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What would you do if someone asked you to create a song about someone they loved who’d recently died? I’m talking on the spot. Don’t put it on paper. Just start speaking words with the hope that you could say something meaningful–something that touched the heart. Would you even dare to try something so audacious? Harry Mack would.
Mack is a rapper who specializes in “freestyling” in which he makes up lyrics on the spot. Prior to the pandemic, Harry Mack released videos of walking around places like Venice Beach, with instrumentals playing on a hand-held stereo as he freestyled for people. After lockdown, Mack took his talents to Omegle, an online video chat website that randomly pairs users from across the world. Each chat begins with Mack telling people he’s a freestyle rapper, then he asks if he can do a rap for them. If they agree, he then asks them to provide three words he will incorporate into his freestyle. Mack creates a whole song using those three words. And it. is. incredible.
One of Mack’s listeners said, “this is the closest thing to magic I’ve ever seen!” And it’s true. There’s something about freestyling that’s like alchemy. The freestyler takes simple words and beats and combines them on the spot to create gold.
Freestyling has an amazing capacity to draw me in. I’ve asked myself, what is it about freestyling that has this effect on me? I’ve come to realize that freestyling is an expression of our identity. I’m not talking only about individual identity, as rappers talk about their experiences (whether or not they exaggerate, as rappers are wont to do). I’m talking about something more fundamental to our collective human identity: we are made in the image and likeness of God (imago dei in Latin).
That’s a big claim, but I think St. Augustine can help me explain how freestyle rapping is an expression of our identity as “imago dei”. In his writing, Augustine uses triads (groupings of three) to describe how the human being is made in the image and likeness of our one God who is a Trinity of persons: the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
In Book Ten of his foundational text on the Trinity, De Trinitate, Augustine writes that with regards to the mind, human beings are in the image and likeness of God in the mind’s faculties of memory, understanding, and will. These three faculties, though they are separate faculties, each mutually contain one another in making up the one mind or essence of the individual. In Augustine’s own words:
For I remember that I have memory and understanding, and will; and I understand that I understand, and will, and remember; and I will that I will, and remember, and understand; and I remember together my whole memory, and understanding, and will.1
Okay, so what does this have to do with Harry Mack and freestyle rap? In order to generate that freestyle alchemy, these three faculties of the mind need to be functioning in a way that reflects their unity. And Harry Mack is a good example of that. How?
First, freestyling is a demonstration of wit, creativity, and memory. Harry Mack is able to take three words that people give him and create a hook on the spot. A hook is the repetitive part of a rap song. It generally is the line people find easiest to remember. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy to create. Mack seems to do this instantaneously, and not only does he create the hook, but he brings it back throughout the rest of his freestyle, which is usually three or four minutes long. In other words, his memory is hard at work to do this.
Second, another important aspect of freestyling is the rappers ability to adapt to the instrumental they’re rapping to. And this requires a thorough understanding of music, rhythm, and sound. Mack demonstrates a variety of rhyme schemes and rap cadences. Not only that, he also shows a deep empathy and understanding of his listeners. He adapts his message and tone to the energy his listener brings, and in doing so, he affirms the dignity of the other person.
Finally, freestyle rap is nothing if not a demonstration of the will. It requires practice and persistence, both of which require the exercise of a strong will and, in turn, these also sharpen the will. After Mack’s freestyles, people often ask, “how did you do that?!” To which Mack responds, “I’ve practiced for years.” True expertise only comes with perseverance of the will.
The mental powers of memory, understanding and will are on full display in Mack’s freestyles, but even that doesn’t get to the heart of why I enjoy this particular artist so much. Augustine writes:
And because the mind is regarded as praiseworthy, not only as being learned, but also as being good, one gives heed not only to what he remembers and what he understands, but also to what he wills; not how ardently he wills, but first what it is he wills, and then how greatly he wills it. For the mind that loves eagerly is then to be praised, when it loves that which ought to be loved eagerly.2
He means that memory, knowledge and will are worthless if they do not move a person towards the good. It is in our ability to love and will the good that makes us most like our loving God. What keeps me watching Harry Mack’s videos is the positivity and gratitude he expresses towards his listeners. The love he radiates not only elevates others, it makes his music better too.
Image from Harry Mack’s official website.
Ayan Ali is a researcher with the Slavery, History, Memory and Reconciliation (SHMR) Project of the Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States. As we close Black History Month, I spoke with her about the focus of the SHMR Project, what she has learned from the research, and the importance of Black history.
Could you explain the work of Slavery, History, Memory, and Reconciliation Project and what you do as part of the project?
