with love. Tú vales.
I also make a direct appeal to my brothers and sisters in Texas and those in positions of authority to spare Patrick Crusius from execution. Justice is certainly required. But the cycle of hate, blood and vengeance on the border must meet its end. While the scales of justice may seem to tilt in favor of the necessity of lethal retribution, God offers us yet another chance to choose life. Choose in a manner worthy of your humanity.
In the absence of immigration reform, I also renew my appeal to the President of the United States, to the Members of Congress and to the jurists of our highest Courts. I beg you to listen to the voice of conscience and halt the deportation of all those who are not a danger to our communities, to stop the separation of families, and to end once and for all the turning back of refugees and death at the border.
Given this day, the 13th of October, the XXVIII Sunday in Ordinary Time and the vigil of Indigenous People’s Day, in the year of our Lord 2019.
Your servant in Christ,
Mark Joseph Seitz
Bishop of El Paso
Prayer to Our Lady of Guadalupe
O Mary of Guadalupe, our Mother,
Consolation of our frail humanity,
We need you in this moment of pain,
Be with us here in El Paso.
You who accompany us on the journey of life,
Guiding us in joyful dance,
Be a bridge between heaven and earth,
Between us your sons and daughters.
Defend us from what would devour us,
And take away the promise of new life,
With arms of war and words that kill,
With racism personal and structural,
With massacres against innocents.
All of us are daughters and sons of the Most High,
Equal in dignity, deserving of respect,
Worthy of a place on this earth,
Worthy of the call to build your Temple of Justice.
With your protection and inspiration,
We will write the next chapter of our history,
Weaving together a new beautiful tapestry,
Across these great borderlands.
Ask your beloved Son, dear Mother,
To bring the dawn of a new day,
To drive away the night,
A day when sorrow and mourning will flee,
Because they can only threaten us with Resurrection.
We place all this in your loving hands,
To bring to Christ, your Son and our Savior.
And now before you go, here’s a great Latino song De Colores that expresses the inclusivity that we’re looking for. Click here.
Edward K. Braxton, How to come together in response to the gun violence epidemic, America (11 September 2019),
United States Conference of Bishops, Responsibility, Rehabilitation, and Restoration: A Catholic Perspective on Crime and Criminal Justice (2000).
Abraham Lincoln, Second Inaugural Address (1865),
Pope Francis, Message for 2019 World Day of Migrants and Refugees (2019),
Charles J. Chaput, Statement of Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, OFM Cap Regarding Racial Violence in Charlottesville, Virginia (2017),
Yolanda Leyva, The El Paso Shooting Is a Reminder of an Ugly Side of Texas History, Time (8 August 2019),
Arzobispado de Guatemala, Oficina de Derechos Humanos, Guatemala Nunca Más, Volumen I (Guatemala: ODHAG, 1998), p. XIV.
Pope Benedict XVI, General Audience, 23 May 2007,
Randolph Campbell, An Empire for Slavery: The Peculiar Institution in Texas,1821-1865 (Baton Rouge: LSU Press, 1991).
Stanford University’s Chinese Railroad Workers in North America Project,
Monica Muñoz Martinez,The Injustice Never Leaves You: Anti-Mexican Violence in the Southwest (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2018).
Pope Saint Paul VI, Encyclical Letter Populorum progressio (1967), 65.
Day of Pardon, Universal Prayer: Confession of Sins and Asking for Forgiveness, 12 March 2000,.
The Holy See’s Commission For Religious Relations With the Jews, We Remember: A Reflection on the Shoah, 1998: ‘Despite the Christian preaching of love for all, even for one’s enemies, the prevailing mentality down the centuries penalized minorities and those who were in any way different.’
Gloria Anzaldua, Borderlands La Frontera (San Francisco: Aunt Lute Books, 1999), p. 41.
Pope Francis, Encyclical Letter Laudato si’ (2015), 66.
The Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church ‘Lumen gentium’ (1964), 1.
Martin Luther King, Jr., Commencement Address for Oberlin College, ‘Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution’ (1965),
Pope Saint John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Centesimus annus (1991), 31,
Pope Benedict XVI, Encyclical Letter Caritas in veritate (2009), 7.
See Bryan N. Massingale, Racial Justice and the Catholic Church (Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 2010), p. 122-125.
Every reasonable effort has been made to trace copyright holders of material reproduced in this publication, but if any have been inadvertently overlooked the Publishers would be glad to hear from them.
This is the fourth in my series in Racism in America. But we’ll take a darker turn here as we look at slavery, lynchings and beatings and some of the brutal things that we white people have done to black folk or should I say continue to do to black people. I began these few articles with the humble hope of making an effort at learning and sharing. Will you read with me again today.?
This is vitally important for our country. Jesus wept over Jerusalem, predicting it’s devastation. I’ve been imploring my readers since the inception of this blog in 2006 to enter into personal transformation for the sake of the transformation of our country. The images on this page are taken from the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama, dedicated to the memory of enslaved Black people. (Some will find the images disturbing ~ if you got beyond the cover image, that is, you probably will be alright. There are three articles here. I will post three more on next Tuesday/
2016: The year racism and fear make a comeback
by Rhina Guidos , Catholic News Service Dec. 23, 2016
National Catholic Reporter
WASHINGTON — It began with the fatal shootings of unarmed black men and women by police. It was exacerbated in the summer when, on July 7, a gunman in Dallas opened fire on police during a march, killing five officers in a presumed act of retaliation.
Catholic church leaders such as Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Atlanta (presently the Archbishop of Washington, D. C.) in August called on others “to resolve to address the issues that lie beneath these acts of violence.” But no one imagined then that frustrations about race and racism in the United States, which began with the police shootings, were about to get worse in the later part of 2016.
At a news conference during the U.S. bishops’ general assembly in Baltimore in November, Gregory said the reaction to the presidential election had added to an existing tension this year over matters of race in the country.
Those who work with multicultural communities, such as Jordan Denari Duffner, a research fellow at Georgetown University’s Bridge Initiative, which studies Islamophobia, said comments made during the campaign led to “a general kind of anti-otherness that has emerged.” When it comes Islamophobia, she said, anyone who “looks Muslim,” be it because of the color of the skin or what they may wear, can evoke a reaction from others that can lead to attacks, she said.
This kind of “anti-otherness” in the air, some say, has resulted in a rise of hate and racism. The Southern Poverty Law Center said that 10 days after the election, almost 900 reports of harassment and intimidation from across the nation were recorded. Many took place in public places or places of worship, at work, at schools and even in grocery stores.
In a recent column for Catholic News Service, Gregory said “the belief that one group is superior to another due to race — is a grave moral disease whose recurrence, aggressiveness and persistence should frighten every one of us.” Racism has “clearly not been cured in our nation,” he said.
He warned that “whenever one can play on the fears of some people and depend upon the ignorance of others, racism flourishes. As a political strategy, such taunting may win votes, but it destroys national unity and our future.”
Economic inequality, which plagues different communities, he said, has been used to pit one group of people against another and “when one group is made to feel that its economic situation results from the coddling of another, the reaction is often a racist response,” Gregory said.
That’s when a country starts seeing attitudes such as “immigrants are taking our jobs” and “public aid only rewards laziness,” and “poor and struggling white people have been forgotten,” he said.
He added that “conditions necessary for the transmission of racism were thoroughly mixed with such attitudes during the recent election process. Left untreated, the prognosis is bleak.”
Sr. Patricia Chappell, executive director of Pax Christi USA, said this election “showed the racial but also economic polarization that our country is in the midst of” and which had become apparent earlier in the year.
Chappell, who is black and is a Sister of Notre Dame de Namur, said she has never seen the level of violence and hatred against so many groups — Muslims, immigrants and others — as she saw during the election and which has caused much concern.
The Trump campaign, she said, has to acknowledge comments made that played into the fears of others and that helped propel some in the white supremacist movement. During his campaign, he called for a pause on admitting Muslim refugees into this country until, as he described it, a system was in place for “extreme vetting” of them. He talked about deporting immigrants who are in this country without legal permission.
President-elect Donald Trump has on several occasions said he is not racist and his transition team released a statement Nov. 29 saying he denounces racism in all its forms.
“To think otherwise is a complete misrepresentation of the movement that united Americans from all backgrounds,” the statement said. “For anyone to conclude these senseless acts are the result of the election is disappointing and gives an excuse for their appalling behavior.”
But just to look at his Cabinet and administration picks, and one doesn’t get the sense that Trump or his picks are allies of people who are marginalized and oppressed, Chappell said.
“I don’t see signs of him reaching out to those communities that traditionally continue to suffer from oppression,” she said. “I hope he will. I am hopeful … I want to hold him at his word and so for me right now, we have to wait and see.”
“I question his motives,” she continued. “But on the other hand, I have faith, and I have to trust and wait and see how he responds in terms of really moving toward unifying America. I think we have to find a way as a country to again embrace that all are welcome, all have place and we just have to find a way to pull together because we are all brothers and sisters.”
Gregory said the new administration “must recognize and address the deadly impact that racism and racist behavior continues to inflict upon our nation and its people. Racist words and slogans can inflame violence and do great harm to the fabric of our country.”
A black man accused of rape, a white officer in the Klan, and a 1936 lynching that went unpunished
By Michael S. Rosenwald / July 19, 2020 The Washington Post
The lynching began with a knock on the door.
It was 3 a.m. on Sept. 12, 1936, a steamy late summer morning in Atlanta.
Thomas Finch and his family were sound asleep. Then, the knocking. When Finch’s father opened the front door, he found five white men standing there: two police officers and three other burly men the family had never seen before.
“We want your son Tom,” an officer said.
Finch got dressed and went with the officers. An hour later, he was dumped outside Grady Hospital, where he worked as an orderly. His face was pummeled. He was shot multiple times.
“Oh Lord,” he said, as nurses placed him on an operating table. “Oh Lord.”
Those were his last words. He was 28.
Authorities never investigated Finch’s death or charged anyone for it, and it was clear why. The horrific killing was orchestrated by one of the men on Finch’s doorstep — Samuel Roper, a pold then, upon retirement, Georgia’s chapter of the Ku Klux Klan.police officer who went on to lead the Georgia Bureau of Investigation an
As part of her investigation, Aranda examined an unpublished investigation into Finch’s death conducted by the Commission on Interracial Cooperation, a race reform organization founded in segregated Atlanta in 1919. She also tracked down Finch’s last known surviving relative: his niece, Joyce Finch-Morris. Now 71, she still lives in Atlanta, which became an epicenter of Black Lives Matter protests following the police shooting of Rayshard Brooks in June.
A Wendy’s in Atlanta burns June 13 after demonstrators protesting the police shooting of Rayshard Brooks set it on fire.
Finch also died in police custody. His niece knew little about his death until Aranda shared her findings. Now Finch-Morris finds herself wishing her parents and other relatives were around not just to learn what really happened that night in 1936, but to see the police brutality protests sweeping the country.
“As painful as his death was, they died knowing that their son, their brother, their uncle died with no recourse, with no justice whatsoever,” she said. “The difference now is that society is outraged. People are just tired of it. These things won’t just be swept under the rug like what happened to my uncle. We need justice.”
One of seven children, Finch was a descendant of sharecroppers. In his early 20s, while his father supported the family as a haberdasher, Finch got a job as an orderly at Grady Hospital, which had two buildings — one for black patients, the other for whites. Finch worked in the white building.
Thomas Finch was killed in Atlanta police custody on Sept. 12, 1936.
Back in the 1930s, police officers in Atlanta openly lived double lives. When they weren’t in uniform, many wore the white robes of the Ku Klux Klan. The police department’s own history acknowledges that the “Klan-dominated police union” wasn’t officially abolished until 1947, though historians and criminologists say connections with white supremacy lasted even longer.
“This was not unusual and limited to Georgia,” said Taimi Castle, a professor of justice studies at James Madison University and the author of an academic paper titled “Cops and the Klan.” “During the same period of time, in some jurisdictions all local officials were members, including the sheriff.”
When Finch was accused of rape, Roper caught the case.
Roper joined the Klan in the early 1920s, according to “A Measure of Freedom,” a 1950 Anti-Defamation League investigation of KKK involvement in anti-Semitism and white supremacy in America. While Roper served as a police officer and later the head of Georgia’s prestigious Bureau of Investigation, his local Klan titles included Exalted Cyclops and Imperial Nighthawk.
In 1949, 13 years after Finch’s lynching, Roper became Imperial Wizard of Georgia’s Klan organizations. The appointment was widely covered in Atlanta’s newspapers, which referred to him as Wizard Roper. “Roper has a reputation,” the Anti-Defamation League investigation said, “for planning his moves with calculated force.”
When Roper came to the Finch family’s home that September night, Finch asked why he was being arrested. All the officers would say was that there was an investigation underway. Finch was placed in a car and driven away. His wife, nervous about the strange 3 a.m. arrival of officers and several other unidentified men, called police headquarters and the county jail trying to find him.
Nobody knew where he had been taken.
‘It was very painful’
When Finch-Morris was growing up, her mother had told her that her uncle had been accused of raping a white woman and that he was lynched. But Finch-Morris’s father, even if he knew the whole story, didn’t talk much about his brother’s death.
“My father was a forthright person, but when I asked about this it was very painful for him, and he didn’t want to talk about it,” she said. “I knew he was going out with a white woman, and he was lynched. That’s it.”
Joyce Finch-Morris at her home in Atlanta. Her uncle Thomas Finch was lynched in Atlanta in 1936. Then a few years ago, Finch-Morris received a phone call from Aranda, the Northeastern University law school student.
Aranda had grown up in the South with dreams of becoming a civil rights attorney. Northeastern, with its renowned Civil Rights and Restorative Justice Project, was an ideal place. The clinic has investigated hundreds of lynchings, bringing closure to scores of families whose loved ones were killed without any justice at all.
In the papers, Aranda found a document titled, in part, “Concerning the Death of Tom Finch.” The author was Arthur F. Raper, a white sociologist who studied lynching and investigated them for the commission. (There are other investigative reports in the commission files, though it is not clear whether Raper is also the author.)
One of the reports begins with an account of Finch being awakened by Roper and another officer.
“Where they had taken him,” the report says, “for what purpose, and by what authority, and why had they had found it necessary to beat him and shoot him to death are questions that invite investigation.”
Raper and the commission’s investigation was a thorough inquiry, the sort of investigation Atlanta police would have conducted had the murder victim been white. The idea that Finch raped Smith was dismissed by his supervisors, including white nurses and doctors who comforted the family and a sent floral wreath to his funeral.
The office where the alleged attack occurred was near a busy reception area.
“Everybody interviewed at the hospital,” one of the commission reports said, “were unanimous in their conviction that the alleged was not and could not have been committed. It is unbelievable that the woman would have submitted silently to such an attack when the slightest outcry would have brought a dozen people to her rescue.”
If Smith made up the attack, why did she do it? Raper’s report doesn’t pinpoint an exact motive, but Aranda, in her own report, wrote that Smith “and the Atlanta police detectives insisted on painting Finch as the stereotypical black rapist, a false image used by the press and law enforcement authorities to excuse of justify ‘vigilante’ lynchings.”
In the commission report, Raper noted that Smith “tends to desire publicity” and, on other visits to the hospital, was diagnosed by a psychiatrist as being “mentally subnormal and irresponsible” and unable to adequately state her name and address.
The day Smith alleged the attack to police, cars began to circle Finch’s home, honking their horns. Somewhere between his house and his arrival at Grady Hospital on the verge of death, Finch was beaten and shot.
In a newspaper article later that week, police told reporters that Finch attacked Roper and attempted to escape, prompting police to defend themselves and kill him.
Raper found that story nearly impossible to believe, because Roper had brought civilians to the house and especially because Finch was never taken to the police station, which was only a few blocks from Finch’s home. All of that, plus the allegation of rape by a white woman, suggested the “probability” that police and friends of the girl murdered Finch.
“It seems obvious,” Raper concluded, “that Finch was lynched.”
The lynching, of course. But also the role of the police.
“As far as I could tell, the KKK and the police were one and the same,” Finch-Morris said. “That’s just the way it was. There was no way for anybody to get any recourse.”
Nowadays, there is at least some chance. Officers are wearing body cameras. And citizens are wielding an important technological weapon against police brutality — cellphones that have recorded black Americans being beaten and killed by police, from George Floyd in Minneapolis to Brooks in Atlanta.
But something else important has changed, Finch-Morris added.
“It’s not just black people who are making their voices heard,” she said. “Now everyone is speaking out. That definitely didn’t happen back in 1936. That is progress.”
This moment calls for a new consciousness: become an anti-racist
By Sister Nancy Sylvester SSIHM
The Global Sisters Report
It is hard to believe that we are entering the sixth month living with COVID19 and all of its unanticipated consequences. By basically stopping all of our usual ways of relating, working, shopping and traveling, a space opened for the eruption of systemic racism into the public consciousness. The brutal murder of George Floyd by police officers was shared around the world through social media and could not be dismissed or justified. It released centuries of anger and frustration due to the systemic oppression of people of color, caused by racist policies, programs and consciousness.
Suddenly protests peppered the country, asserting that Black Lives Matter and demanding that police brutality be addressed. Soon, statues of Confederate soldiers were being forcibly removed. Names of streets, buildings and military bases were being changed because they enshrined men who were held in esteem defending the South and its institution of slavery.
The response is as divided as we are as a country. Our president — seeing a campaign opportunity to run as the “law and order” candidate in a country under siege — is exploiting the Black Lives Matter movement and recasting the participants as those who would tear down our history, who are soft on crime.
However, the majority of our citizens see the long effects of slavery and are sympathetic to Black Lives Matter and support changes to racist policies, especially within the culture of police departments.
For me, I sense this is a rare opportunity to awaken, to transform our collective consciousness in ways that are more anti-racist. And this means each of us must do our own individual work.
Moving forward demands a new perspective, a new set of lenses, a new way of looking at what we thought we knew. It demands a new consciousness. Our hearts must become our organs of perception. The work will be different for those of us who benefitted from the legacy of white supremacy and those who suffered because of it. But all of us have to find the place within us where racism in its multiple forms exists, shapes us and persists.
Ibram X. Kendi’s book, How to be an Antiracist, helps to get in touch with how racism permeates how we see the world, and it offers ways to uproot racism and inequality in our society — and in ourselves. Kendi’s basic theory is “that racism is a powerful system that creates false hierarchies of human value that extends beyond race, from the way we regard people of different ethnicities or skin colors to the way we treat people of different sexes, gender identities, and body types.”
This shift of consciousness being asked of us is truly the work of contemplation.
Over these years of contemplative practice, I have become more aware of my own biases, my own assumptions about things. This awareness is never ending, as we are human, but it does soften how I take in new information that challenges me. Although I have through the years addressed white privilege in our society and in myself, I was caught off guard as I read Kendi’s book. I could feel the discomfort in me. I saw myself reacting and then opening up to understand how these various racist hierarchies lived within me. I realized I do not have to keep affirming this or that racist belief in myself. I felt a loosening of the hold it had on me.
If I had not been opening myself to the working of the Divine within me these years, I’m sure I would be responding differently — more defensively, trying to justify my way of thinking or simply dismissing Kendi’s theory as exaggerated and too simplistic.
Coming to my own realization, I, in turn, had a heightened awareness of how challenging and difficult this will be for those in the white community who are just coming to an awareness of white privilege. The letting go of being dominant and knowing that who I am and how I do things will no longer be normative will be gut wrenching. In addition, because this is coming in the middle of the pandemic, some will feel that this is the last straw — we have to deal with the pandemic, we are all hurting, we can’t address these issues as well!
I believe that the shift of consciousness to an antiracist one is the call of our time … a long overdue one … but one that will be difficult at best. But we can prepare for it.
Take time this summer and learn about the history of slavery and how systemic racism operates. Both Kendi’s book and James Cone’s book, The Cross and the Lynching Tree, are excellent resources.
When you feel resistance:
Name the feeling.
Explore why you are feeling that way.
Open yourself to seeing the reality of racism in yourself.
In the spirit of the Welcoming Prayer, allow yourself to be with that feeling until you can let it go.
After your contemplative sitting, be attentive during the day and gently observe how the shift of consciousness begins to settle into your body and into your behavior.
As discussion of issues of systemic racism become more prominent among your family and friends and more central to our political discourse, you might find yourself willing to engage with people who are still resisting seeing this as an issue. By consciously observing yourself face into your own experience of racism, you can better understand and offer insights to those who are just beginning the struggle.
Addressing how racism is woven into the fabric of our society and within ourselves from a contemplative heart is not an easy task. We will have to face into our fears.
Psalm 49 offers a more poetic way of doing just that.
Yes, even the wise are not immune to fear; yet, unlike the ignorant, the wise face their fears with resolve. Not running away, nor projecting them onto others. They trace them to the source, rooting them out as weeds from a rose garden. Thus, they do not trust in the riches of the world, but in the Treasure hidden in the heart.
[Nancy Sylvester is founder and director of the Institute for Communal Contemplation and Dialogue. She served in leadership of her own religious community, the Sister Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, Monroe, Michigan, as well as in the presidency of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious. Prior to that she was National Coordinator of Network, the national Catholic social justice lobby.]
Now, before you go, here’s the African spiritual Amazing Grace for you by an African children’s choir. Click here.
The assumptions of white privilege and what we can do about it
Amy Cooper knew exactly what she was doing. We all do. And that’s the problem.
by Bryan N. Massingale
I’ve shared two posts so far on the subject of Racism in America. The first one began with an essay that a friend of mine wrote during the early morning hours on the Fourth of July saying that as a person of color, he wanted to share a different point of view of our nation’s founding. That essay was followed by Frederic Douglas’ searing speech on the Fifth of July from a slave’s point of view.
The second post offered two articles, the first of which was about a woman, Jane Elliott, who spent 52 years teaching people about their prejudices in a famous “Blue Eyes / Brown Eyes ” experiment. The second one was about a Bishop in LittleRock, Arkansas and a priest in Atlanta both of whom had considerable experience teaching Catholics to get out of their comfort zones about racism. I promised three blogs on this subject (this is the third.) But there is more to be done and I will publish at least one more next week.
Today let’s take some time to educate ourselves about our own role as white people in perpetuating racism in our country. This is an article that appeared in The National Catholic Reporter on June 1st, 2020, just after the Labor Day tragic murder of George Floyd. It’s written by Fr. Bryan N. Massingale is a theology professor at Fordham University in New York. He is the author of Racial Justice and the Catholic Church. So let’s dig into this. Some of this may be uncomfortable to some of you, but this is important for the good of our country and for you and all of us. So hang in there and do a bit of studying with us please!
