Jesus asks for total loyalty from his disciples! Allegiance to what ends? Jesus was clear that he expected his followers to “be all in”, to choose him over their mothers and fathers, over their sisters and brothers and even over their daughters and sons. This must have sounded absurd! Who could do that, they must have asked? To choose Jesus over your family was to make a choice that would mean that you would lose the ones who would care for you in old age, or in the event of illness, choosing Jesus would mean your future would immediately become much more precarious! Your family is where your personal identity came from. What was Jesus asking of his followers? It seems that Jesus was asking his disciples to put him at the center of their lives and from this center to move outward to others. He was asking them to become “his family”! These words of Jesus’ taken in the context of the fullness of his message to love God with our whole selves and our neighbor as ourselves gives us insight into what he is suggesting. If indeed we are able to place Christ at the center of our lives we will be less self-absorbed, less harsh towards others and more kind, generous and lov-ing. By consciously and reflectively living Christ centered lives we become more and more rooted in our relationship with Christ and ultimately, our relationships with our sisters and brothers can blossom and become fuller and deeper, more authentic human encounters with our sisters and brothers. When we do this, racism and bigotry cannot ex-ist in our lives and will be rooted out of our institutions, both secular and sacred. By placing Christ at the center of my life I prioritize my life in such a way that the priorities of the Gospel become the priorities of my life, that Gospel values of justice, peace and the integrity of creation are no longer simply “nice ideals to work for” but rather “fundamental imperatives” around which I build my life, create family and live out my relationship with God and others. Am I putting anything or anyone ahead of Christ and my relationship with God that I need to reconsider so as to live a more Christ centered life….so as to re-center my life! How does my relationship with God impact my rela-tionship with my family and with others? How might strengthening or deepening my relationship with God im-pact my relationship with my family and others?
In this weekend’s Gospel Jesus warns against fear. Fear has been the cause of the destruction of entire peoples and cultures; the cause of one war after an-other and still we do not learn just how disastrous for humanity fear-mongering can be. Poets, philosophers and mystics alike all have warned that it ultimately leads to the deadening of the soul and disconnection from the human family. Several years ago Pope Francis warned that wherever there is fear, there will always be someone who will manipulate it to their own good. "Because fear, besides being good business for merchants of weapons and death, weakens and destabilizes us, destroying our psychological and spiritual defenses, anesthetizing us to the suffering of others and, in the end, making us cruel." We find ourselves in the midst of a fear-ridden country, with some people shouting of calamity (racial justice and equality) that is about to beset us all, and yet Jesus who found himself in a not too dissimilar geopolitical situation (think the Roman occupation of his native country) called his followers not to fear but to have faith….to not to give into fear!
We too are called to not allow ourselves to be ruled by fear and allow it to turn us into cruel people who think of our-selves first and only, and leave the less fortunate to fend for themselves. Pope Francis has said that mercy is the “best antidote” to fear! And in the same speech, he called for us to partner that mercy with courage. We need courage to do the right thing in the face of fear which causes communities to want to build walls instead of bridges and makes peoples choose open conflict rather than embrace the differences of others. In a very real way we are called to “walk towards our fears” and not run from them. Walking towards our fears takes courage. But, we must not forget that we do not walk that journey alone -- we walk with Christ! We are called to walk with our black and brown sisters and brothers and demand an end to the systemic racism that is woven through the very fabric of our country! We all must speak up and act to bring about an end to the systemic racism in our institutions both secular and sacred! For those of us who are white, we must sit in the discomfort of confronting our white privilege and how it is the very root of the systemic racism that pervades our institutions and our society and call it out for what it is and for what it has done to our sisters and brothers of color. Not until we have done this can we live the great command of Jesus, to love our neighbor as ourselves. What personal biases am I being called to walk towards or to sit with and name? Might I pray to draw courage in facing my own biases, with the Holy Spirit guiding me?
The Body and Blood of Christ are not only something we “get” when we go to Mass…it is what we become! We believe in the “real presence” of Christ in the Eucharist and while we will never fully understand how this is, we gather each Sunday, around the “table of the Lord” to be nourished…and to be changed…changed, ever more fully, into the Body of Christ. Through our receiving the Body and Blood of Christ…Christ lives in us and we in Christ and thus we become the Body of Christ.