The Slavery, History, Memory, and Reconciliation (SHMR) Project is an initiative of the Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States to address the Society of Jesus’s historical involvement in the institution of slavery. The Society of Jesus relied on enslaved labor globally, almost from their founding. In the United States, the forced labor of enslaved people facilitated the establishment and success of Jesuit missionary efforts and educational institutions until the abolition of slavery in 1865. Today, the SHMR project works both to share what the lives of people held in slavery to the Jesuits were like, and to connect with their descendants so we can work in partnership to address the persistent vestiges of slaveholding that manifest in Jesuit institutions.
Along with Research Coordinator Kelly L. Schmidt, my primary responsibility with the SHMR Project is historical and genealogical research. We conduct historical research with the goal of creating a more complete history of the lives of people enslaved to the Jesuits. Using archival records such as account books, sacramental records, census surveys, and booklets documenting the allotment of clothing to enslaved people, Kelly and I work to learn more about the lived experiences of people held in bondage by the Jesuits and present a historical narrative that centers enslaved people. We undertake genealogical research with the goal of tracing family lineages to the present so that descendants of people the Jesuits held in slavery can inform how Jesuit institutions should address this history.
Some may think of this project in terms of “Jesuit Slaveholding,” but the project seems not to place the emphasis on the Jesuits, but rather the people who were enslaved to them. How does this shift in focus change the research?
Most existing histories of Jesuit slaveholding prioritize the actions and voices of Jesuit slaveholders, and not the people they held in bondage. The SHMR Project works to address this historical bias by conducting extensive historical research with an intentional focus on the lives of enslaved people. Instead of focusing on the thoughts or actions of individual Jesuit slaveholders, we aim to share the untold stories of the adults and children whose forced labor ensured the success of Jesuit institutions from the colonial era until the abolition of slavery in 1865. Such a perspective enables us to highlight the pivotal role that enslaved people played in establishing a Jesuit presence in the United States. The resiliency and courage of bondspeople as they confronted their Jesuit owners emerges with greater clarity when enslaved peoples’ actions are centered. Additionally, this emphasis on the perspectives of enslaved people enables us to begin to correct pervasive myths surrounding this history that obscure the extent of or violence intrinsic to Jesuit slaveholding.
As someone engaged in day to day research on the history of Black people in the U.S., why is something like Black History Month important?
Black History Month is a time for celebrating the many contributions that African Americans have made to the fabric of our society. When Carter G. Woodson first created what was then called “Negro History Week” in 1926, he saw Black history as a mechanism for spurring transformational societal change. Believing that young African Americans were not being taught enough about their own culture and the accomplishments of their ancestors, Woodson’s initiative aimed to help people better understand the critical role Black people have played in the shaping of America. Nearly 100 years later, Woodson’s intentions behind Black History Month still ring true. The achievements of white historical figures are often centered in modern histories of the United States, while Black existence is reduced to experiences of slavery, segregation, and other methods of racial oppression. Little room is left for highlighting the lasting contributions made by African Americans.
This phenomenon is replicated in American Jesuit histories as well, which often minimize the important contributions that enslaved people made to the early history of Jesuit schools, churches, and parishes, or elide them completely. A major component of our work is to address these historical myths and biases by uncovering and sharing a more truthful history of enslavement to the Society of Jesus. By foregrounding the voices and perspectives of enslaved people and their descendants, we work to honor and uplift the Black Americans who played a role in the creation of Jesuit institutions and have been excluded from the historical narrative.
Black History Month is often time to celebrate heroic figures in Black history. Are there any individuals or families that you have come across in your research that particularly inspire you?
I am continually inspired by the resilience and determination of the families we research. One story that continues to affect me is that of Matilda Tyler (born Matilda Hawkins). Born near Washington D.C., Matilda was forced to Missouri in 1829 from the Jesuits’ White Marsh Plantation in Maryland and sent to labor at Saint Louis University (then Saint Louis College). In Missouri, Matilda married George Tyler; together, they had five surviving sons. Matilda and her children labored in slavery together at the college. Missouri law at the time allowed for enslaved people to purchase their freedom and so Matilda Tyler began making arrangements with the Jesuits to do just that. By August 1848, she had successfully purchased her freedom and that of her youngest son, Charles. The Tylers subsequently purchased the freedom of their remaining children and in January 1859, Saint Louis University signed legal deeds of emancipation for Edmond, George, Thomas, and Samuel.