“Every white person in this country — I do not care what he says or what she says — knows one thing. … They know that they would not like to be black here. If they know that, they know everything they need to know. And whatever else they may say is a lie.” — James Baldwin, “Speech at the University of California Berkeley,” 1979
It has never been easy to be black in America. Still, the past few months have pushed me to depths of outrage, pain and despondency that are unmatched in my 63 years of life. Look at what has transpired:
The COVID-19 pandemic showed that while all might be vulnerable, we are not equally vulnerable. Blacks, Latinos and Native peoples are the vast majority of those infected and killed by this virus. In some places, the levels of “disparity” (such a sanitizing word!) are catastrophic. But as tragic as this is, it was entirely predictable and even expected. The contributing factors for this vulnerability have been documented for decades: lack of insurance, less access to healthcare, negligent treatment from and by healthcare professionals, overcrowded housing, unsafe and unsanitary working conditions. All of this compounded by how the least paid and protected workers are now considered “essential” and must be exposed to the virus’ hazards. As a young black grocery clerk told me, “Essential is just a nice word for sacrificial.” Sacrificed for the comfort of those who can isolate and work from home, who are disproportionately white.
Ahmaud Arbery, an unarmed 25-year-old black man, who was executed on Feb. 23 as three white men stalked him while he was jogging in Brunswick, Georgia. One of the killers had ties to local law enforcement. Only after public protests and the passing of 74 days were any arrests made and charges filed over this death.
Breonna Taylor,a 26-year-old African American woman, who was killed by Louisville police officers on March 13 after they kicked in the door of her apartment unannounced and without identifying themselves. Fearful for their lives, her boyfriend fired his lawfully possessed gun. Breonna was killed with eight bullets fired by three officers, under circumstances that have yet to be satisfactorily explained.
Christian Cooper,a young black man — a birdwatcher — who was reported to the police May 25 by Amy Cooper (no relation), a young white woman, who called 911 to say that “an African American man” was threatening her in New York’s Central Park merely because he had the gall to ask her to comply with the park’s posted regulations to leash her dog.
George Floyd, an unarmed 46-year-old African American man, who was brutally killed on May 25 in Minneapolis by a white police officer who knelt on his neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, despite being restrained, despite the urgent requests of onlookers, despite his repeated desperate pleas: “I can’t breathe.”
Omar Jimenez, a black Latino CNN reporter, who was arrested on May 29 in the middle of doing live reports on events in Minneapolis, while a white CNN reporter doing the same thing, at the same time in the same neighborhood, was not only not arrested but was treated with “consummate politeness” by the authorities. The stark contrast was so jarring that Jimenez’s white colleagues noted that the only possible difference was the race of the reporters.
All of this weighs on my spirit. I try to pray, but inner quiet eludes me. I simply sit in silence on Pentecost weekend before a lit candle praying, “Come, Holy Spirit” as tears fall. Words fail me. I ponder the futility of speaking out, yet again, trying to think of how to say what has been said, what I have said, so often before.
Then it occurred to me. Amy Cooper holds the key.
The event in Central Park is not the most heinous listed above. The black man didn’t die — thankfully. Compared to the others, it has received little attention. But if you understand Amy Cooper, then all the rest, and much more, makes sense. And points the way forward.
Let’s recall what Amy Cooper did. After a black man tells her to obey the posted signs that require her to leash her dog in a public park, she tells him she’s going to call the police “and I’m going to tell them that there’s an African American man threatening my life.” Then she does just that, calling 911 and saying, “There’s a man, an African American, he has a bicycle helmet. He is recording me and threatening me and my dog.” She continues, in a breathless voice, “I’m being threatened by a man in the Ramble [a wooded area of Central Park]. Please send the cops immediately!” This despite the fact that Christian Cooper’s camera records the events and shows that he made no threatening moves toward her, spoke to her calmly and without insult, and kept his distance from her the whole time.
In short, she decided to call the police on a black man for nothing more than politely asking her to obey the park’s rules. And made up a lie to put him in danger.
She knew what she was doing. And so do we. The situation is completely “legible” as my academic colleagues would say. What did she and rest of us know? Why did she act as she did?
She assumed that her lies would be more credible than his truth.
She assumed that she would have the presumption of innocence.
She assumed that he, the black man, would have a presumption of guilt.
She assumed that the police would back her up.
She assumed that her race would be an advantage, that she would be believed because she is white. (By the way, this is what we mean by white privilege).
She assumed that she had the upper hand in this situation.
She assumed that she could use these deeply ingrained white fears to keep a black man in his place.
She assumed that if he protested his innocence against her, he would be seen as “playing the race card.”
She assumed that no one would accuse her of “playing the race card,” because no one accuses white people of playing the race card when using race to their advantage.
She assumed that he knew that any confrontation with the police would not go well for him.
She assumed that the frame of “black rapist” versus “white damsel in distress” would be clearly understood by everyone: the police, the press and the public.
She assumed that her knowledge of how white people view the world, and especially black men, would help her.
She assumed that a black man had no right to tell her what to do.
She assumed that the police officers would agree.
She assumed that even if the police made no arrest, that a lot of white people would take her side and believe her anyway.
She assumed that Christian Cooper could and would understand all of the above.
(And she was right. He clearly knew what was at stake, which is why he had the presence of mind to record what happened).
All of this was the almost instantaneous reasoning behind her actions. By her own admission, she acted out of reflex. No one taught Amy Cooper all of this. Likely, no one gave her an explicit class on how whiteness works in America. But she knew what she was doing.
And so do we. We understand her behavior. We know how our culture frames whiteness and folks of color. We know how race works in America.
The fundamental assumption behind all the others is that white people matter, or should matter, more than people of color. Certainly more than black people. That black lives don’t matter, or at least not as much as white lives. That’s the basic assumption behind Amy Cooper’s decisions, actions and words. That’s the basic assumption that links Christian Cooper with COVID-19, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd and Omar Jimenez.
Amy Cooper knew that. We all know that. So who taught her? Who taught us?
The Ways of Whiteness
This is where things may get uncomfortable for most of you, who I assume (and hope) will be white. Because just as no one gave her an explicit class on the ways of whiteness and how it works in society — and for her — most likely you never received a formal class or explanation either. It’s just something that you know, or better, that you realize on some distant yet real part of your brain. At some early age, you realized that no matter how bad things got for you, at least you would never be black. And it dawned on you, though you rarely consciously say it, that you would never want to be black. Because you realized, even without being explicitly told, that being white makes life easier. Even if you have to do some hard work along the way, at least you don’t have to carry the burden of blackness as a hindrance.
How did you, how did I, how did we all learn this? No one taught you. No one had to. It’s something that you absorbed just by living. Just by taking in subtle clues such as what the people in charge look like. Whose history you learned in school. What the bad guys look like on TV. The kind of jokes you heard. How your parents, grandparents and friends talked about people that didn’t look like you.
I can hear some of you protesting. You don’t want to admit this, especially your ability to make life rough for people of color. You don’t want to face it. But Amy Cooper made the truth plain and obvious. She knew deep in her soul that she lived in a country where things should work in the favor of white people. She knew the real deal. We all do.
That’s the reason for the grief, outrage, lament, anger, pain and fury that have been pouring into our nation’s streets. Because folks are tired. Not only of the individual outrages. But of the fundamental assumption that ties them all together: that black lives don’t matter and should not matter — at least not as much as white ones.
We struggle to admit that Amy Cooper reveals what W.E.B. Du Bois calls “the souls of white folks.” Because, to quote James Baldwin again, facing the truth “would reveal more about America to Americans than Americans want to know.” Or admit that they know.
What don’t we want to admit? That Amy Cooper is not simply a rogue white person or a mean-spirited white woman who did an odious thing. Yes, we should and must condemn her words and actions. But we don’t want to admit that there is a lot more to this story. That she knew, we all know, that she had the support of an unseen yet very real apparatus of collective thoughts, fears, beliefs, practices and history.
This is what we mean by systemic racism. I could call it white supremacy, although I know that white people find that term even more of a stumbling block than white privilege. Essayist Ta-Nehisi Coates gives the best short description of this complex reality called white supremacy. He describes it as “an age-old system in America which holds that whites should always be ensured that they will not sink to a certain level. And that level is the level occupied by black people.” Amy Cooper knew that. And so do we.
We don’t want to admit that Amy Cooper is not simply a bad white woman. We don’t want to face the truth about America that her words and actions betray. We don’t want to admit that present in Central Park that morning was the scaffolding of centuries-long accumulations of the benefits of whiteness. Benefits that burden people of color. Benefits that kill black and brown people.
Without facing this truth, Amy Cooper’s actions make no sense. She knew what she was doing. And so do we. Even if we do not want to admit it.
Where do we begin?
I understand the feelings of helplessness, confusion and even despondency that can afflict us. It’s easy to be overwhelmed by the magnitude of the problem, by the immense weight of centuries of accumulated fear, resentment, privilege and righteous anger. It can be shocking to confront the vastness of this nation’s commitment to white benefit and advantage. Where do we begin?
Let me be more specific: what are white people to do now that they know that they know what Amy Cooper knows — assuming they want to do anything? (The reason for the specificity will become clear).
First, understand the difference between being uncomfortable and being threatened.There is no way to tell the truth about race in this country without white people becoming uncomfortable. Because the plain truth is that if it were up to people of color, racism would have been resolved, over and done, a long time ago. The only reason for racism’s persistence is that white people continue to benefit from it.
Repeat that last sentence. Make it your mantra. Because until the country accepts that truth, we will never move beyond superficial words and ineffective half-measures.
Systemic racism benefits white people. That’s the truth that Amy Cooper knew and that we all know. That truth supports all the assumptions that sustain the racial craziness and insanity in which we live. I know that bluntly stating that systemic racism benefits white people makes people — especially white people — uncomfortable. I also feel a pang of discomfort in being so direct. (I know the kinds of online comments and emails that are sure to follow.)
But avoiding and sugarcoating this truth is killing people of color. Silence for the sake of making white people comfortable is a luxury we can no longer afford.
If white people are unwilling to face very uncomfortable truths, then the country is doomed to remain what Abraham Lincoln called “a house divided.” And he warned that such a house cannot stand.
What to do next? Nothing. Sit in the discomfort this hard truth brings. Let it become agonizing. Let it move you to tears, to anger, to guilt, to shame, to embarrassment. Over what? Over your ignorance. Over the times you went along with something you knew was wrong. Or when you told a racist joke because you could. Because you knew that your white friends and family would let you get away with it, or even join in. Because you thought it was “just a joke.” Or the times you wouldn’t hire the person of color because you knew your white employees would have a problem with it and you didn’t want the hassle. Or when you knew the person of color was in the right, but it was easier not to upset your white friends. Or wealthy donors, who are almost always white. (By the way, the wealth disparity didn’t just happen nor is it due to black and brown folks’ laziness. Look at the complexions of our “essential workers” for proof.) Most of all, feel the guilt, the pain, the embarrassment over doing nothing and saying nothing when you witnessed obvious racism.
Stay in the discomfort, the anxiety, the guilt, the shame, the anger. Because only when a critical mass of white folks are outraged, grieved and pained over the status quo — only when white people become upset enough to declare, “This cannot and will not be!” — only then will real change begin to become a possibility.
Third, admit your ignorance and do something about it. Understand that there is a lot about our history and about life that we’re going to have to unlearn. And learn over. Malcolm X said that the two factors responsible for American racism are greed and skillful miseducation. We have all been taught a sanitized version of America that masks our terrible racial history.
For example, most of my white students — and students of color, too — know nothing of the terror of lynching. They don’t know that for a 30-year period from 1885-1915, on average every third day a black person was brutally and savagely and publicly murdered by white mobs. This wasn’t taught, or it was taught to mean only that, in the words of a white student, “some people got beat up real bad.” (Note the passive voice, which obscures who did these beatings and why).
Yet without knowing this history, the Civil Rights Movement only becomes a feel-good story about desegregation and bringing races together — sharing schools, drinking fountains and (maybe) neighborhoods. The brutal, savage and sadistic violence that whites inflicted with impunity upon black — and brown and Asian — people in order to defend “white supremacy” (their words, not mine) is never faced. Nor do we have to face the truth that most racial violence in our history has been and continues to be inflicted by whites against people of color.
To create a different world, we must learn how this one came to be. And unlearn what we previously took for granted. This means that we have to read. And learn from the perspectives of people of color. (Not to toot my own horn, but my book Racial Justice and the Catholic Church is a good place to start).
Fourth, have the courage to confront your family and friends. I tell my white students that they will see and hear more naked racial bigotry than I do. Because when I am in the room, everyone knows how to act. Sociologist Joe Feagin documents how white people behave one way when on the “front stage,” that is, in public. But “backstage,” in the company of fellow whites, a different code of behavior prevails. Here racist acts and words are excused: “That’s just the way your father was raised.” “Your grandmother is of a different generation.” “It’s just a joke.” “But deep down, he’s really a good person.” “But if you ignore all that, he’s a really fun person to be with.” “You can’t choose your family, but you gotta love them anyway.” “It’s only once a year.” “I wish he wouldn’t talk that way. But you can’t change how people feel.”
I understand the desire to have peaceful or at least conflict-free relationships with family and friends. But as the Rev. Martin Luther King said so well, “There comes a time when silence is betrayal.” Silence means consent. Or at least, complicity.
Until white people call out white people, there will always be safe places for racial ugliness to brew and fester. And people like Amy Cooper will continue to assume that white people will always have their backs, no matter what. And they won’t be wrong. And black people will continue to die.
Fifth, be “unconditionally pro-life.” These are the words of St. Pope John Paul II from his final pastoral visit to the United States. He summoned Catholics to “eradicate every form of racism” as part of their wholehearted and essential commitment to life.
This has a very serious consequence: You cannot vote for or support a president who is blatantly racist, mocks people of color, separates Latino families and consigns brown children into concentration camps, and still call yourself “pro-life.” We need to face, finally and at long last, the uncomfortable yet real overlap between the so-called “pro-life” movement and the advocates of racial intolerance.
In the name of our commitment to life, we must challenge not only these social policies, but also the attitude that cloaks support for racism under the guise of being “pro-life.” John Paul declared that racism is a life issue. Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and the many black and brown victims of COVID-19 prove it. It is way past time for Catholics to become “unconditionally pro-life.”
Finally, pray. Yes, racism is a political issue and a social divide. But at its deepest level, racism is a soul sickness. It is a profound warping of the human spirit that enables human beings to create communities of callous indifference toward their darker sisters and brothers. Stripped to its core, white supremacy is a disturbing interior disease, a malformed consciousness that enables white people to not care for those who don’t look like them. As historian Paul Wachtel succinctly declares in his book Race in the Mind of America, “The real meaning of race comes down largely to this: Is this someone I should care about?“
This soul sickness can only be healed by deep prayer. Yes, we need social reforms. We need equal educational opportunities, changed police practices, equitable access to health care, an end to employment and housing discrimination. But only an invasion of divine love will shatter the small images of God that enable us to live undisturbed by the racism that benefits some and terrorizes so many.
In her essay, “The Desire for God and the Transformative Power of Contemplation ,” Baltimore Carmelite Sr. Constance FitzGerald writes, “The time will come when God’s light will invade our lives and show us everything we have avoided seeing. Then will be manifest the confinement of our carefully constructed meanings, the limitations of our life projects, the fragility of the support systems or infrastructures on which we depend … [and] the darkness in our own heart.”
God’s love is subversive and destructive. It exposes self-serving political ideologies as shortsighted and corrosive.
And yet FitzGerald and the Carmelite tradition insist that God subverts our plans and projects for the sake of new life. FitzGerald relates how, through unmasking the shallowness of our “achievements,” God leads us to “new minds, as well as new intuitions, new wills, and passionate new desires.”
Perhaps, then, the grace of this dark time in our nation is that it reveals how racially toxic our politics, society and culture have truly become, in order to spur us to build a new culture based not on the exploitation of fear but on solidarity with and for the least among us.
We need to pray for a new infusion of the Spirit and for the courage to let this Spirit transform our hearts. Come, Holy Spirit!
(Do we dare to really make that our prayer?)
Is this enough?
I can hear some of you saying, “But is this enough?” I am under no illusion that these actions, by themselves, can erase the accumulated debris of centuries of commitment to white preference and black detriment. None of us can do all that is required at this moment.
But just because we cannot do everything doesn’t mean we should not do something. We are not as helpless as we fear. Moreover, helplessness is an emotion that we cannot afford to indulge. As James Baldwin believed, despair is an option that only the comfortable can afford to entertain.
We can create a new society, one where more and more people will challenge the assumptions of white racial privilege that sustain Amy Cooper’s universe. Our universe. One built on a different set of assumptions, one where all lives truly do matter because black lives finally will matter.
I end with the final words of Racial Justice and the Catholic Church:
Social life is made by human beings. The society we live in is the outcome of human choices and decisions. This means that human beings can change things. What humans break, divide, and separate, we can — with God’s help — also heal, unite, and restore.
What is now does not have to be. Therein lies the hope. And the challenge.
Come, Holy Spirit! Fill the hearts of your faithful. Enkindle within us the fire of your love. Come, Holy Spirit! Breathe into us a fiery passion for justice. Especially for those who have the breath of life crushed from them. Amen.
And before you go, do you remember the scene in Rogers and Hammerstein’s movie South Pacific when Ledie tells Emile that she cannot marry him? She says it’s not because of his island children (it is.) But she says she doesn’t know why. Then the young Navy Captain Joe sings “You’ve got to be taught to hate and fear”
Click here for the entire scene. Be sure to enter fullscreen and turn up your speakers!
A group of children near the White House in Washington hold up their fists in front of a Black Lives Matter sign June 7, 2020. (Credit: Joshua Roberts/Reuters via CNS.)
I’d like to continue our reflections on Racism in America with two articles that I’ve selected on the subject—one that was an experiment that has been used over the years to get people to realize their prejudices by the woman who developed them.
The second article is about how the Roman Catholic Church is and can possible assist in the future to combat racism. Here’s the first one . . .
A Teacher Held a Famous Racism Exercise in 1968. She’s Still at It.
The day after Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, Jane Elliott carried out the “Blue Eyes, Brown Eyes” exercise in her classroom. Now, people are returning to her work.
By Alisha Haridasani Gupta
“It makes me really angry that I’ve been saying these things for 52 years.”
— Jane Elliott, a schoolteacher turned anti-racism educator
As protest against racism started sweeping across America and rest of the world, clips of Jane Elliott, a schoolteacher turned anti-racism educator, began circulating on social media.
Perhaps you’ve seen them.
In one grainy clip in 2001, Ms. Elliott, with her signature round glasses and clipped white hair, gets into such a heated argument with a white female college student during an educational exercise about racism that the uncomfortable and distraught woman starts crying and storms out of the classroom.
“You just exercised a freedom that none of these people of color have,” Ms. Elliott tells the student, sternly. “When these people of color get tired of racism, they can’t just walk out.”
“I’m not a white woman. I’m a faded Black person,” Ms. Elliott says, stunning the hosts. “My people moved far from the Equator, and that’s the only reason my skin is lighter.”
“Wow,” Ms. Pinkett Smith says back. “I’m with you, Jane!”
Ms. Elliott, now 87, said she started teaching about racism on April 5, 1968 — the day after the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated.
At the time, she was a third-grade schoolteacher in the all-white Iowa town of Riceville, and the news of Dr. King’s death so shocked and moved her that she threw out the lesson plan for the next day and came up with a new one that would force the children to experience prejudice and discrimination firsthand.
In what is now known as the “Blue Eyes, Brown Eyes” exercise, she split up her class into two groups based on an arbitrary characteristic: eye color. Those with blue eyes were better, smarter and superior to those with brown eyes, she told her students, and therefore they were entitled to perks, like more recess time and access to the water fountain.
Quickly, the dynamic of the room shifted. “I watched wonderful, thoughtful children turn into nasty, vicious, discriminating little third graders,” she explained, in a PBS documentary about her work.
The next day, she reversed the roles. Now the brown-eyed students were superior and had perks and the blue-eyed students were inferior.
For decades, Ms. Elliott repeated the exercise around the country, including in 1992 on the Oprah Winfrey Show and she would witness more or less the same outcome: people turning on each other on the basis of eye color.
Now, as the recent wave of demonstrations reaches every corner of the U. S., drawing more white people than previous protests against racism, Ms. Elliott’s work is thrust back in the spotlight.
And she’s sick and tired of it.
“I keep trying to tell people why racism has to stop, and they keep asking the same questions, like ‘How do we do that?’ and then continue to ignore the answers,” she said in a phone interview.
“It makes me really angry that I’ve been saying these things for 52 years.” ( Seems theres’ a coincidence here: She began her work the same day I was ordained a deacon, the day after Dr. King was murdered and she’s been doing this as long as I’ve been a priest.)
Now here’s the second one . . . .
Amid unrest, some say church can engage in fight against racism
Rhina Guidos /Crux Now.com Jul 12, 2020
CATHOLIC NEWS SERVICE
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Some bishops have denounced them. Others have embraced them. One held a sign with the words as he kneeled in a moment of prayer recalling the death of George Floyd, which sparked demonstrations and wide discussion about racial injustice in the United States.
Some Black Catholics believe the unrest and the ubiquitous words proclaiming that “Black Lives Matter” provide an opportunity for the Catholic Church in the United States to engage in an uncomfortable and long-overdue deep discussion and look at racism and racial injustice.
From his @PadreInAtlanta Twitter handle, Father Bruce Wilkinson, a retired priest, has been almost daily calling attention to and sometimes calling out those who attack those three words, including some bishops.
“They’ve the taken position from someone telling them that ‘this is a Marxist group and pro-abortion and pro-gay therefore we have to be against them,’” said Wilkinson in a July 8 interview with Catholic News Service. “There are some, I’m sure, involved in the (Black Lives Matter) political group that are about that, but that is far from the vast majority of people.”
Instead, what Wilkinson wants others to understand is those engaging with the words “Black Lives Matter,” including many Black Catholics like him and those who support them, “what they are seeking, especially in the Catholic Church, is to have racism be addressed.”