This “indwelling” of Christ in us both as individuals and as community has enormous implications for our lives….individually and communally. We become “the Body of Christ” present in the world and called to be the visible compassion and love of Christ reaching out to the immigrant, the refugee, to those discriminated against and treated unjustly because of the color of their skin or where that came from, “to be for” all those who suffer and who are in need. As Christ was “for the world” so too we are to be “for the world”. Our daily actions, our work, our relationships all of them must reflect Christ. Our lives should be a living witness to the words, actions, life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We are called to live our lives in such a way that we become visible, tangible signs of God’s amazing and passionate love for all people, to stand up to the systemic racism that pervades our society, that has been woven through the fabric of our country over the last 400 years.
I believe that to refuse to sit in the discomfort of confronting the reality of racism in our country and our own white privilege is to deny the primary message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, God’s deep and passionate love for ALL people, just as they are, the beloved of God! When we embrace that all who are “other” from us are the “BELOVED” of God then there is no place in our hearts for racism and bigotry. How does my life reflect my being part of the Body of Christ? When I leave Mass what do I take with me into the world? What am I being called to “pick up” or “lay down” in my life that I might, more fully, live as a member of the Body of Christ and work to bring an end to racism and bigotry?
As we celebrate the feast of The Most Holy Trinity my mind returns to an 8th grade classroom and a tall red haired nun, in full habit, named Sister Mary Janelle. I recall her patiently helping my classmates and myself as we wrestled with the concept of the Trinity, three Persons who were at the same time separate but one. As she went through theological gymnastics trying to help us understand, ultimately she conceded that it was a mystery…mystery with a capital “M”. At the time my classmates and I felt it was a bit of a “cop-out” on her part…but now almost 50 years later I have come to see her wisdom, and have come to be comfortable with, and truly enjoy the concept of mystery. We live in a society that demands to know all things, to have concrete explanations for everything. But the reality is that ultimately God is beyond our under-standing.
Today I realize that I am part of a religious tradition that has passed on a faith…a faith filled with mystery and awe in our God. There is a “consensus of our ancestors” that harbors “revealed truths” that are essentials of our faith that will always lie just beyond our capacity to fully understand. The Holy Spirit has been sent into our hearts to lead us headlong into the Mystery…to live out in concrete terms what we say we believe even though we do not fully understand. Our lack of understanding has no impact on the Mystery itself… the Mystery desires us and loves us just as we are…conflicted and wrestling with our faith. One of the most important realities is that we remain engaged…wrestling with our faith…engaged with God!
But when all is said and done what is most important is that we remain engaged in the struggle for understanding…and we open our hearts and minds to the Holy Spirit, the bringer of wisdom. And what wisdom and understanding is the Holy Spirit trying to bring us today in the midst of the light that is being shined on the darkness, of the SIN of the systemic racism and bigotry that is woven into the very fabric of our nation?
Fr. Bryan N. Massingale, PhD, is the James and Nancy Buckman Professor of Theological and Social Ethics at Fordham University in New York. He is also the Senior Ethics Fellow in Fordham’s Center for Ethics Education. Massingale is a past convener of the Black Catholic Theological Symposium and a former president of the Catholic Theological Society of America. He is the author of Racial Justice and the Catholic Church.
He recently wrote an article for National Catholic Reporter entitled “Amy Cooper knew exactly what she was doing. We all do. And that's the problem.” :
“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.
He 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 his race would be a burden, even an insurmountable one.
She assumed that the world should work for her and against him.
She assumed that she had the upper hand in this situation.
She assumed that she could exploit deeply ingrained white fears of black men.
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 the racial formation of white people would work in her favor.
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).
I am not a mind reader. I have no access to Amy Cooper's inner thoughts. But I know, and we all know, that without these assumptions, her words and actions — her lies — make no sense. We also have to admit that her assumptions are not unreasonable. In fact, we have to admit that they are well-founded. They match what we know to be true about how the country works and about how too many white people think.
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?” Now what are you and I going to do about it? That is my question!”
Fr. Tim Hickey, C.S.Sp.
Our Lady Queen of Peace
2700 South 19th Street
Arlington, Virginia, 22204, USA
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Saturday: Vigil Mass at 5:30 pm
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6 pm (young adult)