One of the most striking parts about Matilda Tyler’s story is how the Jesuits used the money earned from her payments for freedom. An 1847 entry in the Jesuits’ treasury ledgers indicates that Matilda would be granted her freedom “if she pay $300 to be appropriated to St. Fr. Xavier Church.” After contributing four deposits totaling $300 (about $9000 in today’s dollars), Matilda was emancipated. One year later, Matilda, along with her son Thomas, received the Catholic sacrament of Confirmation at St. Francis Xavier Church, the same institution that profited from her bondage.
A main component of the project is genealogical research. Can you talk a bit about that aspect?
One of the major goals of the SHMR Project is to address the modern manifestations of American slavery. Rather than replicate the same injustices that undergirded race-based, chattel slavery, we work to prioritize the needs and voices of descendant communities. Decisions made as part of the reconciliation process should be made by and with descendants, not for them. Genealogical research is therefore critical to our work, as it connects us to descendant communities with whom we work in partnership to repair the historical harms done by slavery.
In a recent newsletter for the SHMR project, you wrote about how recent the history of slavery is. How is that clear in your work?
As part of my duties as a researcher, I create family trees that link living descendants through the generations to their ancestors who were held in bondage by the Jesuits. During the process, I have been consistently struck by the shapes of the family trees, which often resemble hedges more than trees with their low height and broad width. The shape of these trees make clear how little time has elapsed since the abolition of slavery. If slavery was in fact a distant memory, we would expect to see tall, long trees with many generations who had lived and died after slavery was abolished. But these short, flat trees demonstrate just the opposite. In some instances, only two generations separate a living descendant from a predecessor who was held in bondage and some even have lifetimes that overlap with an enslaved ancestor.
Because no one alive today participated in or suffered under race-based, chattel slavery, some assert that slavery has negligible impact on contemporary society. While this rhetoric attempts to make recent history seem ancient, those familiar with the history of American slavery know that we are not far removed from its horrors and that similar systems of anti-Black exploitation continue to replicate themselves. The reality is African Americans have been free in this country for less time than they were enslaved and there are Americans still alive today who are the children of enslaved people.
(Note: You can sign up for SHMR’s monthly e-newsletter here.)
Why is it important for Jesuits and those who work in Jesuit institutions to know this history? Why is it important for any American to be more aware of this history?
History as a discipline is about using the tools of the past to make sense of the present and shape the future. Patterns of racial discrimination and persistent structural disadvantages do not occur in a vacuum; they exist in relationship to structural advantages for white Americans, advantages often codified in policy decisions over time, that originated in the institution of slavery. In order to move forward towards an America where one can live free from racial discrimination, prejudice, or preference, we must first acknowledge that slavery is part of our national story, our Jesuit story, the story of our schools and parishes, and is shaping the lives of African Americans to this day.
If you’ve ever tried to throw a bowl (or anything) on a pottery wheel, you’ve inevitably had the experience of trying to center the clay. This is the foundational task: as the wheel spins, use your hands to steady the clay and center it on the wheel. Everything else follows: the form and raising the walls of the vessel. Failure to center the clay means the vessel will wobble, fail to shape, and then collapse.
I’ve been throwing pottery for over a year now. For a while, I had the technique down, or at least down enough to center the clay and build from there. But lately, I have had the worst time centering the clay. And twice in the last week, I have grown so frustrated I have nearly ripped the clay from the wheel and hurled it across the room. Don’t worry, I didn’t do it. Yet.
As I sit with my struggles to center the clay, my mind wanders to the world around me: does anything feel centered these days?
Consider the vessel of our national community: our country as it continues to spasm with political strife and polarization; the many communities in the US (and around the world) struggling with COVID-19 and its effects; our quickening trajectory toward greater ecological peril; our reception of (or failure to receive) the ongoing flight of many migrants and refugees seeking opportunity and asylum.
Consider the vessels of our lives: our households where we continue to hunker down; our jobs that either play out over a screen or that put us in harm’s way; our lack of jobs which heighten our anxiety and worry; our minds and hearts that feel the weight of our isolation, powerlessness, and lack of answers about what will happen in the next two weeks, let alone the next six months or year.
To make matters worse, the things that often center us are either stripped away or are altered such that they seem almost foreign or antiseptic.
Yes, the outdoors offer quiet and respite from the walls of our homes which feel like they are closing in, but recently, frigid temperatures across most of the country have forced us indoors. And power outages have meant that many cannot count on home for safety.
Yes, social media and Zoom allow for contact with friends and loved ones, but there is no real substitute to a warm hug from a loved one or succumbing to the surrender of contagious laughter in a room full of good friends.
Yes, Eucharist is publicly available in many areas again, but the intimacy is just not the same with masks and plastic face guards and who can attend remains really limited.