He points to a July 2 statement from Bishop Anthony B. Taylor of Little Rock, Arkansas, who spelled out in detail support of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Speaking from his experience as a new pastor at an Oklahoma City parish in 2003, Taylor recalled how he arrived to tend to a community that was 95 percent Hispanic and had a weekend schedule with six Masses — three in English and three in Spanish. The Spanish-language Masses were packed, with people standing in the back, in the aisles and sometimes outside the church’s front door, he said, and though the English-language Masses were less than half full, they had the more desirable Sunday morning time slots.
“I asked what we would do if the tables were turned and we had English speakers standing in the back, along the aisles and outside the front door and they realized that of course, we would adjust the Sunday schedule to provide more English Masses. In that way, the eyes of these well-meaning people were opened to the hidden injustice embedded in our Sunday schedule,” he wrote.
“When I left that parish five years later, we had nine weekend Masses that better corresponded to the makeup of the parish: Seven in Spanish, one in English and one bilingual,” he said. “When people know that they matter, things begin to change.”
The bishop continued, saying that something similar is happening with the movement seeking to point out racial injustice.
“That is the contribution that the Black Lives Matter movement is offering to us today. All lives matter, of course, but as a society we don’t act that way — and that’s the point,” he wrote in his statement. “There are injustices embedded in the way our society is structured to which we are often blind. Most of my Anglo parishioners were aware of the crowding at the Spanish Masses, but they didn’t think of it as a problem, indeed viewing it from outside, they spoke with admiration of the fervor of their fellow parishioners and were blind to the underlying injustice.”
Looked at from a different vantage point, the injustice becomes clear, he said.
“In a similar way, most of us are aware of some of the disadvantages that come with being Black in America, but from the outside we tend to ascribe these disadvantages to internal factors within the African American community and we miss the point that if Black lives really mattered as much as white lives, our whole society would be structured differently,” he wrote.
The bishop pointed out in detail and with statistics structural injustices for Black Americans in law enforcement, health care, employment, and education.
It’s important that others take the time, as Taylor did, to think about, read about, and have a dialogue with parishioners of color to “come to understand what (Black Lives Matter) is, before they condemn something,” said Wilkinson.
Marcia Chatelain, a Georgetown University history professor, said the church has an opportunity to work toward the greater interracial justice the Black Lives Matter movement espouses.
“While they may not find themselves aligned with all the points that have been expressed, they really do have an incredible opportunity to engage in an important moral civic and social movement,” she said in a July 9 interview with CNS. “I would hope that, at some point, people would take time to really understand what they’re debating.”
Parishes also should be having difficult conversations about the ways that they may have benefited from slavery, segregation or other ways that have been or still are, detrimental to people of color in their localities, she said. But some might be reluctant to do so, Chatelain added, since some might find themselves “so proximate to the problem.”
And Wilkinson has been witness to some of it. As a retired priest, if he’s not helping out, he attends Masses without his collar or anything that would identify him as a priest and sits in the pews with the laity.
“What I have found is disconcerting,” he said. “I’ve noticed some people, if I’m in a church that’s predominantly white, look at me as if I’m not supposed to be there, to the point where at the sign of peace, I don’t even get approached. It’s not universal … but there’s been too many that I’ve gone to where it’s happened.”
Those are the kinds of experiences bishops and others in church hierarchy need to listen to so they can engage with the message some Catholics have found in the Black Lives Matter movement, he said. But that doesn’t begin to address the structural injustices that Taylor referred to, he added.
For Taylor, as for Wilkinson, the plight of Black Americans speaks to one of the church’s main teachings, and yet it is a situation not absent from the life of the church.
“If you and I are truly pro-life, we are obligated to work for the protection and respect for human life from the first moment of conception to natural death and every stage in between, and thus it is obvious that racism is a pro-life issue,” Taylor wrote.
“Racism is a sin,” he added, “and we have to admit that even as church, we have not been immune to racial bias and the blindness to structures of sin that affect how our own institutions are run.”
While it was easier to condemn acts that led to George Floyd’s death and the killing of many other people of color, he said, some could be “blind” to structural injustices that continue to harm others. Some also may fail to take into account the generational effects of slavery, segregation and the systemic use of violence, he explained, “including the lynching (publicly approved hangings) of more than 4,000 black men, women and children across 800 counties throughout the United States between 1877 and 1950.”
Those realities must be recognized and addressed in any attempt to combat racism, Taylor said.
“I hope this has helped you understand why it is so important for us to insist that Black Lives Matter and to view the task before us through the pro-life lens of our Christian belief in the God-given intrinsic dignity of every person, in this case Black people, rather than the more secular Marxist-inspired class struggle lens that some would propose and which sometimes gets disproportionate coverage in the news,” the bishop wrote.
For Chatelain, the task at hand is one that requires patience and diligence on the part of Catholics, one that goes beyond just recognizing what happened or reading a few books, “it has to be a lifelong struggle,” she said.
Making a commitment to that process requires making serious changes in personal behavior, pointing out racial injustices at work, institutions or even by family members, she said.
“I think we are at a moment of moral reckoning is this country,” she said.
The question is if the church is going to continue to be an observer in a social movement or is it going to look for an active path toward a search of justice “for people who are justly trying to experience the fullness that life should offer everyone?” she asked.
Wilkinson said that as pastors, priests are required to attend pastoral training sessions on how to deal with a wide array of topics, such as abortion, how to address immigration issues and how to address religious liberty, but once he asked whether they could discuss differences in culture and people of color.
“I was told that was too difficult,” he said. “If it’s too difficult and we’re people of faith, I just don’t see how we don’t trust God enough to lead us.”
Now, before you go, here’s an old spiritual from the Black community you might like to enjoy. Click here.
Usually, dear friends, I interrupt my blog service until the Feast of the Assumption on August 15th. However, on the morning of the Fourth of July last Saturday, I received an email from a friend from the church I had been attending before the coronavirus stopped us from attending church. He was up in the middle of the night writing an essay about racism in America. (And when I read it there wasn’t a mis-spelling, or a grammar error; the essay was just plain compelling.
I had already posted a couple of external links on the subject on my Facebook page on racism, so he got me think—Hmmm—maybe I should write a blog or two on the subject. And so this is the result.
Many of my long-time readers may recall the story that I’ve often told that I was ordained a deacon for the Catholic Church the day after the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was murdered. That was April 4th, 1968. I was a a seminary student at Theological College of the Catholic University of American in Washington, D.C.
At the beginning of the ordination ceremony, we ordinandi laid down on the marble floor before the bishop as the choir intoned the ancient Litany of the Saints, that particular day was mingled with the sounds of sirens wailing in the distance. I sucked in a few deep breaths and told myself I would try to follow that great man’s example and do something about racial justice.
The following month the “Poor Peoples Campaign” that Dr. King had conceived was marching toward Washington had arrived in D.C. and hurriedly constructed what was dubbed as “Resurrection City” on the National Mall. They received a permit for 3,000 folks to set up camp there. I had at times reported certain events for The Florida Catholic, the newspaper for the Orlando, Florida diocese to which I belonged. By the time I got on the Mall, it was a muddy mess. There were wooden sidewalks throughout, but I didn’t have the proper footwear to get around without slipping and sliding. I interviewed a few folks for our paper back home and went back to the seminary for a warm shower. I wasn’t particularly helpful, but at least I ventured out there where the action was.
What I propose to do here is, first share with you my friends essay. Since it’s quite controversial and he himself is a person of color I suggested to him that I not print his name so that he have no repercussions from his family or employer.
And then today also I’m going to share with you Frederick Douglas’ Fifth of July Speech. There was word today that his statue in Rochester, NY was toppled.
Next week, I will share with some external links I posted on Facebook and two statements by the Bishops of the United States.
It has been said that this movement, sparred by the death of Mr. George Floyd is the largest and longest movement in US history. Let us pray it leads to fruitful change for the better.
Here’s my friend’s essay . . .
Dear Father Bob,
Thank you for sharing your insight and prayers helping us to recognize our national sin.
However, I’d like to offer a few thoughts you might want to consider in our national discussion about racism. First, racism and slavery was pressed upon peoples of color since the 1500s by European peoples, not the other way around. So by the time the founding fathers wrote the Declaration of Independence in 1776, abject subjugation of Black people and the systematic extinction of Indigenous peoples was the norm.People of color and their families who remained oppressed under this new independence actuallyved an alternate historical reality—a Declaration of Indifference.
Four hundred years later, George Floyd’s senseless death by those sworn to protect him, as they idly watched the last breath snatched from him, is our testimony of said indifference. Photographs of the last 100 years record black men hanging from trees while many watched and posed with glee. Billie Holiday recalled seeing lynched black bodies hanging in trees while touring the south subsequently writing an anthem about these atrocities—Strange Fruit An anthem that became ignored. Holiday first performed the song at Café Society in 1939.
She said that singing it made her fearful of retaliation but, because its imagery reminded her of her father, she continued to sing the piece, making it a regular part of her live performances. Because of the power of the song, Josephson drew up some rules: Holiday would close with it; the waiters would stop all service in advance; the room would be in darkness except for a spotlight on Holiday’s face; and there would be no encore. During the musical introduction to the song, Holiday stood with her eyes closed, as if she were evoking a prayer . . . .
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees
Southern trees bear a strange fruit
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root
Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze
Pastoral scene of the gallant south
The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth
Scent of magnolias, sweet and fresh
Then the sudden smell of burning flesh
Here is fruit for the crows to pluck
For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck
For the sun to rot, for the trees to drop
Here is a strange and bitter crop
Racism is a product of our character defects. Dr. King revealed this truth when he said, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” When we live with a sense of entitled superiority rather than with empathy and compassion, we no longer see our brother or sister through God’s eyes, but with our own shortsightedness. Our human family on this earth becomes our “supply” and horrifically treated as such.
Racism then acts like a disease, an evil, contracted in every generation and a virus we can no longer afford. Sadly those who are plagued with this insanity also suffer the worst kind of denial. A denial that blinds us from humanity and God. ”
Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen.” 1John 4:20 (NIV)
Thomas Jefferson, a well accomplished man, while pondering the Declaration of Independence and staring out the window at his slaves toiling in the fields lived in the Nineteenth Century, the Age of Enlightenment, for whom I dare ask?
In the movie, Gone with the Wind, a 1939 epic set in the Civil War era around Atlanta that pits two dysfunctional families against each other in sordid romances. There’s been a movement afoot to address the difficult treatment the film depicts of black people and the condoning of slavery.
Not unlike the dysfunctional relationships we have become all too familiar with today many of us have suffered a lifetime of harm and abuse at the hands of a loved one or others, and despite our conscious efforts we still remain unseen, unheard, and unloved.
That is what has happened with black folk who have served, first their “Mass’rs”, and then have been “put in their place” ever since, in ever nook and cranny of our country. Our nation has become—in that sense—like a dysfunctional family.
Thus, racism is a character defect that can never be improved only removed. Many a founding father’s perspective of the sacred document they helped forged, saw their own grandsons and granddaughters leading the South in indenturing slaves for their own aggrandizement. Moreover the following hundreds of years of oppressed living in black and brown communities developed their own generation’s stories. Is it practical, fair or morally acceptable to gloss over our own racism if we truly love America today or our own honor and dignity?
Finding comfort in the founding fathers wisdom, has brought us to no avail, accept for those who continue to take the life and breath from our black brother, the liberty from our black sister, and the pursuit of happiness from our black children.
Addressing racism in America, will require a bedrock honest approach to this great dilemma and perhaps we may have to admit we have reached the point of exhaustion. Have reached the point of being sick and tired of being sick and tired and are willing to take fearless steps to remove our racial attitudes and the behaviors toward others that go with them? Can we find the courage to be accountable for our wrongs and humbly make amends to those we’ve harmed? Georgetown University has already taken a few steps to do that. We need a declaration that is God directed, rather than one that is politically motivated or self-referential..
May God’s Good Peace reign in our hearts through His Holy Spirit, and the unfailing Love of our Lord Jesus Christ, bring us deliverance from all evil. Help us Lord to be reconciled to You and to each other by the help of Your Holy Grace that unifies us. We ask this in Jesus Name, Amen.
And now I turn you to another black man of another generation Frederick Douglas
What to the slave is the Fourth of July?
By Frederick Douglass
July 5th, 1852
The papers and placards say, that I am to deliver a 4th of July oration. It is the birthday of your National Independence, and of your political freedom.
I shall not presume to dwell at length on the associations that cluster about this day. Oppression makes a wise man mad. Your fathers were wise men, and if they did not go mad, they became restive under this treatment. The freedom gained is yours; and you, therefore, may properly celebrate this anniversary. Cling to this day – cling to it, and to its principles, with the grasp of a storm-tossed mariner to a spar at midnight.
Fellow Citizens, I am not wanting in respect for the fathers of this republic. They were peace men; but they preferred revolution to peaceful submission to bondage. With them, nothing was settled that was not right. With them, justice, liberty and humanity were final; not slavery and oppression. You may well cherish the memory of such men.
Friends and citizens, I need not enter further into the causes which led to this anniversary. Many of you understand them better than I do. You could instruct me in regard to them. My business, if I have any here today, is with the present. We have to do with the past only as we can make it useful to the present and to the future.
Fellow citizens, pardon me, allow me to ask, why am I called upon to speak here today? What have I, or those I represent, to do with your national independence?
I am not included within the pale of this glorious anniversary! Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity and independence, bequeathed by your fathers, is shared by you, not by me. The sunlight that brought life and healing to you, has brought stripes and death to me.
This Fourth of July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn. To drag a man in fetters into the grand illuminated temple of liberty and call upon him to join you in joyous anthems, is inhuman mockery. Do you mean, citizens, to mock me, by asking me to speak today?
Above your national, tumultuous joy, I hear the mournful wail of millions whose chains, heavy and grievous yesterday, are, today, rendered more intolerable by the jubilee shouts that reach them. My subject, then fellow-citizens, is AMERICAN SLAVERY.
Whether we turn to the declarations of the past, or to the professions of the present, the conduct of the nation seems equally hideous and revolting. America is false to the past, false to the present, and solemnly binds herself to be false to the future. Standing with God and the crushed and bleeding slave on this occasion, I will, in the name of humanity which is outraged, in the name of liberty which is fettered, in the name of the constitution and the Bible, which are disregarded and trampled upon, dare to call in question and to denounce, with all the emphasis I can command, everything that serves to perpetuate slavery – the great sin and shame of America! I will use the severest language I can command; and yet not one word shall escape me that any man, whose judgment is not blinded by prejudice, or who is not at heart a slaveholder, shall not confess to be right and just.
But I fancy I hear some one of my audience say, it is just in this circumstance that you and your brother abolitionists fail to make a favorable impression on the public mind. Would you argue more, and denounce less, would you persuade more, and rebuke less, your cause would be much more likely to succeed. But, I submit, where all is plain there is nothing to be argued. What point in the anti-slavery creed would you have me argue? Must I argue that a system thus marked with blood, and stained with pollution, is wrong? No! I will not. I have better employments for my time and strength.
At a time like this, scorching irony, not convincing argument, is needed. Oh! Had I the ability, and could I reach the nation’s ear, I would, today, pour out a fiery stream of biting ridicule, blasting reproach, withering sarcasm, and stern rebuke. For it is not light that is needed, but fire; it is not the gentle shower, but thunder. We need the storm, the whirlwind, and the earthquake. The feeling of the nation must be quickened; the conscience of the nation must be roused; the propriety of the nation must be startled; the hypocrisy of the nation must be exposed; and its crimes against God and man must be proclaimed and denounced.
What, to the American slave, is your Fourth of July? I answer: a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciations of tyrants, brass-fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade, and solemnity, are, to him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy – a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices, more shocking and bloody, than are the people of these United States, at this very hour.
Go where you may, search where you will, roam through all the monarchies and despotisms of the old world, travel through South America, search out every abuse, and when you have found the last, lay your facts by the side of the everyday practices of this nation, and you will say with me, that, for revolting barbarity and shameless hypocrisy, America reigns without a rival.
Americans! Your republican politics are flagrantly inconsistent. The existence of slavery in this country brands your republicanism as a sham, your humanity as a base pretense, and your Christianity as a lie. It destroys your moral power abroad; it corrupts your politicians at home. It saps the foundation of religion; it makes your name a hissing, and a byword to a mocking earth. It is the antagonistic force in your government, the only thing that seriously disturbs and endangers your Union. It fetters your progress; it is the enemy of improvement, the deadly foe of education; it fosters pride; it breeds insolence; it promotes vice; it shelters crime; it is a curse to the earth that supports it; and yet, you cling to it, as if it were the sheet anchor of all your hopes. Oh! Be warned! Be warned! A horrible reptile is coiled up in your nation’s bosom; the venomous creature is nursing at the tender breast of your youthful republic;for the love of God, tear away, and fling from you the hideous monster, and let the weight of twenty millions crush and destroy it forever!
Allow me to say, in conclusion, notwithstanding the dark picture I have this day presented of the state of the nation, I do not despair of this country. There are forces in operation, which must inevitably work the downfall of slavery. “The arm of the Lord is not shortened,” and the doom of slavery is certain. I, therefore, leave off where I began, with hope.
God speed the day when human blood Shall cease to flow! In every clime be understood, The claims of human brotherhood, And each return for evil, good, Not blow for blow; That day will come all feuds to end. And change into a faithful friend Each foe.
God speed the hour, the glorious hour, When none on earth Shall exercise a lordly power, Nor in a tyrant’s presence cower; But all to manhood’s stature tower, By equal birth! That hour will come, to each, to all, And from his prison-house, the thrall Go forth.
Until that year, day, hour, arrive, With head, and heart, and hand I’ll strive, To break the rod, and rend the gyve, The spoiler of his prey deprive – So witness Heaven! And never from my chosen post, Whate’er the peril or the cost.
And now, before you go, here’s a song that my friend “G” chose for us to conclude with ~ “For the One” Click Here
Dear Friends, the boy in the image above was reading the Declaration of Independence emblazoned on the wall of the Jefferson Memorial when I visited there in October 2007. He represents our future.
Have you ever read it? (I offered you an image of it two days ago as it was emblazoned on the wall that this young man is reading; I’ll attach a full copy at the bottom of this post.)
Keith Carradine wrote (along with others) and composed an interesting song ten years ago about America. I’ll write out the lyrics and then play the song for you in a few minutes. But first I’d like to offer my own comments on America today.
Ever since 2006 when I began this blog I’ve been pleading with my readers to pray for the spiritual transformation of our country. That was the year before the stock market crash and the bail-out of the big banks, the mortgage crisis, and the bailout of the auto industry. I’ve said it was necessary for us also to “pledge our lives, our fortunes and our honor” to save America. And it seems to me that is more and more the case when our political leaders abdicate their responsibilities, and now in the midst of this pandemic that has wrought fear in young and old alike and caused a great deal of economic hardship for millions of Americans.
Add on to that, we have the added crisis as the racial tension that has plagued us since the beginning of our country has exploded once again in our midst. We’ve attempted to address it from time to time with the assistance of some great leaders and the passage of some legislation but this time, it seems to me, we must do some radical surgery to root it out of the soul of our country and our hearts. Each of us needs to do some soul-searching to look at our prejudices and our racism.
I still identify with Mr. Carradine’s song sentiments today.
I suggest that you read these lyrics and think about them and then listen to this powerful song sung by people all over the United States.
Then spend some time to reflect on our responsibilities this Fourth of July holiday on the future of our children and our country and let us ask ourselves what we are doing to help re-birth America.
BORN AGAIN AMERICAN By Keith Carradine
Just a workin’ man without a job It got shipped off to China via Washington, D.C. And I know I’m nothin’ special, there are plenty more like me Just the same I thought I knew the rules of the game
I stood up for this country that I love I came back from the desert to a wife and kids to feed I’m not sayin’ Uncle Sam should give me what I need My offer stands I’ll pull my weight you give me half a chance
I went up to a congressman and said to him “you know Our government is letting people down” He said he’d need a lot of help to buck the status-quo I said there was a bunch of us around
I’m a Born Again American, conceived in Liberty My Bible and the Bill of Rights, my creed’s equality I’m a Born Again American, my country ‘tis of me And everyone who shares the dream from sea to shining sea
My brother’s welding chassis at the plant He’s earning what our granddad did in 1948 While CEOs count bonuses behind the castle gates How can they see When all they care about’s the do re mi
It’s getting where there’s nowhere left to turn Not since the crash of twenty-nine have things been so unfair So many of our citizens are living in despair The time has come To reaffirm that hope’s not just for some
The promise of America’s surrendering to greed The rule is just look out for number one But brace yourself ‘cause some of us have sown a different seed A harvest of the spirit has begun
I’m a Born Again American conceived in liberty My Bible and The Bill Of Rights My creed’s equality A Born Again American, my country ‘tis of me And everyone who shares the dream from sea to shining sea
It’s clear my country’s soul is on the line She’s hungering for something that she lost along the way The principle the framers called upon us to obey That in this land The people’s will must have the upper hand
I felt the calling once before and took a sacred vow And faithful to that vow I have remained I hear the calling once again, my country needs me now And to her cause I have been re-ordained
I’m a Born Again American conceived in liberty My Bible and the Bill Of Rights, all people living free A Born Again American, my country ‘tis of me And everyone who shares the dream From sea to shining sea And everyone who shares the dream From sea to shining sea A M E R I C A
The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America, When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.–Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.
He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.
He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.
He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.
He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.
He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.
He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.
He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.
He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.
He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.
He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.
He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.
He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.
He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:
For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:
For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:
For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:
For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:
For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:
For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences
For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:
For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:
For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.
He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.
He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.
He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to complete the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.
He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.
He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endevoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.
In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.
Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our British brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.
We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.
This is an actual image of one of the four panels of the words of Thomas Jefferson emblazoned upon the walls of perhaps America’s most sacred shrine, the Jefferson Memorial.
The image was taken in October 2007 on my first pilgrimage to pray for our country’s transformation.
As I offer my thoughts, I invite you to observe this Fourth of July by a deeper, interior observance of the heart.
Take time to make these words, of the Declaration of Independence, your own.
Realize, especially those of you who are young people, that these words conceived, founded and established our country.
What existed only in the minds and hearts of our founding fathers and mothers became the United States of America.
But, very sadly, it is my sense that we have wandered far away from this vision.
We don’t realize that we must constantly re-birth America — for good or for ill.
