I chose this quote from Dag Hammarskjold to be on the memory card from my religious profession and later on for my ordination memory card. I chose it because I believe it speaks of a profound gratitude to God and of a stance of openness towards God and towards whatever lies ahead in life and in death. And I think it is appropriate for today as we celebrate this anniversary and as we have just celebrated All Saint’s Day and All Soul’s Day.
November is traditionally a time in which we remember the dead. In some cultures people set up little home altars on which they place photos and mementos of their loved ones who have died and gone ahead of them to that which we call the afterlife, heaven.
We do not know exactly what lies ahead but yet we are part of it, promised resurrection through our baptism. As we careen towards the end of the liturgical year and towards the season of Advent, our readings turn toward “the last things”.
This is not meant to frighten us or cause us to be gloomy or sad; on the contrary, it is meant to offer us an opportunity to reflect on the transitory reality of this life in the context of the gift and the promise of eternal life. While none of us really knows exactly what it will be like, and the speculation has made for good reading over the centuries, some theologians today talk of it as something analogous to a glorious and knowable uniting, a joining with God in a new and spectacular way, beyond our wildest hopes and dreams! Heaven!
Down through history this belief in the resurrection has motivated many people to stand up and resist oppression and evil, not unlike what we heard in the first reading for this Sunday about the torture of the mother and the seven brothers.
And it is not unlike “what we have seen and what we have heard” in the lives of our Black sisters and brothers who during their nightmare of slavery clung to their faith in the God of their deliverance who would bring them home. And not unlike all of our Black sisters and brothers who lived through the hell of systemic racism, of post construction after the civil war and into the civil rights movement and right up to this very day where systemic racism still represses, holds down and steals the lives of our black and brown sisters and brothers.
And this systemic racism was the cause for a small group of 16 Black Catholics to band together in 1945 and ask Bishop Ireton to help them build a Black Catholic parish community in Arlington.
And Bishop Ireton reached out to the Spiritans and asked them if they would be willing to send a priest to be the pastor of this new parish in the midst of creation. And the Spiritans sent Fr. Joe Hackett, C.S.Sp., who the bishop appointed to became the first pastor. And that Black Catholic community gathered, in the home of one of the founding members, on Pentecost Sunday, May 20th, 1945 for the first Mass of Our Lady Queen of Peace Parish, but it was not until June 15, of 1947 that this Church building was completed and dedicated by Bishop Ireton.
And in that dedication was the celebration of the amazing labor of love and backbreaking hard work of those earliest Black Catholic members of this parish community, who built this church building in which we gather and celebrate each Sunday. They labored to create a safe and dignified worship space where they could gather and pray and celebrate the sacraments in dignity and without fear of acts of racist exclusion or segregation, or worse.
And as we celebrate the 75th anniversary of the dedication of this church building we also thankfully celebrate the lives and faith of those earliest members of our parish community here at Our Lady Queen of Peace Catholic Church.
The readings today call us to ask ourselves what do I believe about heaven and the afterlife and do I fear death or dying? And, if I built a little home altar this November honoring my ancestors, whose photos and mementos would I place on it?
And given the current events of our times, our discipleship of Jesus Christ calls us to ask ourselves, in what ways can I stand up to the sin of systemic racism that was behind the need to found this very church in the first place.
Faced with the racism, bigotry and misogyny that beats down, holds back, and erases, and looks past our sisters and our brothers of color and seeks to deny them the dignity God has given them, we have to ask ourselves what action does my discipleship call me to in this day and in this place?
Blessings, Fr Tim