* * * * *
The prophet Jeremiah, like us, was in a nation that had lost its way. He watched as his country slipped closer and closer towards chaos. It was then that God invited Jeremiah to observe how, like a potter, God could shape what appeared ruined and broken into something new.
“Can I not do to you, house of Israel, as this potter has done? … Indeed, like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, house of Israel.” (Jeremiah 18:6)
God’s question to Jeremiah was rhetorical. Could God do to Israel as the potter had done? Of course. But would Israel recognize and turn to God as their Master Potter, the one who could rescue them from self-destruction and chaos? Therein lies the rub.
In the end, Israel ended up in exile under the Babylonian empire for decades. Everything was stripped away. The Jewish people were left with fundamental questions: who are we? and who is God for us? Or, put another way: how will we find our center again? In whose hands?
* * * * *
These are not easy questions. Regardless, they are before us. As with Israel, these are our questions now too in a radical new way, as individuals, local communities, and as a nation. We cannot answer them on our own. After all, we are but clay. We cannot center ourselves, try as we might. Our attempts end up like my failed attempts earlier this week: in anger, frustration, resentment, and worse.
Perhaps now, God is calling us to go down to the potter’s house and see what God can do when the vessels of our lives feel de-centered or seem ruined and beyond repair. We ask for the grace to go and see, to marvel at the Master Potter, and to dream with God and one another about who we are and who we could be.
“Have you been saved?”
Picture yourself seated next to someone on a flight. Before you can get your headphones in, they lean towards you and ask the question. “Have you been saved?” If you’re like me in this scenario, you give a quick “oh, yes, thank you,” and then throw those earbuds in as quick as you can and close your eyes for the duration of the flight.
But it is a question worth pondering over. Have we been saved? What does it mean to be saved? And what does the Church teach about salvation?
Given the plethora of Church teaching, you might be shocked to find out: the Catholic Church does NOT endorse one particular understanding of salvation. (Gasp!) It’s shocking, I know.
That’s not to say that the Church doesn’t have a lot to say about our salvation and how it is worked out. It does! But as much as we seek to uncover truth, we also have to understand the mystery of God’s work in our life and in our world as well. It’s too large a task to explore the entirety of Church teaching on salvation, but this article will offer a few helpful insights to reflect on.
There is one central dogmatic truth of salvation that has been upheld by the Church: the rejection of Pelagianism. What is that exactly? Pelagianism is a 5th century heresy from the theologian Pelagius. Let’s not hate on him too much- he had good intentions (as most ancient heretics did).
Pelagius was concerned about the low moral standards among Christians of his time, and he wanted to stress the essential goodness of human nature and the freedom of human will. He was so optimistic about human capacity to choose good (and evil) that he believed we have the freedom to earn our salvation by our own efforts. In other words, according to Pelagius, we can save ourselves.
That might sound reasonable. We can pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps, right? Well, when it comes to our salvation, that’s just wrong.
The Church has definitively rejected Pelagianism and the proposal that we save ourselves. Pope Francis summarized this teaching succinctly in his apostolic exhortation Gaudete et Exsultate, “The Church has repeatedly taught that we are justified not by our own works or efforts, but by the grace of the Lord, who always takes the initiative” (§52).
Our salvation doesn’t come from our own efforts. It begins with God, who always takes the initiative. So any Catholic understanding of salvation must be firmly rooted in the fullness of God’s revelation in Jesus and the salvific work of his life, death, and resurrection.
We profess in the Nicene Creed that Jesus came “for us…and for our salvation.” Okay, so salvation is all about Jesus. That’s the essential starting point. But there are lots of ways to go from there.
How exactly does Christ save us? The creed does not elaborate on any particular model of salvation. Consequently, a variety of models exist from different theologians who have tried to make sense of this complicated concept. Many of these models overlap and can be seen as complementary rather than mutually exclusive.
But some models of salvation are not helpful and can have a deep impact on our images of God and our understanding of how we relate to God. One such model, which continues to be prevalent in our thinking, is the penal substitution model. Gerald O’Collins, SJ, summarizes it like this: “Christ was a penal substitute who was personally burdened with the sins of humanity, judged, condemned, and deservedly punished in our place. Thus through his death he satisfied the divine justice, paid the required price, and propitiated an angry God.” Basically, Jesus was the sacrificial offering who bore all of our sins and died to appease an angry God.
This is not a helpful image of God. The penal substitution model portrays a vengeful God tracking our offenses and demanding recompense. Living out of this image impacts how we relate to God: we can become consumed by guilt and fear before God, like he’s a highway patrol officer waiting to catch us doing something wrong, throw us in prison, and punish us.