It is my sense that at this critical point of American history that we — each and every American — ought to revisit that moment of our founding. And imagine what it was like.
Imagine their vision of what did not yet exist in the external world.
Imagine the courage they had.
Next to the Word of God, there are no words that are more sacred to me than these.
They are sacred because they reflected divine reality.
God blessed these words of Thomas Jefferson. And our country was born on the Fourth of July 1776.
When I lived in Washington in the summer of 1979 when I was 36 years old, I would go often and sit in the rotunda of this sacred shrine and ponder the vision of these sacred words.
I’d like to share with you what was going on in my head and my heart 38 years ago and today in America in which we are so in much in need of unity and healing, and inspiring leadership.
They are faith-based thoughts.
I just share them because they lead me to a very positive view of our country and our world,
a view that resists the profound hatred and violence and self-indulgence of our comatose society.
As you ponder my thoughts ask yourself what vision of America, what vision of the world and our future do you yourself have?
What do you want for you, for your children, for our country, for our world, for our planet?
I believe your Holy Spirit inspired these words:
WE HOLD THESE TRUTHS TO BE SELF-EVIDENT THAT ALL MEN ARE CREATED EQUAL AND ARE ENDOWED WITH CERTAIN INALIENABLE RIGHTS. AMONG THESE ARE THE RIGHT TO LIFE, LIBERTY AND THE PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS.
As a Christian among other God-fearing women and men. I address You and love You as my God. You are my God. But this means that You are not just my God, but the God of all those you have created. You care about every person on this planet who has ever lived or who ever will; Therefore, we are all equal in your sight. We are all persons. You conceived and created each human being from the very beginning in Your mind and heart with a unique identity, a body and soul, and you sustain each one of us today and for all eternity.
I have come to recognize that ALL of us are in Your family, dear God. And that makes us but sisters and brothers. Help me to embrace Your children on this planet in my heart. Help me to want for every one what you have so generously provided for me – a little place to call home, simple food on my table, a decent education and decent health care.
Help me, God, to recognize and support the right of every human person to life, liberty and the pursuit of other people’s happiness as well as my own. Help me not to be only concerned about my own needs, my own family’s needs, but to realize that we are all one family. Yet we are torn apart by hatred and violence and bigotry and brother still kills brother. Help us export love not hate, peace and development for all people, not war and destruction.
This is my daily prayer, heavenly Father, for the world in which I live.
I pray that you would allow me the grace in some small way to help bring that about.
To you, heavenly Father ~
Father of my Redeemer and elder brother Jesus ~
all honor and praise and thanksgiving, with the Holy Spirit, now and forever.
The Jefferson Memorial
This, dear friends, is my prayer for the world in which I live.
It has ever been such since my lazy summer of ’79 in Washington and always will be.
I do not expect you to use my words as you pray.
I just invite you to make your own prayer.
Make this Fourth of July a re-dedication to our ideals.
We need God in our world today as we face the effects of covid 19 that continues to plague us.
I am presently away from home and intended to visit friends along my way, and have found all but one declining to see me because they are choosing to remain quarentined. And then there’s the double plague of racism that we also have to look into ourselves and see how each of us is infected by this virus that has been with us for so a long time. And it’s about time we faced up to it.
But we rely on ourselves and not on God. Capitalism, by definition, can create that illusion.
I urge you to rebirth the vision of our founding fathers and mothers in your own heart this Fourth of July 2020.
We need to renew that vision, that commitment every year, indeed, very often from the mightiest to the lowest of our land.
And I warn you (me too), if we don’t constantly attend to our renewal,
we will lose what we have and are.
Great civilizations before us have collapsed because of their complacency.
Nevertheless, it is my sense that God will transform us if we pray and bind together!
Before the hotdogs and the baby back ribs and the fireworks, let’s be at prayer and reflection, this Fourth of July.
Ask God for guidance. Ask forgiveness for taking all of this for granted.
We need God to bring us through these critical times.
And now, before you go, here’s a powerful song with historical images to inspire your reflection. Click here.
Be sure to enter full screen and turn up your speakers. Enjoy your celebration for we still have a beautiful land.
(There will be two other posts to reflect on following this one.)
The Feast of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ (Corpus Christ)
Sunday, June 14. 2020
Today is our Roman Catholic Feast of Corpus Christi in which pause to appreciate and give thanks for the wonderful gift of the holy Eucharist.
I’d like to reflect for a moment on what we Catholics believe about this wonderful sacrament.
In my 50 years as a priest I must have celebrated hundreds, maybe thousands of Masses over that time. But I’d like to offer some wonderful comments from Father Richard Rohr, an author I have always appreciated for his wisdom and insight. These are from a recent book “The Universal Christ.” Father Rohr realized that Jesus did not say, “This is my spirit given for you”, or ‘These are my thoughts.” Instead he said very daringly, “This is my body,” which seemed for a spiritual teacher, a God-man to speak. And John reports many left him because of it (John 6:66).
Rohr says he has come to realize that in offering his body, Jesus is precisely giving us his full bodily humanity more than his spiritualized divinity! Eat me,” he shockingly says.
Many of the ancient religions portrayed their god as eating or sacrificing humans or animals, which were offered on altars, but Jesus is inviting us that God would give himself as food for us.
On helpful piece of the Catholic ritual is our orthodox belief in ‘Real Presence.” By that we mean that Jesus is somehow physically present in the sacramental bread. This, Father Rohr says, sets the stage for what he likes to call “carnal knowledge” of God, who is normally assumed to be Spirit. It seemed that mere mind-knowing is not enough because it does not engage the heart or the soul. Presence is a unique capacity that includes body, heart, mind and whatever we mean by soul.. Only real presence can know Real Presence.
When Jesus speaks the words “This is my Body,” Father Rohr believes he was speaking not just about the bread right in front of him, but about the whole universe, about everything that is physical, material, and yet is spirit-filled. (The name of his book , again, is “The Universal Christ”). When we speak these sacred words at the altar, we are speaking them to both the bread and the congregation—so we can carry it “To all creation” (Mark 16:16). As St. Augustine said, we must feed the body of Christ to the people of God until they know they are what they eat! And they know what they drink!
Jesus pushes it further into even scarier directions by adding the symbolism of intoxicating wine as we lift the chalice and speak over all of suffering humanity. “This is my blood.’ Jesus then directs us Drink me, all of you!’
In drinking the Blood of Christ at this Holy Meal you are consciously uniting yourself with all unjust suffering in the world from the beginning of time till its end.
The bread and wine together are stand-ins for the very elements of the universe, which also enjoy and communicate the incarnate presence.
A true believer is eating what he or she is afraid to see and afraid to accept; The universe is the Body of God, both in its essence and its suffering.
As Pope Francis insists, the Eucharistic bread and wine are not a prize for the perfect or a reward for good behavior. Rather, they are food for the human journey and medicine for the sick.
For me, the Eucharistic words have sustained me as I experienced my sinfulness, my woundedness, my brokenness and also profound joy and at times, and a deep affection for my Jesus.
When I receive our Lord in holy communion I pray:
Lord Jesus, You became — You are still — bread-broken
and blood-poured out for the sake of the world.
As I receive the precious gift of the Eucharist
may I become Your body
and Your body become mine.
May Your blood course through my own blood stream.
I want to be transformed by my communion with you, Lord.
Transformed from my self-centered lusts and angers and petty jealousies
Let me become Your Body-broken
and Your Blood-poured-out
into a world that needs You
now more than ever.
To You, Jesus, be honor and glory and praise
this day and forever!
So be it! Amen!
And now. before you go, here is the Eucharistic hymn “Adoro Te Devote sung in procession. On this day throughout the world, it is the custom to have public processions in Catholic countrie with the Blessed Sacrament such as the one in this video. Click here. Be sure to turn up your speakers and enter full screen.
And here are today’s Mass readings with the Ancient “Sequence” or Eucharistic poem included before the gospel. Click here
Richard Rohr The Universal Christ / Ch. 11 pp. 129-138 Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge /2019 / 36 Causton Street / London SWIP 4ST / Copyright Center for Action and Contemplation 2019
The Feast of the Most Holy Trinity ~ Sunday June 7th, 2020
We Catholics (and most Episcopalians) recite these words Sunday after Sunday. (And some Lutheran congregations as well.) But I have a question for you: Do you ever think about what you are saying or reciting? Will you allow me to help us look at them together and plumb their meaning a bit?
I believe in one God,
the Father almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all things visible and invisible.
I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ,
the only Begotten Son of God.
Now right there, some of us might not understand what “only Begotten” means,
but I suppose the next line explains it:
Born of the Father before all ages,
God from, God, Light from Light,
True God from True God,
Begotten not made, consubstantial with the Father.
Before this last change in the Mass, we said “one in being with the Father,” which is a bit easier to understand.
So, I’d like go back to one of the early Church Fathers and to St. Paul, and a little of my own experience to see if we can understand this important mystery of the Holy Trinity a little better.
The word consubstantial means “being of the same substance.”Yeah, I know, that doesn’t help a lot.
Well, here’s a letter written by St. Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria, Egypt to Serapion in the early 4th Century. He is best known for his tirelessness defense of the full divinity of Jesus Christ ~ God the Son’s equality with God the Fatherduring the troubled period of the Arian heresy that taught that Jesus was only a man. It was through this saint’s efforts that the nature of Jesus Christ, both fully man and fully God was clearly articulated in the Nicene Creed. Here’s what he has to say . . . .
“It will not be out of place to consider the ancient tradition, teaching and faith of the Catholic Church, which was revealed by the Lord, proclaimed by the apostles and guarded by the fathers. For upon this faith the Church is built, and if anyone were to lapse from it, he would no longer be a Christian either in fact or in name.
“We acknowledge the Trinity, holy and perfect, to consist of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. In this Trinity there is no intrusion of any alien element or of anything from outside, nor is the Trinity a blend of creative and created being. It is a wholly creative and energizing reality, self-consistent and undivided in its active power, for the Father makes all things through the Word (Jesus) and in the Holy Spirit, and in this way the unity of the holy Trinity is preserved.
“Accordingly, in the Church, one God is preached, one God who is above all things and through all things and in all things. God is above all things as Father, for he is principle and source; he is through all things through the Word; and he is in all things in the Holy Spirit.
I would like you to note what might seem “Pantheistic” here. God is “through” all things.The implication here is that God can be worshipped in all things! Think about that! That’s true! The worship of God didn’t start with the Hebrews or Catholics. It began eons ago!
Earlier, writing to the Corinthians, St. Paul traces all reality back to one God, the Father, saying:
Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of service but the same Lord; and there are varieties of working, but it is the same God who inspires them all in everyone.
This is also Paul’s teaching in his second letter to the Corinthians (2:13): The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.”
“For grace and the gift of the Trinity are given by the Father through the Son in the Holy Spirit. Just as grace is given from the Father through the Son, so there could be no communication of the gift to us except in the Holy Spirit. But when we share in the Spirit, we possess the love of the Father, the grace of the Son and the fellowship of the Spirit himself.” Saint Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria.
Now. isn’t that amazingly clear?
And notice that he ends with the phrase that the priest often uses to greet the people at Mass, “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit … be with you all.”
And when the priest ends his prayers at Mass and sometimes we do too with: Through our Lord jesus Christ, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.
And yet this is all a secret, a mystery that God invites us to share in by entering into the silence of our hearts. We call this contemplation ~ or some would say “Centering Prayerl
Now here’s a story often told about St. Augustine, surely a legend. . . .
St. Augustine spent thirty years trying to write his definitive work De Trinitate. (About the Holy Trinity) But one day . . . .
He was walking by the seashore one day contemplating and trying to understand the mystery of the Holy Trinity when he saw a small boy running back and forth from the water to a spot on the seashore. The boy was using a sea shell to carry the water from the ocean and place it into a small hole in the sand.
The Bishop of Hippo approached him and asked, “My boy, what are doing?”
“I am trying to bring all the sea into this hole,” the boy replied with a sweet smile.
“But that is impossible, my dear child, the hole cannot contain all that water” said Augustine.
The boy paused in his work, stood up, looked into the eyes of the Saint, and replied, “It is no more impossible than what you are trying to do – comprehend the immensity of the mystery of the Holy Trinity with your small intelligence.”
The Saint was absorbed by such a keen response from that child, and turned his eyes from him for a short while. When he glanced down to ask him something else, the boy had vanished.
Some say that it was an Angel sent by God to teach Augustine a lesson on pride in learning. Others affirm it was the Christ Child Himself who appeared to the Saint to remind him of the limits of human understanding before the great mysteries of our Faith.
Through this story, the sea shell has become a symbol of St. Augustine and the study of theology.
And now, let’s turn to St. Paul and to passage I’ve always loved . . .
“What eye has not seen, and ear has not heard,
and what has not entered the human heart and what God has prepared for those who love him,”
but what God has revealed to us through the Spirit.
For the Spirit scrutinizes everything, even the depths of God. [. . . .] And we speak about them not with words taught by human wisdom, but with words taught by the Spirit, describing spiritual realities in spiritual terms. [. . . . ]
For “who has known the mind of the Lord, so as to counsel him?” But we have the mind of Christ. (Corinthians 2: 9-16)
And finally, what do we take from this? What does the Holy Trinity mean for our lives today?
The Holy Trinity is that dynamic energy that sustains the universe. Theirs is a circle of love that encircles everything that exists. And that includes you and me too! They’re a dynamic threesome. They’re dynamite! They’re love itself! The new Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that “by sending his only Son and Spirit of Love in the fullness of time, God revealed his innermost secret: God himself is an eternal exchange of love, Father, Son and Holy Spirit and he has destined us to share in that exchange. (CCC No.221.)
And so, we are invited to share in, to be caught up in that eternal exchange of love, that dynamic energy, that eternal communion.
And then, we’re to share that loving, dynamic energy with one another.
I found this insight in my seminary’s latest alumni news talking about “connecting” . . . . The writer Brene Brown says “connecting” is the energy that exists between people when they realize that they are seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment; and when they can derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.
This challenge is especially significant given the times in which we live, times that are afflicted by patterns of polarization and the demonization of those with whom we disagree; times that seem to grapple with the consequences of social media sites that remain unaccountable even as they seek to divide rather than to unite especially with the challenges and burdens that all of us complicated our lives with the two major crises our Nation is facing right now. The first being the coronavirus epidemic and how our states should or should not open up and how each of us should come out of quarantine. And on top of that, how each of us is responding to the the fact that the three recent killings of Black folk have brought to the surface that our Nation has a great deal of work to do to solve the racial crisis that has been brewing beneath the surface since the Watts riots of 1968.
I urge you to take care of yourself! Find caring people you can talk with by phone or by email or in person (6 ft please ~ as we still have to observe. There’s a lot of pressure on all of us. But this Feast is a feast of joy and hope so take it in.
Does this make the Holy Trinity seem a little more vital to you? The Holy Trinity keep it all going! They’re a circle of love! And they want YOU in it!!! Yes You and me too! And then they want you to tell the world about how it all really works. that: That they have a Father who loves them, a Brother Jesus who redeemed them. And the Spirit they sent to shake things up and get you and me a-movin! Brothers and Sisters we have work to do!
And so may we pray . . .
All holy, undivided Trinity, Creator and Ruler of all that exists,
may all praise be yours now and forever,
and for ages unending, Alleluia, alleluia!
And now before you go, here’s the Hymn “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty Click here
And here are today’s Mass readings, if you’d like to reflect on them. Click here.
We’re coming to the conclusion of our Easter season now, even if we don’t see any end to this drasted coronavirus. I’ve enjoyed writing these Easter blogs for you because it’s impacted my own spirituality as I was researching and writing for you.
The Feast of the Ascension of our Lord is part of the Easter mystery. First was the Resurrection six weeks ago on Easter Sunday in which Jesus conquers death for us and reveals that life will never end.
Then there is the Ascension in which Jesus is taken up into heaven to sit at the Father’s right hand (designated, you may remember as “Ascension Thursday,” but to get more people to celebrate it, the feast was transferred in most dioceses to the following Sunday~ May 24th.)
And finally Pentecost in which God pours forth his Spirit upon the church and all humankind on Sunday, May 31st.
All three experiences are intertwined; they reveal different aspects or facets of the same reality. The Scriptures separate them over 50 days to afford us the opportunity to reflect on each aspect of the one Easter mystery.
Now, let us look at today’s feast, the Ascension.
At the very beginning of the Acts of the Apostle (first reading ~ Acts 1:1-11), written by the same author as Luke’s gospel, describes the experience.
Jesus told them not to depart from Jerusalem but to
“ . . . .wait for the promise of the Father of which you have heard me speak; for John baptized with water but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”
He was, of course, referring to Pentecost.
. . . Then he said,
“You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you
AND YOU WILL BE MY WITNESSES in Jerusalem, and to the ends of the earth.”
What would it have been like to have been there?
As we listen to the last words of Jesus to the men he had chosen to carry on his mission—men he had fondly gathered, camped out with, ate with, slept with, talked and joked with, and formed to carry on his mission. This last meeting with Jesus, Barclay says, did three things:
~ He assured them of his power. (Matthew says they doubted.)
~ He gave them a commission. He sent them out to make all the world his disciples. (It may well be that the instruction to baptize is something that is a development of the actual words of Jesus.) That may be argued about; the salient fact remains that the commission of Jesus is to bring all people to himself.
~ He promised them a presence. It must have been a staggering thing for eleven humble Galilaeans to be sent forth to the conquest of the world. Even as they heard it, their hearts must have failed them. But no sooner than the command was given, than the promise was fulfilled. They were sent out—as we are—on the greatest task of history, but with them there was the greatest presence in the world.
And we remember, they went out to the ends of the earth as they knew it and all were martyred for their faithfulness and zeal except for one.
Then, Acts says, “Jesus was lifted up, a cloud took him from their sight.”
(However, in today’s Gospel from Matthew, the “lifting” is not mentioned, just the commissioning.)
They stood there, awestruck, spellbound .
Then two men dressed in white garments stood beside them and said,
“Men of Galilee, why are standing there looking at the sky?
This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven will return in the same way as you have seen him going into heaven.”
This feast is about heaven, but also about earth.
Jesus is taken into heaven; that is, he returns to his Father where sits at the Father’s right hand.
And the second reading from Ephesians states that. . . .
God the Father “put all things beneath Christ’s feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of the one who fills all things in every way.”(Ephesians 1:23)
Thus, there is a cosmic dimension to Christology. The great mystic and theologian Father Teilhard de Chardin talked about “Christogenesis” – the entire universe evolving by the power of Christ’s all-embracing love. When Chardin was far away from bread or wine and could not celebrate Mass, he talked fervently and passionately about the “Mass on the world – that the whole planet was the body of Christ.
So we think about Jesus as Lord of the Universe, and we pray in these days of the pandemic that has left no nation untouched that our Lord and our Blessed Lady would watch over us all. And so the Feast of Ascension is also about earth.
The angels ask the disciples — Why are you standing there looking up in the sky? You and I have work to do!
YOU MUST BE MY WITNESSES in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth.
A witness is one who experiences with one’s own eyes and ears what has taken place.
A witness is one who has filtered through one’s own senses what their account of the truth is.
I consider myself a witness to the resurrection. I have had enough experiences of risen life, even, it might seem, of mystical experience that I am convinced that Jesus is real, that he lives and reigns, that he empowers us through his Spirit. Throughout my life I have found myself immersed in the mystery of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
This is true also, because Jesus has allowed me the ability to share his life with others, and they with me. Many others have deepened and enriched their faith as the Holy Spirit worked through my priesthood.
Brothers and sisters, we have work to do. We are put on notice in the scriptures of today’s feast.
Next Sunday we will attend to the third aspect of the Easter mystery ~ Pentecost ~ the outpouring of God’s Holy Spirit upon all humankind.
During the coming week may we pray that the Holy Spirit would renew each of us individually, the whole Church of God and indeed the whole world.
Christ is Risen!
Now, before you go, here’s a rousing version of the wonderful hymn, Crown Him with many Crowns a. Click here. Be sure to turn up your speakers and enter full screen.
Ordinarily we human beings try to make provisions for those we will leave behind when we die; Jesus, who became fully human and fully immersed in all that we are and do, was no exception.
Some of us are concerned with anticipating and attending to the economic needs of loved ones and, to that end, we pass on to them whatever monetary wealth we’ve accumulated through the years. Sensitive to the emotional well-being of our dear ones, we may leave behind assuring messages, not only a last testament but a note, a letter or even a personal journal or a videotape. Admittedly, none of these efforts, can negate the stark reality of death, but all can, in some small way, diminish its pain.
Before he departed from his disciples in death, Jesus also attempted to ease the burden of those whom he would leave behind, not by providing for their economic, emotional or psychological needs but by seeing to their spiritual well-being. Indeed, Jesus left behind his very self so that his presence would continue to embrace, enable and empower his followers.
Three weeks ago on Easter’s Third Sunday, the risen Jesus as recorded in Luke’s gospel, explained that his abiding presence could be known and experienced in the breaking of the bread of the scriptural word and in the breaking of the bread of the Eucharist. Upon realizing his presence among them, the disciples burned with love and affection in their hearts.
Six weeks ago, on Easter’s second Sunday, the risen Jesus as recorded in the gospel of John breathed upon his own and indicated that from then on they would be inspired and impelled by his abiding presence to bring peace and forgiveness to a needy world.
In today’s gospel, John tells us that the abiding Spirit of Jesus within every believer sets us at odds with the world. It is the Spirit of truth whom the world does not recognize or accept. Nevertheless, and despite all odds, that Spirit has been promised us; that the Spirit will remain with us as Jesus’ living legacy until he returns. Jesus will not leave us orphans!
That Spirit was described by Jesus as another Advocate.
William Barclay, the Presbyterian scripture scholar to whom I frequently refer gives us some insight into the word “Advocate.” . . . . .
Jesus doesn’t leave us to struggle with the daily battle of Christian life alone. He would send us another Helper. The Greek word is parakletos. (When I was a kid, and my mom asked me what I learned that day, I said, “I learned that the Holy Spirit is a parakeet!”) How ’bout that?
Barclay says, the Greek word is really untranslatable. Some English translations render it as Comforter, but upon examining the origin of the word we “catch something of the riches of the doctrine of the Holy Spirit.” It really means someone who is called in; but it is the reason why the person is called in which gives the word its distinctive associations. A parakletos might be a person called in to give witness in q law court in someone’s favor.; he might an advocate called in to plead the cause of someone who had some serious charge against them. The paracletos might be someone who’s called to help in time of trouble or need.