But the image of God from the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32), for example, portrays a very different God: a God who is loving and who shows abundant mercy. Rather than demanding recompense, the merciful father in the parable embraces and kisses his son and celebrates his return with a feast. It’s a drastically different image of God than the penal substitution model.
So what does Jesus’ life reveal to us about our salvation?
Since salvation is rooted in Christ, what we understand about Christ’s work of salvation comes directly from what we know about Christ, including who he is and what happened during his life. There are three major moments in Jesus’ life that models of salvation often turn to: Jesus’ birth, death, and resurrection. Let’s consider the importance of those three moments.
First, in the Incarnation, Jesus was born into our world. From the earliest councils, the Church has affirmed Christ’s divinity (“God from God…consubstantial with the father”) and Christ’s humanity (“he became man”). That is to say, Jesus is both fully human and fully divine.
This truth about Jesus is fundamental to our understanding of how he enacted salvation for all people. Peter Bouteneff explains the importance: “A mere human being can die voluntarily for others to great effect, but he or she is not the saviour of the world. And the ‘voluntary’ suffering and death of Jesus, if he had no human life, soul, passions or vulnerability, would be mere play-acting.” Thus, our salvation needs to come from someone who is authentically one of us (fully human). But it also has to come from God, who is much greater than us (fully divine). This is realized in the person of Jesus.
Second, we also profess that Christ “was crucified under Pontius Pilate, he suffered death and was buried.” All four Gospel accounts affirm Christ’s crucifixion, despite the great scandal of this brutal and torturous death. Jewish messianic expectations, arising from the Hebrew Bible, awaited a new ruler from the line of David who would deliver the Jewish people from oppression. Jesus’s Passion ran counter to these expectations, and St. Paul writes about this apparent contradiction: “we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles” (1 Cor 1:23). Any model of salvation must account for the reality of Jesus’s crucifixion and unpack its implications on our salvation.
Third, Jesus’s life did not end with his death, for we also profess that he “rose again on the third day.” While the exact accounts differ in the Gospels, the underlying story is the same. N.T. Wright summarizes it: “the body of Jesus was neither resuscitated nor left to decay in the tomb but was rather transformed into a new mode of physicality, shocking and startling to the disciples and all subsequent readers.” The reality of Jesus’s resurrection cannot be ignored. In fact, it is revelatory of our own salvation. We profess our belief in the “resurrection of the body,” which means that our salvation will be more than just a spiritual resurrection. It will entail the resurrection of both our body and soul. Just like Jesus’.
Thus, the Resurrection, together with the Incarnation and Passion, clearly need to be foundational to our understanding of Christ’s work of salvation.
What do the rest of Scriptures have to say about salvation? It can be helpful to look to New Testament sources to get a sense of how early Christians talked about Christ’s death and resurrection and its implications in our salvation.
In his letter to the Romans, St. Paul writes: “Now there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus has freed you from the law of sin and death” (8:1-2). Jesus’s death and resurrection bring us deliverance from sin and death, which no longer have a final claim on us. “Death is swallowed up in victory. Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” (1 Cor 15:54-55).
Death and sin are conquered by Christ, and we are brought into new life through him and with him. “If the Spirit of the one who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, the one who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also” (Rom 8:11). We share in the redemption of new life together with Christ.
Sounds great, doesn’t it? Only one problem. Sin, death, and evil continue to exist in our world as evidenced by the violence, poverty, and division that continue to afflict humanity.
Thus, we have to find a balance between our understanding of the liberation already achieved by Jesus’s death and resurrection and the fullness of redemption which is clearly not yet here. St. Paul expresses this as he writes: “we ourselves, who enjoy the firstfruits of the Spirit, we also groan within ourselves as we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved” (Rom 8:23-24).
The working out of our salvation through Jesus’s death and resurrection remains a mystery, but it must hold in tension both the already and the not yet of salvation.
There are too many models of salvation to elaborate on in an introductory article. Let me conclude by introducing one other essential component to the conversation: love.
Jesus is the fullness of the revelation of God. And Jesus reveals the love of God: “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. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:16-17). This should matter when we think about how our salvation is achieved through Christ.
Love is the central message of the Incarnation for it is the very reason God took flesh. Love is the central message of Jesus’s life and teaching, as evident by the parable of the prodigal son, the parable of the workers in the vineyard (Mt 20:1-16), and the story of the woman caught in adultery (Jn 8:1-11). Love is the central message of the Cross: “God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8). And love is the central message of the Resurrection, as the disciples who encounter Jesus on the road to Emmaus remark to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he spoke to us on the way?” (Lk 24:32)
The Incarnation, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus all reveal God to us, and “God is love” (1 Jn 4:16). God is revealed to us, and sin and death no longer hold claim over us, as we hold in tension the already and not yet of our salvation. As St. Paul tells us, the evils of this world, whether anguish, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, peril, or the sword, cannot separate us from the love of Christ (Rom 8:35-39).
We cannot be separated from the love of God in Jesus, and, by the teaching and example of Jesus’s life, we come to know the proper way of responding to God, which is a response of love. This response of love to God and others is a manner of living out of the grace freely given to us by God, for we do not, by our own efforts, earn our salvation. (Sorry, Pelagius.)
The precise manner in which our salvation is worked out through Jesus’s revelation of God and God’s divine love for humanity remains a mystery. Jon Sobrino writes, “This affirmation does not ‘explain’ anything, but it says everything. In Jesus’ life and cross, God’s love has been displayed. And God chose this way of showing himself, because he could not find any clearer way of telling us human beings that he really wills our salvation.”
It is precisely this dynamic of contemplating God’s love and our own response that comprise the final crescendo of St. Ignatius’s “Spiritual Exercises.” As he invites the retreatant to reflect, he reminds us that “love consists in interchange between two parties,” and “love ought to be put more in deeds than in words.” Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection reveal God’s love for us and thereby save us from sin and death, and our only proper response is to return that love to God by our words and actions.
In this, we find our salvation.
My father has only been angry at me once for my faith. This is the man who drove me every Sunday to Mass before I could drive, who taught me the Our Father, the Hail Mary, and the Glory Be.
One Sunday, my RCIA teacher had grown tired of my questions. For those who know me, this is easy to imagine. She gave me a golden book about the saints called “My Book of the Saints.” I read it from cover to cover, over and over again. On this particular Sunday, I read to my father about the saint for September 9th. The year was 1999, but this book must have been from the 1960s.
“It says here, St. Peter Claver is the patron of colored missions.” My father looked at me and said nothing. And that look pierced deeper than if he had slammed the book out of my hands. I closed it, and I never mentioned Peter again.
We often hold up Peter Claver to excuse our neglect as a church of people who look like me. I say this as the only Black American Jesuit in formation on Earth. We have Haitians, Jamaicans and Africans, but I’m the only ethnically Black American Jesuit in formation in the world.
We Jesuits hold Peter Claver up and hide behind him. We love to include in our retelling of his very hagiographical life, how, at the end of his life, after “all he had done for the negroes” he was woefully mistreated by a black slave. The truth is, however, that even though Peter baptized thousands of enslaved people, he himself owned and mistreated enslaved people throughout his Jesuit life. (For more information on St. Peter Claver and his relationship to race and slavery, see “Fugitive Saints: Catholicism and the Politics of Slavery” by Katie Grimes.)
A certain protected memory of Peter Claver is often used by white Catholics and ministers to distance themselves from actually engaging in ministry or relationships with Black Americans. Yet this false image of Claver, rather than absolving Catholics of their responsibilities towards Black people, is an even more scathing indictment of our indifference. Our image of Claver is a call to all of us Catholics to be who he was not.
My great grandmother was an orphan. She was raised by her grandmother, who had been a slave, and who was an awful woman. She would beat my grandmother within an inch of her life. My grandmother would beat my father and his siblings as a result. For the majority of her life, she worked as a maid at St. Joseph’s hospital—a Catholic hospital run by the Sisters of Mercy.
My great grandmother was illiterate but brilliant. She longed to have the gospel preached to her, but the sisters simply passed her by—day in and day out, as she scrubbed their floors. When my great aunt, her daughter, died of rheumatic fever, the mother superior gave her a crucifix. That sacred talisman was passed down from her, to her daughter, to her grandson—my father, to me. She revered it. She would have become Catholic in a heartbeat. She needed a Catholic who was unafraid to speak to her, and speak to her about the faith, but there was none for her.
My grandmother was a single mother. She married my grandfather, but for complicated reasons, the marriage never worked. She knew that the Franciscan nuns who ran the colored mission school in the neighborhood gave the best education, so she gave every dollar that she had to send her four children to Catholic schools.
My father tells the story of how he would show up at the first of the month with a handful of crinkled one dollar bills to give to Mother Judith Anne. She was strict, but she loved her students. She would quietly accept the money—way less than the price of actual tuition—and wave my father and his siblings into their classrooms. My grandmother would confess to my mother years later that she always dreamed of becoming Catholic. Nevertheless, due to her failed marriage, she never dared to try. The Church, for its part, never dared to reach out to her. She needed a Catholic who was unafraid of her, and willing to speak to her about the faith, but there was none for her.