Comforter was once a perfectly good word. It originates from the Latin word fortis; which means, brave,(or consider the virtue of fortitude) ,and a comforter was someone who enabled some dispirited creature to be brave. These days, comfort has to do mostly sorrow, and a comforter is someone who sympathizes with us when we are sad. The Holy Spirit substitutes victorious for defeated living.
So what Jesus is saying is: “I am setting before you a hard task and sending you out on a difficult engagement, but I’m sending you someone, the parakletos, who will guide you as to what to do and enable you to do it.
Thus, the Holy Spirit as our advocate is one who represents our interests, like a defense attorney who is sincerely concerned with our well-being. As our Advocates, the Son and the Spirit will support us in all our efforts, strengthen us against every adversary, and sustain us through every trial. It is the Holy Spirit who will assure the permanence and the power of the community’s faith in the risen Jesus. For Jesus solemnly promises that he will not leave us orphans.
Jesus promised his disciples that he would not leave them orphans. We have been chosen! And like an older brother, Jesus is going ahead to prepare a home for us. And an unbelievable gift is about to be given us! What Christ has by nature, we are granted as gift—a share in the divine life – in the interior life of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Their love surrounds, supports us, nourishes us and sustains us. When the Father sees us, hears our prayers, God sees and hears the divine Son. We are not orphans; we are God’s beloved children, and our train is bound for glory. Pentecost is in two weeks.
Jesus, we’re moving to the close of our Easter season now. Pentecost is just two weeks away.
Grant us the grace to receive the gift of your Holy Spirit, our Advocate and Guide anew.
In this time of crisis we so much need a Helper, and Advocate on so many different levels.
You also said,
“Whoever has my commandments and observes them is the one who loves me. And whoever loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and reveal myself to him (14:21).”
Help us to observe your commandments, Jesus. They are simple: “Love one another as I have loved you.” Help us get through this crisis by helping each other through it.
And allow us to know you and the Father.
To you and the Father and the Holy Spirit, our Advocate be all honor and glory, now and forever.
And now before you go, here’s a simple song to the Holy Spirit by the Australian young peoples’ group Hillsong. Click here.Be sure to turn up your speakers and enter full screen.
And here’s the link for today’s Mass readings. Click here.
Many of us are struggling in one way or another ~ most of us financially ~ because of the coronavirus crisis and its lingering effects among us. So we might gladly hear as good news Jesus’ opening line in today’s gospel:
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You have faith in God; have faith also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If there were not, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back again and take you to myself, so that where I am you also may be.
This passage appears very shortly before the apostles’ life begins to cave in (John 14:1-10).When he speaks of “his Father’s house” he’s talking about heaven, of course, and when he says there are “many dwelling places—or as Barclay calls them, “abiding places,”—Clement of Alexandria thought that there were degrees of glory, rewards and stages in proportion to a man’s achievement in holiness in this life.
Barclay suggests to us that there’s something attractive here. A lot of us think heaven is boring and static! There’s something attractive at the idea of a development which goes on even in the heavenly places.
And if there are many dwelling places in heaven, it may simply mean there’s room for all; an earthly house can become overcrowded especially in these coronavirus days,with short tempers and and all.)
It was Jesus real purpose “to prepare a place for us.” One of the great words that is used to describe Jesus is prodromos (Hebrews 6:20). It’s translated as forerunner. In the Roman army they were the reconnaissance troops that went ahead to blaze the trail.
And then Jesus said: “Where I am, there you will also be.” Here is the great truth put in the simplest way: for the Christian, heaven is where Jesus is!”
Again and again Jesus had told his disciples where he was going, but somehow they never understood. “Yet a little while I am with you, and then I go to him who him that sent me (John 7:33). Even less did they understand that the way he had to take was the Cross.
At this moment the disciples were bewildered men; they followed him, yes, but they didn’t quite get what was going on. But there was one among them who would never say he understood what he did not understand.
You might guess who that one was.
Thomas, of course!
Thomas said, “Master, we do not know where you are going, how can we know the way?
And Barclay says, that no one should ever be ashamed to express one’s doubts for it is amazingly true that he who seeks to the end will find—and the wonderful thing is that Thomas’ question provoked one of the greatest thinks Jesus ever said:
“I am the Way and the Truth and the Life.”
That is the great saying to us, but it would be still greater to the Jew who heard it for the first time.
The Jews talked a great deal about the ways of God. “You shall walk in the ways which the Lord your God has commanded you Dt. 5:32,33). “Teach me your way, O Lord. (Psalm27: 11).
So what did Jesus mean when he said he was “the Way”?
Jesus doesn’t tell us about the Way; He is the Way. He will take us where we need to go!
Jesus said, “I am the Truth.”
How many people have told us they have told us the truth—car sales persons, politicians, insurance brokers, realtors, bankers, journalist, husbands, wives, children and doctors who have lied to us instead.
But Jesus is the Truth. Moral truth cannot be conveyed solely in words; it must be conveyed by example. It finds its realization in him.
Jesus said, “I am the Life.”
The writer of Proverbs said, “The commandment is the lamp, and the teaching a light; and the reproofs of discipline are the way of life” (Proverbs 6:23). “You show me the path of life. (Psalm16: 11).
There is only one way to put all this: “No one, said Jesus, comes to the Father except through me. He alone is the way to God. In him we see what God is like, and he alone can lead us to God’s presence with fear and without shame
.And so, once again, dear sisters and brothers, I call you, I invite you to an intimacy with Jesus who is our Way, our Truth and our Life.
Last week we reflected on Jesus in his image as the Good Shepherd, walking the road ahead of us, protecting us from harm as the Sheep-gate. If you feel afraid or hesitant to draw close to him, don’t be. Sometimes people who’ve been hurt by love are even afraid of God too. That’s understandable. Just don’t be afraid! There is nothing to be afraid of. Put your big toe in. The water’s warm. You’re in for the biggest surprise of your life!
Gentle Jesus, I thank you for guiding me along the way of my life,
I thank you for leading me on my life-long search for You, my Truth;
may I finally be united to you, my Life!
But most of all, I beg of you, to be with all of those who are struggling this day in any way because of this terrible disease ~ those who are sick, those who take care of them, those who worried about their jobs and finances, those in leadership positions to help guide us through this.
And finally, bless all of our mothers, grandmothers and mothers-to-be on this Mothers’ day.
May Our Blessed Lady watch over us all! Amen!
And now before you go, here’s the song ” I am the way and the truth and the life.Click Here.
And here are this Sunday’s Mass readings if you’d like to reflect on them.Click here.
William Barclay The Daily Study Bible Series / the Gospel of John – Volume 2 Revised Edition / Westminster Press – Philadelphia – 1975/ pp. 154-9.
Have you ever thought about how shepherds handle their sheep? In many places even today they follow their shepherd, who walks in front of them. They’re not goaded like cattle. Cowboys herd cattle from behind, pushing them forward. Not so with sheep.
Muse a bit about Jesus as the Good Shepherd – Jesus walking ahead of us along the way. He shows us the way. He’s been there ahead of us. In Mark 10:32, we are told that the disciples were going up to Jerusalem “and Jesus was leading the way.” And of course, along the way, he was teaching and forming them. And that’s how it can be with you and me!
Apparently, it is the voice of the shepherd that controls the sheep. “My sheep hear my voice,”says Jesus. The sheep pick out the voice of their one only shepherd from that of others. They only follow the one whose voice they recognize.
In another place in the text, Jesus distinguishes between true and false shepherds. The false ones are hired hands that won’t go out of their way to help the sheep. The good shepherd is the one dedicated to his sheep and his care.
The concept of the Messiah as the Good Shepherd appeared frequently in the Old Testament, notably in the prophet Ezekiel. All of Chapter 34 is dedicated to the good shepherd. Ezekiel warns of the peril of following false shepherds who lead their flocks astray. He admonishes to seek the good shepherd: “The Lost I will seek out, the strayed I will bring back, the injured I will bind up, the sick I will heal. . . . Thus shall they know that I the Lord, am their God, and they are my people.”
And, of course David was the Shepherd King of Israel, having written our beloved Psalm 23 ~ “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.”
The words of Ezekiel were as familiar to the Jews in the time of Jesus as they can be to us in this difficult time of the coronavirus: the lost, the injured, the sick and those who are struggling to care for them. The Jews, too, recognized the difference between a good shepherd and a hireling, who was more interested in his pay than the welfare of the flock. (And isn’t that the same in our time, with politicians who don’t seem to care.)
While we love the image of the Good Shepherd, most of us lack firsthand acquaintance with either a shepherd or with sheep. But picture this as shown to us by Professor Barclay. . .
The life of a shepherd in Palestine was very hard. He was never off duty. The sheep were bound to wander, and had to be constantly watched. On the narrow plateau the ground dipped sharply down to the craggy deserts and the sheep were liable to stray away and get lost. The shepherd’s task was not only constant but dangerous, for he not only had to guard the flock but to protect them from wild animals and thieves and robbers. He was out there with them in all kinds of weather, day and night.
As Barclay writes, quoting Sir George Adam Smith, who travelled in Palestine, “On some high moor, at night hyenas howl, when you meet him, sleepless, far-sighted, weather-beaten, leaning on his staff, and looking over his scattered sheep, everyone of them on his heart, you understand why the shepherd of Judaea sprang to the front in his people’s history; why the Jews gave his name to their king, and made him the symbol of Providence; why Christ took him as the type of self-sacrifice.” Constant vigilance, fearless, courage, patient love for his flock, were the necessary characteristics of the shepherd.
And so listen for the Voice of your Shepherd. What greater blessing could there be than this: The shepherd knows your voice and you know his. We will have instantaneous, constant communication as we seek to become one with this Good Shepherd. The closer, the more intimate that relationship, the better we will comprehend the words of our Shepherd: “No one can take them out of my hand.”
Jesus says he is not only the shepherd, but he is the sheepgate. The sheep go in and out of the pasture and are safe.
When the sheep came into the enclosure, the shepherd would lie down at the entrance, thus, literally becoming the Gate, or the Door!
Jesus is the Gate to the spiritual world. Because he claims us as his own, we are safe.
There’s another meaning here, too, I think. A lot of people experiment with other matters in the spiritual world that are not so safe. Like hallucinogenic drugs or seances and tarot cards or fortune-telling, or calling on the spirits. These are not protected and can be very dangerous.
William Barclay has this to add about this passage. . . .
~ Jesus promised eternal life. If someone became a member of his flock, all the littleness of life would be gone and they would know the splendor and magnificence of the life with God.
~ He promised a life that would know no end. Death would not be the end but the beginning; they would know the glory of the indestructible life.
~ He promised a life that was secure. Nothing could snatch them from his hand. Not that it would save them from sorrow or suffering. Even in a world crashing to disaster they would know the serenity of God.
Jesus says it was the Father who gave the sheep to him. And thus Jesus received his confidence from the Father. He was secure, not in his own power, but in God’s. And the Gospel passage ends with the words, “The Father and I are one,” which calls to mind his intense prayer at the end of the Last Supper, according to John, “Holy Father, keep them in your name which you have given me that they may be one as we are one.” (John 17:11)
But let’s look at another side of this. The Good Shepherd seems to be doing all the giving, all the caring, all the protecting. The sheep just receive.
Now isn’t that the relationship we strive for with our God? We have received everything from God; should we not give all in return? Our love, too, should be unconditional, our loyalty without compromise, our thoughts, words and deeds in accord with the will of God.
And then ask yourself this question: Am I not, in turn, a good shepherd?
If you have children or others under your care, ask yourself: Do I shepherd well those who are under my care? Do I shepherd by leading? Or by goading? How can I adapt my leadership style to Jesus as the Good Shepherd.
Then, and only then, will we be able to say, “I know my Shepherd, and my Shepherd knows me.”
Christ is Risen!
Now, before you go, here’s a version of our beloved Psalm 23, “Shepherd Me, O God,” that has the flavor of Jesuit spirituality as well. Click here.
Wouldn’t it have been wonderful to take a walk with Jesus down a country road? Think about it.
That’s what I want you to do with me right now in your imagination. Let’s go back as the two disciples walk with Jesus and walk along with them.
I will reflect on the story, the fruit of my own imagination; but you need to engage your own.
(Please note: When I use the actual words from Scripture, they appear in red type; the narrative appears in regular type and when I offer comments about the story, these appear in italics.)
“That very day, the first day of the week, two of Jesus’ disciples were going to a village seven miles from Jerusalem to Emmaus.”
They were sad and downcast, as they were discussing the events in Jerusalem over the previous three days.
Think about how all of Jesus’ disciples must have felt during the interim between Good Friday afternoon and when they were able to fully grasp that Jesus had risen. They were terrified the Jewish authorities would hunt them down next. As we face this coronavirus crisis, most of us are distraught and fearful too. Or reflect on a time in your past when you were sad or despondent.
Then Jesus invited himself along and they began to converse with him as they walked.
They do not recognize him, and began telling Jesus about Jesus.“. . . a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, how our chief priests and rulers handed him over to a sentence of death and crucified him.”
(Why don’t they recognize him? Are they just ruminating over depressing events?) What do you think?
They told him, “We were hoping that he would be the one to redeem Israel.”
(Feel the depth of their disappointment and anguish ~ and fear; they must have been heartsick. What kept them from a sense of hope?)
“They knew that women in their company had gone to the tomb early that morning and found the tomb empty, but had seen a “vision of angels who announced that he was alive.” But they didn’t get it, did they?
Then Jesus interjected, “Oh how foolish you are! How slow of heart to believe all that the prophets spoke!’ Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them what referred to him in all the Scriptures.”
( What change was taking place in them?) Was it that they felt the warmth of his love?
When they reached their village, they pressed him, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening and the day is almost over.”
(How do you think the disciples were feeling at this point? Had a change or transformation occurred in them?) ( I remember a conversation I had with someone on a train when I was a seminarian and he invited me to his home and I felt his love. I never saw him again; but I still pray for him.)
“So he went in to stay with them. And it happened that, while he was at table. . .”
. . .Now they could see him directly, not alongside of them, but across from them. . .
“. . .He took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them. With that their eyes were opened and THEY RECOGNIZED HIM, but he vanished from their sight.
A veil had covered their eyes, but now their eyes were opened and they recognized him—in the breaking of bread.”
And then they returned to the Eleven in the Upper Room and “recounted what had taken place along the way and how [Jesus] was made known to them in the breaking of bread.”
There was victory in their hearts! The point here is that they had to share their experience! They had to “evangelize!”
Now for a couple of observations ~ especially for those of you who are Catholics or who appreciate the Holy Eucharist . . . .
Love of the holy Eucharist: Down through the centuries the church has recognized the Lord—has recognized itself—in the breaking of bread. This prompts a deep and abiding love for participating in the holy Eucharist.
(What kinds of varied feelings do you have when you celebrate the Eucharist? What could deepen your love of the gathering, listening, sharing, singing that is the holy Eucharist?
(Eucharist is a verb and a noun!) What kind of thoughts and feelings do you have during these past weeks when you’ve been deprived of receiving of the Holy Eucharist because of the coronavirus?
And then this: The disciples realized “Were not our hearts burning within us while he spoke to us on the way and opened the Scriptures to us?”
The two disciples came very, very close to Jesus in their conversation on the way.It was an intimate moment they would always remember.
I can remember a good number of holy (that is, open and honest) conversations with friends that changed my life and have given me the nourishment to grow and move on.
(Who are the people in your life who nourish and encourage you in conversation?)
Whom do you so nourish?
And here’s a bit of a commentary . . . .
What a joy and a privilege it would be to share an evening meal with Jesus as the two disciples did after the memorable walk to Emmaus! How blessed it would be to listen and learn as Jesus began with Moses and all the prophets to interpret every passage of scripture that referred to him. What a gift to watch him take the bread, bless it, break it, share it. What a joy to feel our hearts burning within and our eyes open wide to recognize him in the breaking of the bread.
As we look back over the gospels, particularly that of the Lucan evangelist, we are reminded that Jesus afforded his contemporaries many such nourishing, enlightening and transforming experiences within the context of shared meals. Indeed, throughout the Jewish and Christian Scriptures, meal sharing was a profoundly important event, one that sealed friendships, affirmed marital and family relationships, solidified political alliances and confirmed and celebrated one’s faith and worship (as in the Passover meal.)
Israel’s wisdom literature is lavish in its banquet imagery. Recall Wisdom’s invitation as recorded in Proverbs: “Wisdom has built herself a house…she has prepared her table…Come eat of my bread, drink of the wine I have prepared for you.”
Gradually the Israelite community who came before us in the faith began to envision the experience of salvation in terms of a great banquet prepared by God for all of humankind.
Also realized and clearly in evidence at those meals of old was the universal and welcoming love of God for all, especially sinners.
Jesus’ contemporaries would have shunned sitting down at someone’s dining room table with sinners; these they regarded as off the playing field of salvation. Jesus deliberately associated with outcasts, however, welcoming them and agreeing to be welcomed by them. Indeed, he made it quite clear that some of these outcasts would come into the kingdom before the established religious leaders. Recall Jesus’ willingness to be a guest in the homes of Levi and Zacchaeus, both of whom were hated tax collectors. These would never have been welcomed into a respectable Jewish home. Yet it was to these very people to whom Jesus extended the privilege and blessings of table fellowship. It would be like Jesus going to the home of a homosexual or Muslim couple today and eating and drinking with their friends..
Then recall that when Jesus hosted the multitudes and fed the 5000 in the deserted place, he did not first determine who was worthy of his food or his presence. He fed them all, first with the nourishment of his teaching and then with bread and fish. Given the enormity of the number who ate to their satisfaction, surely there were some in the crowd who fell short of the law’s standard, who sinned against their neighbors, who were remiss in some aspect of their lives. Nevertheless, without hesitation or discrimination, Jesus welcomed and fed them all.
Now we come to this wonderful story of the breaking of the bread, this my favorite and beloved resurrection appearance of Jesus. As in most of the resurrection appearances, the risen Jesus was not immediately recognized by his own. Recognition came gradually and only with the insights afforded by faith. Though Jesus had been transformed by his resurrection and was not initially recognized, he was, nevertheless, the same Jesus who had walked with them, talked with them, and shared their lives while he was among them before he was crucified. He was the same Jesus who took bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to feed the multitudes.
He was the same Jesus who allowed himself to be taken and broken on the cross and who gave his life so that sinners may be blessed with forgiveness, freedom from sin, salvation.
I am a priest 51 years now. I never grow tired of the holy Eucharist. I always come back to celebrate after a couple of days if I am absent from it.
In fact, I am certain that I could not live happily without the Eucharist. Maybe I couldn’t live at all without the Eucharist – at least sanely.
Appreciate this great and wonderful experience, dear friends, that Jesus shares with us in his person even now, two thousand years after the Last (or the First) Supper.
One last question for you: when you finally get to walk into church again and walk up to the communion table and receive the Holy Eucharist again, how do you think you will feel?
What a beautiful experience it is to share in the breaking of the bread – whether there is a glorious celebration with trumpets and gorgeous music or with just one other person present.
Yes appreciate this great and wonderful gift.
May we never take it for granted.
We praise you and thank you for sharing with us
in every place and for all time
the gift of your sacred body and blood.
May we always cherish such a wonderful gift
and never take it for granted.
To You be all glory and honor
with the Father and the Spirit,
now and forever. Amen. Alleluia!
And now to complete your experience for today, here’s the song “You raise me up.” Click here. Be sure to enter full screen and turn up your speakers.
The Second Sunday of Easter ~ April 19th, 2020~ “Peace be with You!”
Here we are continuing to celebrate the fifty days of the Easter Season as most of us are still locked down similar to the way the apostles were on that first Easter. See if you can learn from their experience today as we try to cope with this ongoing coronavirus that’s invading and infecting all our lives.
The Apostles were very disturbed after the crucifixion. Their life with Jesus ~ their hopes and dreams for the future ~ seemed to be totally shattered. They were afraid that the leaders would come for them and crucify them as well. How have your hopes and dreams been averted in the past month?
These issues were so strong in them that they could not believe the message that the Women brought them that Jesus had been raised. They were not at peace.
They were distressed and fearful, huddled together in the Upper Room behind locked doors. They were depressed and distraught that the One they had come to love had been murdered. They were afraid that the religious leaders would come after them as well.
William Barclay, the Scripture scholar says that “they met in something like terror.” They knew the envenomed bitterness of the Jewish leaders who had plotted his execution and feared they would be next.
They really needed some peace. So the first thing Jesus says when he appears to them is “Peace be with you.”
Thus, peace is an Easter gift. It’s a gift that we can claim and pray for too.
I’m not talking about peace between Israelis and Palestinians or Republicans and Democrats. It means more than “May you be saved from times of trouble or conflict.” It means much more than that. It means, “May God give you every good thing.”
Jesus said when he appeared to them in the locked room, “Peace be with you. As the Father sent me, so I send you.”
There’s a parallel between the sending out of the Church by Jesus and his being sent by the Father. John’s Gospel makes clear that the relationship between Jesus and God shows Jesus’ perfect obedience and perfect love. Jesus could be God’s messenger only because he rendered to God that perfect obedience and perfect love. It follows that the Church is fit to be a messenger and an instrument of Christ only when it perfectly loves him and perfectly obeys him. The Church must never be out to propagate man-made policies. The Church fails whenever it tries to solve some problems in its own wisdom and strength and leaves out of account the guidance of Christ.
“And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit . . . .”
Barclay suggests that when John spoke in this way, he was thinking back to the story of the creation of humankind. “And the Lord God formed man out of dust from the soil and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being. (Genesis 2:7)
And we can compare this to the story of the valley of the dry bones in Ezekiel when he heard God say to the wind, “ Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain that they may live.”
The coming of the Holy Spirit is like the awakening of life from the dead.
. . . . Until Jesus appeared to them. They no longer had to rely on faith, which was lacking for all of them, not just Thomas. They had to experience the Risen One for themselves.
Then enter Thomas. He is not at peace. He says that unless he puts his finger in the nail-marks and his hand into his side, he will not believe.”
Thomas is honest.
Thomas needed to be convinced. He absolutely refused to say that he understood what he did not understand or to say he believed what he did not believe. There was an uncompromising honesty about him.