My father and his siblings all converted to Catholicism with gusto. My father, encouraged by the Franciscan friars, wanted to be an altar boy and maybe even a priest. My dad, my aunts and uncle loved their little black church. During desegregation, it was closed and they were forced to go to the white church where they were reviled and rejected. And so they left the faith. They needed Catholics who were unafraid of them, and willing to welcome them back into the faith, but there were none for them.
Peter Claver is a saint. While his record on the treatment of Black people is less than savory and often manipulated, he is still someone who was unafraid to be in close proximity to Black people. He believed that they were worthy to be baptized into the Catholic faith. In this regard, Peter Claver is the exception, not the rule. So often, as was true in my family history, white Catholics and ministers hold Black people at an arm’s length.
Today, we Jesuits pride ourselves on our Nativity and Cristo Rey Schools, which serve predominantly students of color. We teach kids of color, and put financial resources towards their education. Yet, the number of Jesuits actually working in these institutions remains small. If the Holy Mass, as we opine ever so eloquently, is the source and summit of our lives, then why do we have four or fewer Masses per year at our schools for children of color? Why do we hold back on owning our Catholic faith for them? Is it because they are mostly Protestant? Is it because we fear offending their sentiments? Is it because we don’t believe that we have truth to offer to the world in the name of Him who ordered us to carry His good news to all the world?
In our schools today, there are beautiful black children who have yet to hear about our Catholic faith in its fullness. In this Black History Month, will we rise up and be for them what even our ideal failed to be? I hope and pray so. St. Peter Claver, pray for us.
Before Jesus started his ministry of proclaiming the Kingdom of God through his teaching and deeds, he spent 40 days in the desert praying and fasting. Hunter, D’Armond, SJ, reminds us that we, too, need time to pray and reflect in order to go out and live as Jesus did. Based on the readings for Sunday, February 21, 2021.
What is Jesus’ secret?
Hi, I’m Hunter D’Armond and this is my One-Minute Reflection.
How did Jesus turn water to wine, feed the thousands, heal the sick and so much more? Well… prior to all of that, he went into the desert for 40 days of prayer and fasting. In this desolate place, Jesus faced temptation and received the ministry of angels. Only after this did Jesus embark on his public ministry.
We too have been given our own particular mission to serve God, and like Jesus, we must first be silent in prayer and fasting, facing our temptations, and receiving God’s message of love from the good spirits. So this Lent, let us embrace our inner desert by carving out time and space for silence and solitude. Maybe it is 10 minutes of silence after waking up or a daily walk in the park. And in this embrace of silence and solitude, may we come to communicate with God and receive the grace we need for the people and communities in our lives.
I met Javier – aka Zoom-Zoom – at Otisville State Penitentiary, 80 miles north of New York City. I was there coordinating a retreat for Thrive For Life Prison Project. Javier spoke perfect Spanglish and stood five-foot-nothing, though I soon noticed his outsized personality and energy. Hence his nickname.
At the retreat, Javier spoke eagerly about life’s recent ups-and-downs. With even greater enthusiasm he expressed his love for Jesus and how, over the course of his 27 years of incarceration, he had come to know himself as deeply loved and blessed by God.
A month after meeting, I received the call. Javier was ready for release. I hopped in the car with Zach Presutti, SJ, Thrive’s founder, to fetch Javier.
For the first twenty-minutes of our drive, Javier was Javier – talking excitedly, conjuring plans for his future. Then he went quiet and leaned his head against the car window. He clawed at the door handle, saying “I don’t feel so good…I’m nauseous.” I dumped the contents of the “Welcome Home” bag I had made and handed it to him, you know, just in case. Luckily, he didn’t have to use it. Later, Zach explained, “It’s common for guys to get nauseous on the way back. You have to realize, Zoom hasn’t been in a car for 27 years!” Wow, of course.
Later, we stopped at a diner. Javier’s first meal “on the outside.” As I made for the door, Javier stalled in the parking lot. “What’s up?” I asked. “Mira, mira – look!” He pointed to some squirrels chasing each other up and down a Maple tree. His delight with them arrested me: I suddenly realized he hadn’t seen squirrels, or any animal for that matter, for years.
Eventually, we reached the city limits. Javier, was enchanted how much the city had changed since he had last seen it as a 19-year-old. At each stoplight, he swore every other person on the street was either a relative or friend from his old neighborhood.
In time, we reached our Manhattan office, which is near our Jesuit parish. Zach attended some paperwork, while I showed Javier the church.
We entered the sanctuary. As Javier approached the altar, he closed his eyes and lifted his arms and face to the heavens. Full-throated, he sang snippets of his favorite hymns. His praisings reverberated above.