But when he was sure, he went all the way,My Lord and My God,”he proclaimed!
At this point, Thomas is overwhelmed. A week earlier he had said he would not believe. The truth of it all came home to him: so different from other men, he is the same one they used to be together with, who was put to death a short time ago. And Thomas surrendered. “You are my Lord and my God!” Thomas believed.
But then Jesus said to him, “Have you come to believe because you have seen me?
Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.”
These words are really extraordinary, according to Bread and Wine author Romano Guardini. Thomas believed because he had been allowed to “see.,” to see the hands and the side and to touch the blessed wounds, yet he was not blessed.
Blessed indeed are those whose who have yet learned to believe!” Those who ask for no miracles, demand nothing out of the ordinary, but find God’s message in every day life. Those who require no compelling proofs, but remain in a certain ultimate suspense, so that faith may never cease to require daring.
And those are called blessed who make the effort to remain open-hearted. Who seek to cleanse their hearts of all self-righteousness, obstinacy, presumption, and inclination to “know better-than-others.”. Who are quick to listen, and are humble and free-spirited. Who are able to find God’s message in the gospel of he day, or even from the sermons of preachers with no message in particular, or in phrases from the Law they’ve heard a thousand times, phrases with no charismatic power about them, or in the happenings of every day life that always end up the same way: work and rest, anxiety—and then again some kind of success, some joy, and an encounter, and a sorrow.
Blessed are those who can see the Lord in all those things!
~ Romano Guardini / Bread and Wine “Believing is Seeing” pp.. 119- 123,
There’s a message for us in what Father Guardini says here for all of us as we ” stay in place” bored perhaps, day-in- day-out, not knowing when our lives will return to normal, or if there will be a “normal.” A message of patience and love.
As for me, I consider myself a Witness to the Resurrection. I KNOW my Redeemer lives. I KNOW his love for me in the present moment. He is as close to me as my very own heartbeat. Not that I’m always aware of him. No, I am a sinful man who has made many mistakes in the fifty -one years of my priesthood. But I know that I love him and I know at the bottom of my heart that Jesus loves me. And, with all my heart and soul, I want you, my dear readers, to know in the bottom of your own hearts the deep, deep love and affection that Jesus has for YOU, too!
I praise and thank God and his Son Jesus Christ our Lord for the gift the peace he has given me.
AND MAY THE PEACE OF THE LORD BE WITH YOU AS WELL!
And now before you go, a couple of things, first, today is also known as Divine Mercy Sunday.
Divine Mercy Sunday is celebrated on the Sunday after Easter. It is originally based on the Devotion to the Divine Mercy that Saint Faustina Kowalska reported as part of her encounter with Jesus, and is associated with special promises from Jesus and indulgences issued by the Church. Jesus associated with this devotion. A simple prayer associated with this devotion is “Jesus, I trust in you.” A simple act of abandonment is enough to overcome the barriers of darkness and sorrow and desperation. The rays of God’s divine mercy will restore hope hope to those who feel overwhelmed by any burden, especially the burden of sin.
And now, here is a powerful song to pull all of this together ~ , Click here.
Be sure to turn up your speakers and enter full screen, and there’s another song just behind it.
And here are the Mass readings, if you’d care to reflect on them. Click here.
William Barclay The Daily Study Bible Series / the Gospel of John – Volume 2 Revised Edition / Westminster Press – Philadelphia – 1975/ pp. 272-4.
How do we celebrate Easter against the background of this ongoing coronavirus crisis? It’s upended all of our lives and it surely could well upset our Easter Sunday celebration. For one, it preclude any kind of family dinners. Picnics are out. Walks in the park? Depends on your city. Play outside? Again depends. But it doesn’t have to ruin our spiritual enjoyment of the day. I want to try to help. You can also probably live-stream Easter Sunday Mass. (I’ll provide some resources for that on my email that accompanies this blog or you can google it yourself in your area.
As I did yesterday, I’m going to share another article from my favorite Lent / Easter spiritual reading book, this time from the Easter section. It’s one by Philip Yancey and it will lead into the them I want to set for all of us for this Easter Sunday and that is one of Gratitude. As we’ve had to step back and (most of us anyway) have had time on our hands, let’s use that time for good. For prayer and reflection. To think about the good things we do have and not the things we don’t. I hope you enjoy this article as much as I did. It really affected me deeply and as I share this with you today, it could possibly bring about powerful change among us. At least that is my hope and prayer.
The image of the Cross is proof that God cares. Today the image is coated with gold and worn around the necks of beautiful girls, a symbol of how far we can stray from contemplating the reality of the True Cross and what it ought to mean for us.
In this time of the coronavirus crisis in which all of us are shaken, anxious and fearful perhaps of what our future holds and that of our country that’s a perfect image for us to think about this Easter Sunday.
Love was compressed for all history in that lonely, bleeding Jesus. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life” (John 3:16).
What practical effect does Christ identification with us have on people who actually suffer?A dramatic example of this effect of this truth was seen in the ministry of Dr. Paul Brand while he was working among leprosy patients in Vellore, India. Dr. Brand was one of the few, together with his staff that would draw close to and touch a person with Hansen’s disease—the townspeople quarantined them.
He slipped in late to a patients’ gathering sitting on a mat at the edge of the open courtyard. The patients insisted on a few words from him and he reluctantly agreed. Gazing around, his eyes were drawn to their hands, dozens of them, in the familiar “leprosy claw hand,” some with no fingers. Some sat on their hands; others hid them from view.
“I am a hand surgeon,” he told them, waiting for a translation into Tamil or Hindi, so when I meet people “I can’t help looking at people’s hands. I can tell your past, for instance by the position of the calluses and the condition of the nails. I can tell a lot about your character. I love hands.” The patients were rapt with attention.
“How I would have loved to have had a chance to meet Christ and study his hands! ” He began with infancy when his hands were small, helpless, grasping. Then as a boy clumsily holding a brush or a stylus, trying to form letters of the alphabet. Then the hands of a carpenter—rough, gnarled, with broken finger nails and bruises working with a saw and hammer.
Then there were the hands of Christ the physician, the healer. Compassion and sensitivity seemed to radiate from them, so much so that when he touched people they could feel something of the divine spirit coming through. Christ touched the blind, the diseased, the needy.
Then there was the crucified hands. Dr. Brand said”it hurts me to think about a nail being driving through the center of my hand because I know what goes on there, the tremendous complex of nerves and blood vessels and muscles. It’s impossible to drive a spike through its center without crippling it. The thought of those healing hands being crippled reminds me of what Christ was prepared to endure. In that act he identified himself with all the deformed and crippled human beings in the world. Not only was he able to endure poverty with the poor, weariness with the tired, but clawed hands with the crippled.”
The effect on the listening patients—all social outcasts—was electrifying.
Dr. Brand continued. “Then there were his resurrected hands. One of the things I find most astounding is that, though we think that the future of life is something perfected, when Christ appeared to his disciples, he said, ‘Come look at my hands,” and he invited Thomas to put his finger in the print of the nail.”
“Why did he want to keep the wounds of his humanity? Wasn’t it because he wanted to carry back with him an external reminder of the suffering of those on earth? He carried the marks of suffering (and there there on every crucifix to look at) so he could continue to understand the needs of those suffering. He wanted to be forever one with us.”
And then . . . . and then hands were lifted high all over the courtyard, palm to palm in the Indian gesture of respect, namaste. The hands were same stumps, the same missing fingers and crooked arches. Yet no one tried to hide them. God’s own response to suffering made theirs easier.
It should make yours easier too.
“Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.” (Matt 11:29-30)
As many of you, my readers are aware. I have suffered from a social disorder for many years too but it’s more hidden, but it did cause me a great deal of suffering. They call it manic-depressive disorder or bipolar disorder. And it has caused me to be estranged because of behavior that I was not fully in control of at the time with friends in the past. That has caused me a great deal of pain, let alone the embarrassment. I truly regret those incidents and hope someday I can be reconciled with some of those friends. I miss them!
But most of all, this leads me to a profound sense of gratitude. On Tuesday of Holy Week, I had the opportunity to go to confession to a special priest. We practiced “social distancing” outside under a gazebo and he let me talk for 45 minutes. And for my penance, he asked me to think of five things I am grateful for and I’m going to ask you, my readers to do the same, this Easter Sunday if you are moved by the grace of Mr. Yancey’s writing and my own contribution. Here’s my list: ( I came up with seven.)
* My Friendship with Jesus
* The gift of my priesthood over fifty-one years
* My home
* The friends who’ve nourished and sustained me
* My gifts and talents for writing especially
* My little dog Shoney
* My candy apple red Mustang (how ’bout dat?)
On this very peculiar Easter Sunday, I really am filled with gratitude for life and love ~ Your love ~ and the love of so many.
Please, Lord be with those who are suffering this day from the virus or in any other way. Those who courageously care for them.
Be with all those who are disabled in some way. My friends George and Pat who dedicates their lives to assist them. And so many others. Just thank you, thank, you, thank you!
JESUS IS RISEN!
Before you go, here’s the Australian young people’s group Hillsong singing “Worthy is the Lamb” with a stadium full of young people singing with them! Click Here. Be sure to turn up your speakers and be sure to enter full screen.
Now here are today’s Mass readings if you’d like to reflect on them Click here.
From Where is God when it Hurts?
Grand Rapids MI Zondervan Publishing House C. 1977 by the Zondervan Corp.
Bread and Wine / Plough Publishing House / Walder NY 2003
Like a sapling he grew in front of us, Like a root in arid ground… a thing despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and familiar with suffering …. And yet ours were the sufferings he bore, ours the sorrows he carried. But we thought of him as someone punished, struck by God, and brought low. Yet he was pierced through for our faults, crushed for our sins. On him lies a punishment that brings in peace and through his wound we were healed –excerpts from Isaiah 53.
Well here we are at Good Friday once again and life seems so surreal for all of us in the midst of this Coronavirus crisis. For our Jewish neighbors Passover began Wednesday night at sundown without the possibility for most of them to celebrate according to law and custom by family gatherings. It must be really hard for them. And the same thing will hit a lot of us Christians two days from now on Easter Sunday when most of us cannot gather with family either!
However, it is possible for us to have a good Good Friday and that’s the point of this blog. I selected some material that really helped me when I read it. It’s an article from my favorite Lent / Easter spiritual reading companion that now has a broken spine like an old man called Bread and Wine, It’s an article entitled Naked Pride by the Rev. John Stott, a distinguished Anglican priest and theologian. So, as we wait this crisis out, let’s put our fears and anxieties aside and open ourselves for some deeper prayer and learning this most sacred of days, would you so? Here we go . .
The essence of sin is human beings substituting themselves for God while the essence of salvation is God substituting himself for us all. Humans claim prerogatives that belong to God alone while God accepts penalties that God should not have to endure—only humans.
As you and I gaze upon the cross this Good Friday— either one in your home or the one at the end of your rosary or just the one printed in this blog if you have no other—we can gain a clear view both of God and ourselves. Instead of inflicting on us the judgment we deserved, God in Christ endured that sentence in our place. Hell is the only alternative. This is the “scandal”; i.e. the stumbling block of the cross.
For our proud hearts rebel against it. We cannot bear to acknowledge either the seriousness of our sin or our utter indebtedness to the cross. Surely there must be something we can do to make amends? If not, we give the impression we’d rather suffer our own punishment rather than of seeing God through Christ bear it in our place.
Our author tells the story of a play by George Bernard Shaw entitled Major Barbara (1905) about an incident at the alleged West Ham shelter in which Bill Walker, “a rough customer” arrives one cold January morning drunk. He gets himself into trouble there and seizes a girl by the hair and strikes her, cutting her lip. He’s mocked by the other residents because he didn’t have the courage to take on the “bloke” that he’s jealous about. Bill’s conscience and pride nag him until he can no longer bear the insult. He decides, in a kinda cockney accent, to spit in the guy’s eye, or if not, “git me aown fice beshed.”
But his opponent refuses to cooperate, so Bill returns shamefaced. He comes back to the group and lies, telling everybody, he spit in his eye to which one of the girls calls out, ‘Glory Allelloolier!”
The girl who was injured tells Bill that she’s sorry and he didn’t really hurt her, which makes him angrier still. “Aw down’t want to be forgiven by you or by anybody. Wot I did Aw’ll pay for.
He tries another ruse. He offers to pay a fine that one of his mates just incurred and produces a sovereign.
“Eahs the manney. Take it; and let’s ev no more o your forgivin and pryin and your Mijor jawrin me. Let wot Aw dan be dan and pid for; and let there be and end of it. This bloomin forgivin and neggin and jawrin mike a menn thet sore that iz lawf’s a burden to im. Aw won’t ev it. Aw tell yer. Avve offered to py. Aw can do more. Tike it or leave it. There it is.”—and he throws the sovereign down.
And so, our author sums up . . .
The proud human heart is thus revealed. We insist on paying for what we’ve done. We cannot stand the humiliation of acknowledging our bankruptcy and allowing somebody else to pay for us. The notion that that somebody else should be God himself is just too much to take for some people. We would rather perish than repent, rather lose ourselves than humble ourselves.
Rev. Stott, an Anglican priest, and renowned theologian, states that only the gospel demands such a self-humbling on our part. No other religion or philosophy deals with the problem of guilt apart from the intervention of God, and therefore, they come to a “cheap” conclusion. In them, you and I would be spared the final humiliation of knowing that the Mediator has borne the punishment instead of us! We would not have to be stripped absolutely naked.
But . . . but we cannot escape the embarrassment of standing absolutely naked before God.
Think about that for a moment. You and I will have to take off our shoes and socks. Our shirts and pants or our dresses.
Our undershirts or our bra.
Our skivvies. And stand absolutely naked with your private parts and all.
Rev. Stott continues: It’s no use trying to cover up like Adam and Eve in the garden. Our attempts at self-justification are as ineffectual as their fig-leaves. We have to acknowledge our nakedness and gaze on the Lord wearing our filthy rags instead of us.
And then . . . and then allow him to clothe us with his own righteousness and light.
Nobody has ever put it better than Augustus Toplady in his immortal hymn Rock of Ages . . . .
Nothing in my hand I bring
Simply to your Cross I cling
Naked, come to for dress
Helpless, look to you for grace
Fool, I to the fountain fly
Wash, Savior, or I die.
And now here’s my prayer . . . .
Dear God, We give you thanks for sending your Son to us.
He has lived among us ~ become one with us ~ borne our griefs.
He became obedient unto death to bear our sins and pay our debts.
Yet we were ungrateful and turned our backs to goodness and love.
Forgive us, Lord for the hardness of our hearts.
Turn us back to you to accept you love and forgiveness.
And please, Lord, guide us through this terrible plague!
Be especially with those who are sick
and those who courageously care for them.
And let us once again share in the joy of your Risen Life!
We ask this as we ask all things through Jesus Christ our Lord!
And now, before you go, here’s the hymn from Bach’s Passion “O Sacred Head Sore Wounded” ~ Click here
Be sure to turn up your speakers and enter full screen.
And here are the readings from today’s service of the Word, including the Passion story according to St. John. Click here.
John Stott Naked Pride In Bread and Wine: Readings for Lent and Easter Plough Publishing co. pp. 217-221. From “The Cross of Christ” by John R. W. Stott Copyright 1986 John R.W. Stott. Interunivarsity Press P. O. Box 1400 Downers Grove, IL 60515
From “The Cross of Christ” by John R. W. Stott Copyright 1986 John R.W. Stott. Interunivarsity Press P. O. Box 1400 Downers Grove, IL 60515
The Sorrowful Mother (The Pieta) – Michelangelo – in the millennial year of 1500 when he was 24 years old
The Sorrowful Mother (The Pieta) – Michelangelo –
in the millennial year of 1500 when he was 24 years old
HOLY WEEK 2020
As we face this terrible Coronavirus crisis that has so unsettled all are lives. and has caused over 12,000 deaths in our country. 9’11 caused under 3,000. And this pandemic is seems to be only on its first wave. All of us are confused, bewildered and fearful. We don’t know what to do. It’s all so surreal. Standing in line six feet apart in a line that was a block long at Walmart this morning, everyone wearing masks. I thought I was in a Science Fiction movie.
This blog is a Holy Week prayer to our lady the Sorrowful Mother. The image is the most famous in the world the masterpiece chiseled by the young Michelangelo a half a Millennia ago. Even if you’re not used to praying to the Mother of Jesus, this is a good time to do so. Her prayers are powerful indeed. We haven’t gone through anything like this since the Bubonic plague in Europe in the Fourteenth Century.
While I was on my retreat the first week of Lent 2009, one of my prayer assignments was to sit before a statue of the sorrowful mother. I have always had a devotion to Mary, the mother of the Lord, and on that balmy afternoon against the background of the cypress swamp I reflected on all the mothers I have tried to console throughout the (then) forty years of my priesthood. I record for you now the prayer which was my journal note for Father Don the next day. Several of those women mentioned in the prayer are still in my life today. I dedicate this blog as I remember them with love.
Be sure to read the commentary about the 24-year-old Michelangelo and his first sculpture which follows. He chiseled his understanding of human grief, tap by tap, for two years. It is a magnificent meditation. Ponder it yourself. And unite your own prayer to our Lady to his this Holy Week. There is also a very different image of grief below that I photographed from a book.
Dearest Lady, mother of Jesus, whose tender love brought Love Itself into our world, may those who have never known the tender embrace of their own mother’s love receive the same tender care and love you wish for each of them. . . for each of us . . . as you offered the stern, yet tender love of a Jewish mother upon Jesus, the Son of God who was nourished at your tender breasts, cradled in your arms, bounced upon your knee; whose booboo was kissed by your lovely mouth, whose dead body you received come down from the Cross: You were the one from whom Jesus learned the joys of human love.
Dearest Lady, Simeon said, holding your little Child in his arms, that a sword would pierce your soul.
Did you have any idea what he meant? Did you follow Jesus throughout his ministry? Where you among the women who took care of him and the others? If so, where did you stay? Or did you stay at home in Nazareth? Did you go out to visit him when you could? To listen to him preach?
Were you in the midst of the crowds who pressed around him? Did you have a chance to be alone with him for a while? Did you give him any motherly advice? Did you wash his clothes, fix his favorite meal when he was on the road?
Did you gain a sense of foreboding as you listened to the murmurings of hostility beginning to grow toward him? What did you do with that concern?
I think perhaps you knew. You could see where this was going to end, because you kept all those foreboding things Simeon told you in your heart. Sorrow and sadness must have entered your heart long before that fateful Friday. But probably not much worry or anxiety because I think you must have said over and over: Be it done unto me according to Your word. Be it done. Thy will be done.
A mother can never be prepared to lose her son.
Fran, whose son Jimmy died at the hands of a drunk driver;
Chris who loved two children within her belly.
Dearest Lady, I think of mothers I have known
who’ve watched their children die.
My cousin, Lynda, whose beautiful child Robbie who bore her father’s and my name died in a fire at age three. I don’t think his mother ever got over that sadness. I think of Marie whose paralyzed son was in prison who couldn’t find a priest to console her after his wrongful death.
I think, dear Lady, that you unite yourself with other mothers who suffer at the bedside of a sick child.
I think of Monica whose son Andrew died of AIDS; Rosemarie, whose very popular high school senior John died of a brain tumor, and wrote a book to work out her grief; Florence, the mother of my best priest-buddy Phil who died suddenly at age 47. “What a dirty trick!” she wailed at God; the woman whose name I have long forgot whose surfer-son drowned in a storm in my first week of priestly ministry; mothers I’ve known whose sons who couldn’t escape from addiction; Monique whose son despaired and ended his life, leaving his children.
How can any of us really know what a mother must feel who must outlive her child?
And I think of all the mothers of the world who are condemned to watch their children die of malnutrition.
And the mothers who are being deported by the Trump administration, leaving behind their American-born children.
And terrified mothers who try to comfort their children caught in war-torn countries, especially in Syria and the Rohigya people
I have loved you since my boyhood. I brought you flowers in springtime to express my devotion. Still do. Today, I contemplated the sorrowful image a sculptor captured in white marble. When I gazed into the eyes of that chiseled image for just a moment, I knew what you must have felt, what my friends must have felt. And that moment was gift. A gift I will always remember.
Dearest Lady, as you yourself shared in Jesus’ passion, I ask you to be with all those whose hearts are broken in sorrow.
all of Jesus’ brothers and sisters
on this planet, born and unborn. Draw us all into that one great mystery of divine/human love which is the glory of our Christian faith: the birth, suffering, death and resurrection of the son of a young beautiful woman, Son of God, our Brother, our Redeemer. Our Friend, Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!
+ + + + + + +
From: ‘Guide to Saint Peter’s Basilica ‘
This is probably the world’s most famous sculpture of a religious subject.
Michelangelo carved it when he was 24 years old, and it is the only one he ever signed. The beauty of its lines and expression leaves a lasting impression on everyone.
With this magnificent statue Michelangelo has given us a highly spiritual and Christian view of human suffering. Artists before and after Michelangelo always depicted the Virgin with the dead Christ in her arms as grief-stricken, almost on the verge of desperation. Michelangelo, on the other hand, created a highly supernatural feeling.
As she holds Jesus’ lifeless body on her lap, the Virgin’s face emanates sweetness, serenity and a majestic acceptance of this immense sorrow, combined with her faith in the Redeemer. It seems almost as if Jesus is about to reawaken from a tranquil sleep and that after so much suffering and thorns, the rose of resurrection is about to bloom. As we contemplate the Pieta which conveys peace and tranquility, we can feel that the great sufferings of life and its pain can be mitigated.
Here, many Christians recall the price of their redemption and pray in silence. The words may be those of the “Salve Regina” or “Sub tuum presidium” or another prayer. After Peter’s Tomb, the Pieta Chapel is the most frequently visited and silent place in the entire basilica.
It is said that Michelangelo had been criticized for having portrayed the Virgin Mary as too young since she actually must have been around 45-50 years old when Jesus died. He answered that he did so deliberately because the effects of time could not mar the virginal features of this, the most blessed of women. He also said that he was thinking of his own mother’s face, he was only five when she died: the mother’s face is a symbol of eternal youth.
Before you go, here’s the Stabat Mater, the traditional mourning song to Our Lady. Click Here. Be sure to enter full screen and turn up your speakers. The translation of some of the verses follows.
At the Cross her station keeping, stood the mournful Mother weeping, close to her Son to the last.
Through her heart, His sorrow sharing, all His bitter anguish bearing, now at length the sword has passed.
O how sad and sore distressed was that Mother, highly blest, of the sole-begotten One.
Christ above in torment hangs, she beneath beholds the pangs of her dying glorious Son.
Is there one who would not weep, whelmed in miseries so deep, Christ’s dear Mother to behold?
Can the human heart refrain from partaking in her pain, in that Mother’s pain untold?
For the sins of His own nation, She saw Jesus wracked with torment, All with scourges rent:
She beheld her tender Child, Saw Him hang in desolation, Till His spirit forth He sent.
O thou Mother! fount of love! Touch my spirit from above, make my heart with thine accord:
Make me feel as thou hast felt; make my soul to glow and melt with the love of Christ my Lord.
“Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. “~ John 12:1-3
Yesterday we found Jesus mobbed but probably exhilarated by the crowds as he made his entry into the great holy city of Jerusalem to the shouts of “Hosanna to the Son of David!”
This day, Monday, weary from all the excitement and eager once again to be welcomed by his beloved friends Martha, Mary and Lazarus, he makes the short trip to Bethany with his disciples.
Apparently he was expected; a dinner party had been arranged and Jesus was to have quite an intimate surprise ~ right there in front of God and everybody. Martha and Mary were sisters; Martha was the practical one; she was always busy in the kitchen preparing the meals. Mary loved Jesus in a special way; she was often at his feet listening to his wonderful words.
This day, in front of the guests, she got down, washed Jesus dusty, tired, weary bare feet and massaged, soothed, and caressed them.
Suddenly she got up, went to a nearby shelf and got a beautiful alabaster bottle filled with the finest aromatic spikenard. She broke it open! and the whole house was instantly transformed by its wonderful aroma.
She poured it liberally over the Master’s feet. (And as we know Judas objected strenuously ~ but let’s not go there for the moment.
(Permit me this Ignatian-style reflection ~ a bit R-rated.)
A sensual woman caresses a 33-year old man with perfumed oil. The oil squishes down between his toes; it soothes his weary feet. She rubs it in circular motions around the ankles.
Then Mary teases him dripping some, drop ~ drop on his shins, watching the glistening oil slither down his feet.
She leans back on her haunches and waits to get his reaction.
He grins, and raises his eyeballs toward the ceiling.
Then she pounces on him and rubs his feet firmly and furiously and backs away again, then just looks at him and smiles.
He returns the gaze, obviously, very pleased, very delighted, very relaxed.
Then she leans forward and begins to dry his feet with her hair!
This process takes a long time.
Oil takes a long time to come out, just being dried by hair, as lovely as Mary’s is.
Now, dear friends, you can’t get more sensuous than that!
I wonder what the Lord of the universe was thinking and feeling during this most intimate of male / female encounters? Would this most unusual, very creative experience be as intimate, as soul-connecting as intercourse itself?
I wouldn’t even dare to imagine. Take a moment of silence right now and ponder those thoughts and let him have his own thoughts and feelings in your own mind and heart. (That is what Ignatian imaginative Scriptural prayer is: You reflect on the Scripture in your imagination and see how the Lord speaks to you; try reading this passage again and see what turns up for you.)
The sacred text doesn’t say, but we can intimate from what we already know that Jesus is already very comfortable with Mary who used to sit gaga-eyed at Jesus’ feet (Luke 10:38-42.)
Was it sexual? No. But it sure as h- was sensual!
Did he enjoy the experience?
You bet he did!
Jesus was a whole, integrated man.
Was he embarrassed to have that happen in front of the others? Quite sure not.
He was with people he could “let his hair down” with, although Mary probably got a good talkin’ to by her sister in the bedroom later! Jesus, unlike many of us, was not afraid to be himself, no matter what.
That Monday of that of Holy Week two Millennia ago was a day of relaxation for our Lord. He seemed to have the ability to be able to make the present moment a sacrament as he put aside concern about the events that lie ahead.
In William Barclay’s commentary on this passage, he has a series of little character sketches.
First, Martha. She loved Jesus, but she was a practical woman and the only way she could show her love was by working with her hands by cooking and serving. She always gave what she could.
Then there’s Mary. We see three things about her love in this story. We see love’s extravagance. She took the most precious thing she possessed and spent it all on Jesus. We see love’s humility.It was a sign of honor to anoint someone’s head, but she anointed Jesus’ feet. And then we see love’s unselfconsciousness. Mary wiped his feet with her hair. In Palestine no woman would appear in public with her hair unbound But That was a sign of an immoral woman.Mary never even thought of that. Mary loved Jesus so much that it was nothing to her what the guests might have thought.
But there’s something else here. The house was filled with the fragrance of the ointment. Many Fathers of the Church have seen a double meaning here. That the whole Church was filled with the sweet memory of Mary’s action.
Then there’s the character of Judas.We see Jesus’ trust in Judas. As early as John 6:70, John shows us Jesus was well aware that there was a traitor within the ranks. It may be that he tried to touch Judas’ heart by making him treasurer. And here, in the house of Jesus’ friends, he had just seen an action of surpassing loveliness and he called it extravagant waste. Judas was an embittered man and took the embittered view of things.
And the scene ends with the mob coming to see Lazarus and the chief priests plotting to kill Jesus.
But Barclay doesn’t end here. He tells us that there’s one great truth about life here. Some things we can do almost any time, but some things we will never do, unless we grasp the chance when it comes. We are seized with something that seems important to do, but if we put it off, we say, Oh I’ll do it tomorrow and it never gets done.
This Holy Week resolve to do something that you have put off doing for someone~ an act of kindness or forgiveness, or asking for forgiveness.
help us, too, to live in the present moment as Jesus did
~ not thinking about what comes next.
Help us to fully give ourselves to the moment we are in,
embracing it, with eyes and ears wide open to it,
putting all other concerns aside.
For that moment is where life happens;
we may not get another!
And now before you go, here’s the beautiful hymn, Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence” Click here.
William Barclay / the Daily Study Bible Series / The Gospel of John – Volume 2 Revised Edition / Westminster Press / Philadelphia Pa 1975 / pp. 108-112.
You might like to know that the sourceof spikenard is Nardostachys jatamansi, a flowering plant of the Valerian family that grows in the Himalayas. It is a source of a type of intensely aromatic amber-colored essential oil, spikenard.
Palm Sunday of the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ April 5th, 2020
All is ready now for the final days of our Lenten journey with Jesus. The drama of the Paschal Mystery will be re-enacted once again in parishes throughout the world. I have loved the liturgy of Holy Week since I was a boy and in this blog I hope I can share that love with you. We’ll go deep here. Please take time to reflect. Come with me now, won’t you? But STOP!
The coronavirus, has nearly brought to a halt the wonder and enjoyment we have always had with Holy Week liturgies. Gone are are the Palm Sunday processions. Gone is the Washing of the Feet at the Solemn Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday evening. Gone is the Veneration of the Holy Cross on Good Friday. Gone is the Blessing of the new fire and procession with the new Easter Candle and the singing of the Exultet on Holy Saturday night. And the baptisms and the welcoming of new candidates into the Church will have to wait until “the All Clear Signal” is promulgated, whenever that will be (and you’ll get your palms then too ~ never fear!) This is all unprecedented, maybe since Wartime or even the Plagues of the Middle Ages and it’s world-wide. Nevertheless, we still have the events, in Jesus’ life to commemorate and this is what this blog is about.
So please join me reverently here and enter into Jesus’s last days as best we can . . . .
Jesus entered the holy city Jerusalem on a humble beast of burden ~ himself burdened with the sins of the world, Here’s the Gospel story (from Matthew 21:1-11) that (normally precedes the blessing of palms and the procession into the church . . . .
When Jesus and the disciples drew near Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village opposite you, and immediately you will find an ass tethered, and a colt with her. Untie them and bring them here to me. And if anyone should say anything to you, reply, ‘The master has need of them.’ Then he will send them at once.” This happened so that what had been spoken through the prophet might be fulfilled: Say to daughter Zion, “Behold, your king comes to you, meek and riding on an ass, and on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.” The disciples went and did as Jesus had ordered them. They brought the ass and the colt and laid their cloaks over them, and he sat upon them. The very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and strewed them on the road. The crowds preceding him and those following kept crying out and saying: “Hosanna to the Son of David; blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord; hosanna in the highest.” And when he entered Jerusalem the whole city was shaken and asked, “Who is this?” And the crowds replied, “This is Jesus the prophet, from Nazareth in Galilee.”
William Barclay, the great Presbyterian scripture scholar I’ve been referencing, notes, what Jesus was about to do was a deliberate, planned action on his part: this would begin the last act in the drama of his life.
This was not a spur of the moment decision. He had told his disciples exactly where to find the ass and the colt; they were waiting for him.
Jesus rode into Jerusalem. He was to be acknowledged as king. He came humbly riding on an ass. Barclay says we must be careful to see the real meaning of this. In western lands the ass is a despised beast; but in the east the ass could be a noble animal. Often a king came riding into his city upon an ass, indicating that he came in peace. The horse was the mount of war. Jesus showed that he came not to destroy, but to love; not to condemn, but to help, not in the might of arms, but in the strength of love.
The whole city of Jerusalem was awash with visitors in preparation for the Passover at this moment. Barclay also notes that thirty years later a Roman governor had taken a census of the number of lambs slain for Passover and found the number to be about a quarter of a million. Now, Passover regulations stated that a party with a minimum of ten people were required for each lamb which meant that there were about two and a half million people in Jerusalem at the time Jesus entered the holy city!
The crowd receives Jesus like a king. They spread their cloaks in front of him. They cut down and waved palm branches (and that is why we bless and distribute palms and this day is known universally as Palm Sunday.)
They greeted him as they would a pilgrim, Barclay notes: “Blessed be he who enters in the name of the Lord.”
They shouted, “Hosanna!” The word means, “Save now!” and that was a cry that a people addressed to their king or their god. (Interesting ~ I didn’t know that!)
So, we see that Jesus action here was planned and deliberate, similar to those of the prophets of old who would put their message into a dramatic act that people could not fail to see or understand. Jesus action here was clearly a Messianic claim, or at least when a few days later he would be the cleanser of the Temple, an even more dramatic act in which he was to rid the Temple of the abuses that defiled it and its worship.
To conclude, then, Barclay had made three points about this story . . .
+ It shows Jesus’ courage. He knew he was entering a hostile city. All through his last days, in his every action is there is a “magnificent and sublime defiance” –“a flinging down the gauntlet.”
+ It shows us his claim to be God’s Messiah, God’s Anointed One. And the cleanser of the temple.
+ It shows us his appeal–not a kingship of the throne, but a kingship of the heart.
In today’s liturgy, when the procession reaches the altar inside the church, and the people settle into the pews, the mood of the liturgy radically changes dramatically. It becomes somber as the ministers at the altar and the congregation prepare for the solemn reading of the Passion—this year from the Gospel of Matthew, that’s usually proclaimed with several voices. But I’d like to reflect a moment on the New Testament reading from Philippians 2:1-11 that precedes it because it captures the essence of the meaning of this day . . . .
Christ Jesus, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Because of this, God greatly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Johannes Metz wrote a little book Poverty of Spirit, in which he says . . .
Have we really understood the impoverishment that Christ endured?
Everything was taken from him during the passion, even the love that drove him to the cross . . .
His heart gave out and a feeling of utter helplessness came over him. Truly he emptied himself . . . He became utterly poor. [Thus] he accepted our humanity, he took on and endured our lot, he stepped down from his divinity.
He came to us where we really are ~ with all our broken dreams and lost hopes, with the meaning of existence slipping through our fingers. He came and stood with us, struggling with his whole heart to have us say ‘yes’ to our innate poverty. [God’s faithfulness] to us is what gives us the courage to be true to ourselves. And the legacy of God’s total commitment to humankind, the proof of God’s fidelity to our poverty, is the Cross.
[The Cross is the sacrament, the sign] that one human being remained true to his own humanity, that he accepted it in full obedience.”
Thus each of us has the opportunity to embrace our own poverty, or as I have been saying in Arise for the past two years we have the opportunity to accept whatever brokenness shows up in our own lives and find the treasure buried within. But this goes against the grain for us in American life. We are told to keep up with the Joneses. And so we strive for power, prestige, possessions.
“Poverty of spirit is the meeting point of heaven and earth,
the mysterious place where God and humanity encounter each other,
the point where infinite mystery meets concrete existence.”
And now, here’s my prayer . . . .
Lord Jesus, here we are at the beginning of Holy Week once again.
We can’t raise our palms this year,
But we’re here, trying to be faithful to you as best we can.
We will try to read the story of your sacred passion and death so that we can understand and accept more fully how much you loved us
And now we learn that You really meant it!
You weren’t just pretending to be human;
You immersed Yourself in our misery,
You got down in the muck with us
~ accepting it all, even death on a cross.
Jesus, help us to embrace our humility,
our poverty, our brokenness, our share in Your cross.
May this Holy Week truly be holy for us even if we can’t be there in church this year but that we too will rise again with You to new life
and receive anew the gift of the Spirit.
To You, Lord Jesus, be glory and honor forever! Amen.
Before you go, dear friends, here is a beautiful song, The Power of the Cross. Click Here. Be sure to enter full screen.
Have a fruitful Holy Week. I will publish again throughout the week.
Here are the today’s Mass readings. Click here. To get back to this page, go to the top left corner of your computer screen, click on the < back arrow, and you’ll be right back here. I encourage you to prayerfully read the entire passion story according to Matthew. I have also provided you a commentary on this gospel (and also the other readings), if you’d like to reflect on them further. Click here.
Acknowledgements Johannes Baptist Metz Poverty of Spirit / Translated by John Drury / Paulist Press / New York / Mahwah, NJ / 1968, 1998
William Barclay / The New Daily Study Bible / The Gospel of Matthew- Volume 2 The Westminster Press Philadelphia 1975 / pp. 238 – 243.
There’s a powerful sentence in Isaiah that has been quoted by statesmen seeking disarmament throughout the Twentieth Century . . . .
They shall beat their swords into plowshares
and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not take up sword against nation,
nor will they train for war anymore. — Isaiah 2:4.
All of my adult life my writing and my prayer has been against war —
Viet Nam / the Balkans / the Gulf War / Iraq / and now this never-ending war in Afghanistan.
Pope Paul VI, speaking before the United Nations General Assembly made an impassioned plea:
“No more war! Never again war!”
Pope John Paul II said the Iraq war was a defeat for humanity.
And Dwight David Eisenhower, the great general of Word War II and President of the U.S. said: “When people speak to you about a preventive war, you tell them to go and fight it. After my experience, I have come to hate war. War settles nothing.”
Pope Francis in his New Year’s message at the beginning of this year wrote:
Peace, a journey of hope in the face of obstacles and trial
Peace is a great and precious value, the object of our hope and the aspiration of the entire human family. Our world is paradoxically marked by “a perverse dichotomy that tries to defend and ensure stability and peace through a false sense of security sustained by a mentality of fear and mistrust, one that ends up poisoning relationships between peoples and obstructing any form of dialogue.
Advent is a time to wish for peace ~ pray for peace ~ work for peace.
The Christmas story is about peace. One of the titles of Jesus is “Prince of Peace as you see in this image on this side altar in the Anglican National Cathedral in Washington, D.C.
But we become cynical about peace.
Many of us have our private little wars that we engage in every day with a sibling or a friend or co-worker.
Let’s “Practice peacefulness”, as a friend put it to me once. Let’s stop the gossiping, giving people a chance. Try to be kinder to the folks you interact with today.
The legend of St. Christopher carrying a child across a stream on a stormy night invites us to greet every human person as if they were Christ himself.
Think thoughts of peace. Be peace. At least try it today, the second day of Advent.
I will hear what the Lord God has to say,
a voice that speaks of peace,
peace for his people and his friends.
and those who turn to him in their hearts.
Mercy and faithfulness have met;
Justice and peace have embraced.
Faithfulness shall spring from the earth
and justice look down from heaven.
The Lord will make us prosper
and the earth shall yield its fruit.
Justice shall march before him
and peace shall follow his steps.
And if you’re new to this Advent blog, or want to refresh your understanding of the season, I recommend reading >> Welcome to Advent to get a sense of why we spend four weeks preparing for our Christmas celebration and how it can help us deepen our spirituality. It can work whether you are a Catholic or just interested in your spirituality. (In order to return to this page, you’ll need to use the back arrow < on the top left-hand corner of your browser.)
Before you go here’s a great music video from people gathered from around the world ~ “Let there be peace on earth”. Click here. Be sure to turn up your speakers and enter full screen.
And here are today’s Mass readings; it’s the Feast of St. Andrew the Apostle. (Wish everybody you know whose name is Andrew a “happy name day!” Click here.
THE FEAST OF THE SACRED HEART OF JESUS ~ Friday, June 19, 2020
This is a Feast for our present moment when we are harried and frustrated and hurting from the fallout of Covid 19 upon all of us, and all of what has been going on the past few weeks with the racial tension in our country.
Reflecting on the Love that flows continually from the heart of Jesus has been a devotion of mine since childhood. I had an altar in my bedroom with flowers that I picked from our garden. In May, the backdrop was blue for Our Lady and in June, it was red for Our Lord.
I wrote the article below in 1981 at a difficult time in my life and then preached these words as a Good Friday homily in 1992.
I hope you enjoy it; I think it can have some practical value for you in managing the suffering in your own life ~ and in America and our whole world today.
* * * * * *
The Heart of Jesus
(Jesus the Tremendous Lover)
“What wondrous love is this, O my soul, O my soul? What wondrous love is this, O my soul?
Jesus is the one who is our tremendous Lover.
He came to live among us to reveal to us, his sisters and brothers, that we have a Father/God who loves us with a Love that is once a passionate, unconditional love and yet gentle, always inviting, never coercing. Jesus came among us to be our Love, to show the human race how to use the supreme power which God could give us: the intimate, infinite Love which is ours, if only we would claim it and model our lives after Jesus, who is Love itself.
Jesus was to be for us the model of Love because he was willing to experience in his heart the depths of human emotion. He risked time and again to embrace the sorrow, the agony, the unfreedom, the need of those who came to him to be healed. He risked being burdened by the needs of others. He risked being disheartened by those who would take from him and not even say thanks. He risked being misunderstood and rejected by the authorities of the day and even his neighbors in his home town. He risked the pain of realizing that even his closest disciples and friends had narrow vision and missed the main point of his message.
He risked all, and realized that, in spite of the pain and sorrow, in his heart, the soft Voice of the Father within him was asking him to keep going, to risk even more. To go deeper into his heart and to carve out still more and more places for those he would touch and heal, until one day there would be room in his heart for the whole world.
I doubt that Jesus ever forgot a single individual that he encountered, not even those who oppressed him. He kept them all in his great heart, remembering them, praying for them, hoping that they would open their hearts to the One who Loved them with a passionate Love — the Father/God of all. He must have realized how important it was to see and feel the tragedy of the corruption he witnessed among the religious and political leaders of the day, to keep even these things in his heart. As painful as it was, he hoped that by keeping them there some of the great evil he saw would be disarmed and tamed.
That’s all he could do, after all — absorb the tragedy, the struggle, the sin, the failures in Love of the human race in his great, great heart. Yes, he healed a few sick and gave the gift of sight to some, but most of all he Loved: He let people into his heart (that’s the definition of Love, after all: to let someone into one’s heart) there to be comforted, if just for a moment. For one brief moment in the heart of the Lord Jesus is enough for any of us.
He had room for young John and impetuous Peter. And for Judas. He had room for the outcasts of his day, Zacchaeus and Matthew and Mary Magdalen. And he sat at the table of outcasts who invited him to their table. He had room for beggars and lepers and blind people. And he had room for the Pharisees who broke his heart by their refusal to see and understand.
We remember that he was capable of deep emotion. He wept profoundly when he saw in prophecy what would happen to Jerusalem because of the hardness of the people’s hearts. And yet, even the gift of his tears and the greatness of his Love would not stop the destruction that would come because of Israel’s hardness of heart and lack of vigilance.
In the end, he wept in the garden. I like to believe that his agony was not focused on the trauma he personally was about to endure but because the Father permitted him, in that moment, to experience to the depths the reality of evil and tragedy in the world. He must have experienced some of the pain and loss that many of us feel when we ourselves encounter hardness of heart and misunderstanding.
Jesus embodied the compassion of God — the mercy, the tenderness, the Hesed of God (to use the wonderful Hebrew word). God wanted to be known as the Merciful One. And we, likewise, are instructed to “Be compassionate as our heavenly Father is compassionate.”
Jesus became for us the “Man of Sorrows”, familiar with suffering” — the suffering Servant of Yahweh. He bore the weight of the world’s refusal to Love and even worse its refusal to be Loved by the God of Love. He allowed that evil, that senseless tragedy of the human race, to be absorbed, and thereby redeemed and purified, with his own blood. In his own bloodstream the cosmic battle between the forces of Love and Hate was waged. And “his sweat fell to the ground like great drops of blood.” In him the great cosmic battle was focused. Our great compassionate God sent his Son to bear within his soul the brunt of that cosmic storm.
We are filled with awe at such overwhelming Love. And so we honor today his great, great heart. But most importantly we should realize that he has become for us Love itself so that we will also might become Love.
The one essential ingredient of the Christian religion is to Love as Jesus has Loved us. We are to become compassionate as Jesus is compassionate. We, like Jesus, are called not to be afraid to embrace the suffering, the tragedy, the sin of the world, so that in Love we will join our hearts to his and, as St. Paul says, “to make up what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ.”
Perhaps we can say, therefore, that there are two kinds of people in the world — those who are willing to accept their own share of suffering in the world (and a bit more for Jesus’ sake) and those who cannot or will not bear even the suffering caused by their own failures and sins. The compassionate ones do what they do out of Love, a seemingly foolish Love. Some Love because they have been opened up to a mystical awareness that they, like Jesus, are making their own soul and body available as an arena for the cosmic drama of interaction between the forces of light and the forces of darkness.
I do not pity those who suffer. I rather pity those who are afraid to suffer. Out of suffering comes understanding — a larger perspective of the world and with it a practical wisdom that tempers Law and Life with Mercy. Out of suffering comes the ability to see the face of Christ in even a hardened criminal or a seemingly pitiful alcoholic.
The ability to see, to understand, the inner workings of people’s lives is a gift far greater than the suffering one must endure to attain it. To-suffer-unto-understanding (a definition of compassion) is to be able to look upon the world as Jesus does and as he invites us to do in the Beatitudes.3 (Of course, a person can suffer without understanding — especially when we are angry about and refuse to accept our lot of suffering. But if we pray faithfully while we suffer, God will most assuredly gift us with his own very special kind of understanding.)
Understanding is the goal of suffering for those who have eyes to see. Understanding which sees through the eyes of Jesus. Understanding allows us the courage to be with Jesus hanging on the Cross and to see what he saw from that perspective. Understanding allows us the courage to go with Jesus into the bowels of the earth and descend into hell and to see what Jesus saw. Then, too, understanding allows us to feel what Jesus felt when he was lifted from the grave.
I have always had an inner sense that the fastest, most efficient way to handle a crisis was to face it head on — not to avoid it. And so, I invite you to “go with” the suffering. Explore it. Allow yourself to experience the feelings, as painful and confused and frightening as they may be. The more you fight it, the more you will suffer. Ask Jesus the Light to lead you through the darkness. Then have faith and confidence that he will. (After all, the worst you will experience is what Jesus experienced, as long as you follow the will of God. (Other persons have suffered more cruel deaths than crucifixion.) And if you truly want to follow the will of God and are praying daily, then be assured that God is leading you. Take his hand in the darkness and follow — even if you can barely see the ground in front of you!
The pain may feel unbearable for a while, and the temptation is to avoid it as long as we can, and, of course, to worry about it. (I have always found worry most bothersome, like walking around with a pebble in my shoe. Far easier to bend down and take it out than to walk around with it for years!) So, too, with suffering. Even in one of my earlier bouts with emotional and mental suffering, I somehow found myself diving into it to seek its cause.
From what I can see there is always a cause of suffering. Discovering the cause can often lead to alleviating the suffering. In fact, the pain oftentimes will be transformed the moment the cause is recognized and diagnosed, so it is to the person’s advantage to stay with it and find out who or what the “bugger” is. (Perhaps there is an analogy to the oyster who “suffers” an irritation that will eventually through which it may become a pearl of great price.) If we see the larger picture of reality, seen through the eyes of Christ, some joy and satisfaction and relief will enter our soul. We will thus be on our way to recovery and new life.
The easiest way through suffering is to stretch out our arms and allow ourselves to be nailed to our cross. Don’t fight it. Surrender to the will of God. Jesus in his agony on Thursday night saw through the nails in his hands and the crown of thorns on his head to the Resurrection. He didn’t ignore the Cross; he saw it and the horizon beyond it.
Jesus didn’t focus on the pain. The pain of the Cross was only a brief moment (which he knew he had the strength to endure) in the history of his lordship presiding over the business of the universe. So you, too, should not focus on the painful aspects of our life. Look instead for the cause of the pain. Look for the reality — the truth! And remember that Jesus said “the truth shall make you free!” See as Jesus sees; that is, see and accept the truth. And leap from your cross as a butterfly leaps from the cocoon and as Jesus leapt from the grave.
“Impossible!” you may say, especially if you have been suffering for years.
“Not so!” says Jesus and the whole company of prophets and martyrs and confessors and virgins.
Ask for strength and you will receive strength.
Ask for guidance and you will be led through the darkness to a point you will recognize.
Ask to understand and Jesus will let you see yourself through his eyes.
But remember! Don’t focus on the pain. All those gory pictures of Jesus in agony and bloody crucifixes of the past generation, hopefully, are, hopefully, gone for good.
The Cross is the focal point in that we realize the great Love which Jesus has for us and what he personally has done for us. But one must not forget to look at the horizon beyond the Cross. The sky on that first Good Friday afternoon undoubtedly was an awesome sight to behold. The cross, the pain that is our lot in life to endure, is there only to be transformed and transcended. The cross is but a moment.
Suffering in life is only a means to greater life. It is not our final lot. Resurrection is. Glory is. Triumph is. Though the paradox is that we must accept our cross totally to be through with it. We are invited to surrender to our Father in complete abandonment as Jesus did, as if we were to leap off a cliff and know that we will land in the Loving arms of our great God.
A further delusion of spirituality of the past generation is that our reward will not come until the next life. What is delusional about that is that we fail to realize the kingdom is already inaugurated by Jesus in history by his triumph on the Cross. Our lives are already illumined by the light of the resurrection. And there is no reason that we cannot triumph here and now — if we accept our cross. And, in fact, I am convinced that it will be Christians bold enough to take up in their hand and in their minds the Cross of Jesus who will lead us in XXI and XXII Centuries, just as this has been true in every age of the Church.
And so, the question that we ponder this feast day is, once again:
“What wondrous love is this, O my soul, O my soul? What wondrous love is this, O my soul?
And the answer is: “The great, great Love of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who Loved us so much that he stretched out his arms in the most loving, indeed, the most-nonviolent act, the world has ever seen. He stretched out his arms in the face of his enemies and said from his Cross: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
Come, then adore the Lord who wants to be for us all our Beloved. Come, then, adore the Lord, the tremendous Lover. Renew your Love for him and know even more than ever before that it is by his holy Cross that we have been redeemed.
What wondrous love is this, O my soul?
What wondrous love is this?
And now, before you go, here’s that wonderful hymn, What wondrous love is this? Click here. Be sure to turn up your speakers and enter full screen.
The First Sunday of Advent 2020 ~ November 29, 2020
Be Watchful! Be Alert! You don’t know when . . .
It’s kinda interesting. Advent begins at The End instead of The Beginning. The End of Age and the end of our lives. This blog and today’s readings would have us think about these things.
At a certain point in life, the deep desires and cravings of our heart reach a point of eruption in us. Yet at the same time comes the awareness that we cannot bring about what we want—we don’t have inside us what’s needed to fulfill and satisfy our longings. And so, with our infinite yearnings we turn to the Infinite and cry, “Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down.” Our experience of helplessness before our boundless human need moves us to ask for fellowship with God’s Son Jesus Christ our Lord. The nature of our desire assures us as we enter into Advent that we are not lacking in any spiritual gift as we wait for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ. “The Lord of the house is coming” “Be watchful! Be Alert!” (the December 2017 Magnificat liturgical magazine)
And so, the Church begins a New Year this Sunday as we turn from the Cycle A readings of the Gospel of Matthew to the Cycle B readings of the Gospel of Mark—the shortest of them all. And as tradition has it, we begin with “the End”—a warning of what is to come. The Gospel is from 13:33-37—just before Mark’s account of the Passion.
“Jesus said to his disciples: Be watchful! Be alert! You do not know when the time will come” (13:33).
Be Watchful: Jesus will urge this again during his agony in Gethsemane.
A Fifth Century writer: If each person is ignorant of their own day of judgment, they will contend to be baptized at their final breath, as a result of which they will enter eternity bereft of good works—saved by faith but unable to manifest its works. [ . . .] Jesus adds all but saying, “The reason I did not tell you the day is so that, not knowing you might watch and pray and keep awake, showing that if people knew when they were going to die, all would be virtuous only at that hour.”
Watch, therefore; you do not know when the Lord of the house is coming, whether in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or in the morning” (13:35).
The Lord may come in the evening as he does at the Last Supper. He may come at midnight as he does in the garden of Gethsemane when he was handed over by his betrayer. He may come when the cock crows—the time Peter denies him. Or he may come in the morning: the time of the Resurrection.
May he not come suddenly and find you sleeping” (13:36).
Mary Healy: “Jesus warns that he may come suddenly and find them sleeping—which is just what happened during the agony in Gethsemane (Mk 14:3-41). To be asleep signifies spiritual laziness and self-indulgence (Rom 11:8); to be awake is to be alive in faith (Rom 13:11; Eph 5:14).
St. Augustine: “It is clear that God takes no pleasure in condemning. His desire is to save, and he bears patiently with evil people in order to make them good. Do you despise him and think his judgment a matter of no account because he is good to you, because he is long-suffering and bears with you patiently, because he delays the day of reckoning and does not destroy you out of hand?”
“What I say to you, I say to all: ’Watch!’” (13:37).
The Scripture-scholar William Barclay would summarize this by saying Jesus’ words here tell us a couple of things about the doctrine of the Second Coming.
~ It tells us it contains a fact we forget or disregard at our peril.
~ it tells us that the imagery in which it is clothed is the imagery of Jesus’ own time and that to speculate on it is useless, when Jesus himself was content not to know. The one thing of which we can be sure is that history is going somewhere; there is a consummation to come.
~ It tells us that of all things to forget God and to become immersed in earth is most foolish. The wise person is one who never forgets that the need to be ready when the summons comes. If we live in that memory, the end will not be terror, but eternal joy.
The first reading from Isaiah is a wonderful piece of prose . . .
You, LORD, are our father, our redeemer you are named forever.
Why do you let us wander, O LORD, from your ways, and harden our hearts so that we fear you not? Return for the sake of your servants, the tribes of your heritage. Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down,with the mountains quaking before you,while you wrought awesome deeds we could not hope for, such as they had not heard of from of old.
No ear has ever heard, no eye ever seen, any God but you doing such deeds for those who wait for him. Would that you might meet us doing right, that we were mindful of you in our ways! Behold, you are angry, and we are sinful; all of us have become like unclean people, all our good deeds are like polluted rags; we have all withered like leaves, and our guilt carries us away like the wind. (Isaiah 63)
Yes, we should be . . . prepared ~ watchful ~ alert ~ aware ~ awake knowing what’s happening . . . but so many of us are asleep, Lord. We tend to not recognize the signs of the times. We often dull our senses; stay in our own little worlds, choosing not to care.
We’re often complacent, Lord. Many don’t want to be bothered pondering or praying about the real issues. We’re into Cyber Monday bargains and wowed by the latest iphone.
But deep down we’re fearful and anxious, caused by threats . . . of Covid 19, of losing our job having a lump in our breast losing health insurance because of Congress’ latest whim.Global warming / gun violence / corruption in our government China/ Iran / ISIS / cyber war.
“Stand erect,” the Gospel says.
Face your fears with courage. Don’t fear the terror of the night (Psalm 91.) That’s what Advent faith is all about . . . Being vigilant. Being prepared for anything life throws at us. Standing proudly humble or humbly proud ~ no matter what.
That’s the kind of faith in life ~ in You, my God, that I seek. I want it. I ask you for it. Today I consent to it. Amen. So be it!
+ + + + + There will be fresh blog posts (God willin’ n’ the creek don’t rise) almost every day of Advent till Christmas.
Why not make this Christmas season a special one for you ~ a meaningful one?
Now before you go, here’s a song to get you in an Advent mood Click here. enter full screen and turn up your speakers. (But before you do that, notice that there is a < arrow of some sort on the top left-hand corner of your browser. Be sure to click on that once you’ve viewed the first video, so that it will bring you back to this page so you can view today’s readings on the link below it.)
The Feast of the Ascension of our Lord is part of the Easter mystery. First is the Resurrection in which Jesus conquers death for us and reveals that life will never end.
Then there is the Ascension in which Jesus is taken up into heaven to sit at the Father’s right hand.
And finally Pentecost in which God pours forth his Spirit upon the church and all humankind.
All three experiences are intertwined; they reveal different aspects or facets of the same reality. The Scriptures separate them over 50 days to afford us the opportunity to reflect on each aspect of the one Easter mystery.
Now, let us look at today’s feast, the Ascension.
At the very beginning of the Acts of the Apostle (first reading ~ Acts 1:1-11), written by the same author as Luke’s gospel, describes the experience.
Jesus told them not to depart from Jerusalem but to “wait for the promise of the Father of which you have heard me speak; for John baptized with water but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” He was, of course, referring to Pentecost.
. . . Then he said,
“You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you
AND YOU WILL BE MY WITNESSES in Jerusalem, and to the ends of the earth.”
Then Jesus was lifted up, a cloud took him from their sight.
(However, in today’s Gospel from Matthew, the “lifting” is not mentioned, just the commissioning.)
They stood there, awestruck, spellbound .
Then two men dressed in white garments stood beside them and said,
“Men of Galilee, why are standing there looking at the sky?
This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven will return in the same way as you have seen him going into heaven.”
This feast is about heaven, but also about earth.
Jesus is taken into heaven; that is, he returns to his Father where sits at the Father’s right hand.
And the second reading from Ephesians states that. . . .
God the Father “put all things beneath Christ’s feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of the one who fills all things in every way.” (Ephesians 1:23)
Thus, there is a cosmic dimension to Christology. The great mystic and theologian Father Teilhard de Chardin talked about “Christogenesis” – the entire universe evolving by the power of Christ’s all-embracing love. When Chardin was far away from bread or wine and could not celebrate Mass, he talked fervently and passionately about the “Mass on the world – that the whole planet was the body of Christ.
So we think about Jesus as Lord of the Universe, and we pray that people on earth would somehow find ways to stop the violence and inhumanity toward each other. And so the Feast of Ascension is also about earth.
The angels ask the disciples — Why are you standing there looking up in the sky? You and I have work to do!
YOU MUST BE MY WITNESSES in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth.
A witness is one who experiences with one’s own eyes and ears what has taken place.
A witness is one who has filtered through one’s own senses what their account of the truth is.
I consider myself a witness to the resurrection. I have had enough experiences of risen life, even of mystical experience that I am convinced that Jesus is real, that he lives and reigns, that he empowers us through his Spirit. Throughout my life I have found myself immersed in the mystery of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
I know this also, because Jesus has allowed me the ability to share his life with others, and they with me. Many others have deepened and enriched their faith as the Holy Spirit worked through me.
Brothers and sisters, we have work to do. We are put on notice in the scriptures of today’s feast.
Next Sunday we will attend to the third aspect of the Easter mystery ~ Pentecost ~ the outpouring of God’s Holy Spirit upon all humankind.
During the coming week may we pray that the Holy Spirit would renew each of us individually, the whole Church of God and indeed the whole world.
Christ is Risen!
Now, before you go, here’s a rousing version of the wonderful hymn, Crown Him with many Crowns. Click here. Be sure to turn up your speakers and enter full screen.
John the Evangelist has still another incredible story of a three-part series used by the church to show us how Jesus wants to be for us: He is the One who unbinds our shackles ~ calls us forth from the tombs of our lives and offers us new and risen life! When? For all eternity – Yes! But also right here, right now ~ especially when all of us are affected by this terrible coronavirus crisis!
(Also see the two previous posts for the first two stories “A thirsty man meets a thirsty woman (John, Chapter 4) and “You light up my life” John, Chapter 9). There are marvelous lessons for believers and unbelievers alike here. You’ll find them on the top right column of the blog.) The images I use here are of a statue interpreting the unbinding of Lazarus on the grounds of the Diocese of Lake Charles Retreat Center in Lake Charles, LA. I title them: “Addictions.”
Before I offer my own reflections on this precious Gospel text of St. John, I’d like to begin, as I usually do with some notes by our Scripture scholar-friend William Barclay . . . .
Jesus often went to the home of Lazarus, Mary and Martha at Bethany to rest from the tensions of his life—to “hang out” with them and just relax for a while. (You might note that the word ‘Bethany’ is often used for Retreat Centers for that reason.)
The sisters sent a note to Jesus that simply was a request to come to Bethany, knowing he would come. Barclay notes that the word Lazarus means God is my help.
The sisters sent a note to Jesus that simply was a request to come to Bethany, knowing he would come. Barclay notes that the word Lazarus means God is my help.
But he stayed away several days before going up to Bethany.
Martha was the first to go out to meet him, but Mary lingered behind. Martha spoke half with reproach that she could not keep back, and half with a faith that nothing could shake. “If you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
And Jesus, replied, “Your brother will rise again.”
Barclay tells us that one of the strangest things in scripture is the fact the saints of the Old Testament had practically no belief in any real life after death. In the early days the Hebrews believed that the soul of every man, good or bad alike went to Sheol. Sheol is wrongly translated Hell; for it was not a place of torture, it was the land of shades. All alike went there and they lived in a vague, shadowy, joyless ghostlike kind of life. “In death there is no remembrance of thee; in Sheol who can give you praise? (Psalm 6:5)
In the days of Jesus, the Pharisees and the majority of Jews did believe in some kind of afterlife, but the Sadducees refused to do so.
Then our Scripture scholar comments on Jesus’ display of emotion at the tomb of Lazarus.
“When he saw the Jews who had come with her weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit, so that an involuntary groan burst from him, and he trembled with deep emotion.”
Barclay says this one of the most precious things in the gospel. So deeply did Jesus enter into people’s sorrows that his heart was wrung with anguish.
John was writing in Greek for Greeks for whom the primary characteristic of god was what they called apatheia, which means total inability to feel any emotion whatsoever.
They argued that if we can feel sorrow are joy, then that person can have an effect on us. Now, if that person can have an effect on us, that means for the moment that they can have power over us.. No one can have power over God, and that means that means that God is essentially incapable of feeling any emotion whatsoever.
What a different picture Jesus gives us. The greatest thing that Jesus did was to bring us the news of a God who cares.
But there’s a problem . . .
In the other three gospels there are stories of Jesus raising people from the dead: Jairus’ daughter in Matthew, Mark and Luke. The raising of the widow’s son at Nain in Luke. In both cases, the raising occurred immediately after death, suggesting that they could have been in a coma.
Secondly, in the other three gospels, there is no account, not even a mention on the raising of Lazarus. If it actually happened how could they possibly omit it? Barclay goes on to elucidate this problem thoroughly.
But then he resolves it by telling a story of a young marine who came to faith after living a life of sin and nearly despairing, he read this story, and it brought him back to Christ.
And now, it’s time for my own reflections, dear reader . . .
As you read this story, picture it. Get into it. And I will add a few reflections of my own along the way. Here’s an edited version of the NRSV version. Cf. the following link for the complete text: John 11:1-45.
NOW a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair; her brother Lazarus was ill. So the sisters sent a message to Jesus, “Lord, the one whom you love is ill.”
I can muse that You, Jesus often went to the home of Martha and Mary and Lazarus. You probably went there to “let your hair down.” To get away from the crowds — even Your chosen and sometimes unruly band of Twelve who often didn’t “get” what You were about. I muse that You sometimes felt quite alone even among them. But You really seem to enjoy the three siblings’ company. You could be who You were, without pressure, without demand. You could simply “be.” And Your three friends were very comfortable with You as well. (Remember the story in Luke 10:38-42 when he came for dinner?)
Lord, help us to find friends who accept us as we are — warts and all — with whom we don’t have to pretend to be someone / something we’re not. Where we can learn and be encouraged to bind our wounds and become whole. I thank you for the people in my life who are “there” for me when I need them.
But when Jesus got the note from Martha, he said, “This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory.
Lord, You have enabled me to realize, that illness and difficult times can end in glory for those who persevere ~ who trust ~ who are willing to understand what such crosses will teach us.
Lord, help us to see the glory hiding in the dark places of our lives. . . .
Though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.
Lord, help us to grow into patience — to wait. To wait for God’s time for things.
Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?” [ . . . . ] “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him.”
How many of us have fallen asleep to the reality of our lives? Jesus, help me to WAKE UP! and really see and accept the reality of my life — both the good and the bad. And the reality of what’s going on in our nation and our world.
[. . . .] When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away, and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home.
Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.”
Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”
Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.”
Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
Lord Jesus, I hear you saying this to ME. As a priest I have consoled many who wept at the death of their own loved ones. And throughout my own long years of illness, these words consoled me. Somehow, I realized that, even on this side of the grave, You have granted me new and risen life again and again.
She said to him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.”
Yes, Lord, You are the One who is my Friend / my Beloved / my Redeemer / my Shepherd and Companion on my life’s journey!
When Martha had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary, and told her privately, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” And when she heard it, she got up quickly and went to him.
Now Jesus had not yet come to the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. The Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary get up quickly and go out. They followed her because they thought that she was going to the tomb to weep there.
When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
In those few words I feel her grief, Lord . . . and a bit of a reprimand: “Why weren’t You here?”
How often as a priest have I heard people say that!
When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved.
Jesus, as I (we) reflect on this story, help us to feel / to sense / to realize that it is your humanness / Your humanity that saves us: You are one like us!
He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.”
Jesus began to weep.
Lord, You always weep with and for Your friends . . . and the folks who do not know You are waiting for the touch of your friendship.
You cry — even now — over the state of our world. I know. I often cry with you!
So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”
Jesus, I praise You that You were not afraid to express Your love to other men, especially to the young beloved disciple who leaned on Your breast at the Last Supper (John 21:20).
But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”
Jesus, You always worked in an atmosphere of hostility. There were always people around who hated You because you loved. And teach others to do the same. In these later days of Lent as we approach the celebration of Your passion, death and resurrection — this year — may we be soberly aware that it was the religious leaders who had you killed. Something for us to ponder even today. Are we for You or against You? Are we on the side of Love or Hate?
Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it.
Jesus, I know many who have heavy stones laying across devastated lives. Particularly my friends who have lain in the tomb of addiction. I know families who weep and worry over the death of the spirits of their loved ones.
Jesus said, “Take away the stone.”
Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.”
There are always consequences to devastated lives. They’re always hard to repair.
Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?”
. . . . but Jesus reminds us to always to have hope in the ones we love — even when matters seem hopeless.
So they took away the stone. And Jesus [. . . . .] cried with a loud voice, “LAZARUS COME OUT!”
The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth.
Jesus said to them,
“Unbind him, and let him go.”
I have come to realize, Lord, that coming out of our tombs is only the beginning of recovery. Resurrection takes a long time.We need others to unbind us. And I thank you for the people who have helped to unbind me ~ especially You, Lord!
Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.
May we come to deepen OUR faith in You, Lord, and realize that as we stay close to You, You will unbind us and let us go free to new and risen life and love!
The Gospel of the Lord.
Praise to You, Lord Jesus Christ!
Now here is the song “He will raise you up on eagle’s wings” Click here. by Michael Joncas sung at my parents’ funeral and so many others I had the honor of presiding at. We Catholics truly believe that we will live forever!
This post is dedicated to the young men for whom I’ve prayed and their parents: May they be unbound from the shackles of their addictions and have a new and risen life.
The New Revised Standard Version, copyright 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.All rights reserved. From the oremus Bible Browser http://bible.oremus.org v2.2.5 2 March 2008.
William Barclay / The Daily Study Bible Series / The Gospel of John – Volume 2 Revised Edition The Westminster Press / Philadelphia 1975 / pp. 80 – 103.