I handed him my cell phone. He had never used one before. “Wanna FaceTime your mom in Puerto Rico?” After nearly three decades without seeing her face, suddenly there she was. Through tears, he whispered, “Mami, I’m home.”
At that moment, I lowered my gaze. For as they say, “one is not bold in an encounter with God.”
* * * * *
This whole year has felt like a Lenten penance in the desert, so I’m not thinking about what to give up.
Instead, I enter this season replaying images of that day with Javier. I don’t know if he would reckon his time in prison to wandering a wasteland, like the Israelites, like Jesus. Nor do I know what he made of those hours traveling back to the city. But I see parallels to those biblical stories, and consider the day as a kind of roadmap in what-to-expect-as-we-stumble-out-of-this-pandemic. It also offers lessons I’ll carry with me through these next forty days.
First, that day is a reminder that I have to accept the journey might be disorienting. Javier was thrilled when we picked him up, but that didn’t prevent dizziness and discomfort. So too, as the season moves us from fear to greater freedom, there are going to be moments we’re nauseous. We might even, at times, start clawing for ways out. This, too, is part of being a disciple. This, too, might be our experience as things reopen and we do things we haven’t done in a year. It’ll be okay. The feeling will pass. Keep going.
Second, I am reminded that the journey is also one of profound joy. Often, I mistake Lent as a time to focus solely on my own darkness and sin. But the ultimate goal is to emerge with renewed vision. To see the world with fresh eyes, of tenderness and wonder. Javier stood mesmerized by two squirrels in the parking lot outside a rackety old diner. I want to live with that sense of awe. How can I come through on the other side of Lent and this very long quarantine donning a childlike spirit, considering everything, myself included, as charged with God’s grandeur?
Third, when I step out of the wasteland and back into the world, can I – will I – like Javier, insist that we’re all radically related?
* * * * *
Today we enter the figurative desert in the midst of a very real pandemic. Javier’s story is a modern-day parable demanding its own observances: Where are we going? How do we get there?
So, too, his story suggests aspirations: Know yourself as forgiven and loved. Practice gratitude. Live with wonder. See yourself as radically related to everyone you meet. When we emerge from the desert, this is who we are to be.
Pandemics will end. Wanderings shall cease. Easter will come. Until then, we lower our gaze and step into the sand. For God is there, just as He will be on the other side, ready to welcome us home.
This reflection was published with Javier’s consent.
Remember that you are dust…and deeply loved. Josef Rodriguez, SJ, reflects on what it means to “celebrate” Ash Wednesday.
Remember that you are dust…Dust worth dying for!
I’m Josef Rodriguez, and this is my One-Minute Reflection.
Today we celebrate Ash Wednesday. That’s right, I said “celebrate!” It’s a day for us to celebrate a tenet of our Faith: that our origin as human beings is from the ground, mere dirt or dust. This shouldn’t send us into a downward existential spiral toward meaninglessness. Rather, it should fill us with wonder and awe.
The Creator took interest in my collection of dust and formed me to be who I am today. The Father loved me so much that He sent His son to show me how to be a child of God. And eventually–spoiler alert!–the Son dies for ME!
As we receive ashes, whatever form that takes this year, let’s be moved by awe to enter with hope into this time of prayer, almsgiving, and fasting…and maybe giving up chocolate. That way, come Good Friday, we can sincerely sing, “What wondrous love is this, oh my soul?”
With roots that date back to the Republican Convention of 1912, through its formal establishment in 1926, Black History Month offers all Americans the opportunity to stand in solidarity with the Black community.
The commemoration of Black culture and achievements was the brainchild of Carter G. Woodson, a Harvard professor, author, and scholar who was one of the first to study Black history.
In the summer of 1915, about half a decade after the 13th Amendment was passed, Woodson traveled from Washington to his alma mater, the University of Chicago, to participate in an event commemorating the 50th anniversary of the emancipation of enslaved people.
The celebration sponsored by the State of Illinois, included exhibits that portrayed, through artifacts, recent Black achievements. The energetic response to the events inspired Woodson to initiate a study of Black life and history. Before returning to Washington, he met with friends including A.L Jackson at the Wabash YMCA to establish the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH).
As he recognized the group’s potential impact, Woodson said, “Those who have no record of what their forebears have accomplished lose inspiration, which comes from the teaching of biography and history.” Woodson announced his intention to fill a void in history books by studying and promoting Black lives through research and writings.
Woodson created the Journal of Negro History in 1916 and in 1926 established Negro History Week, which later was renamed Negro Achievement Week—a way to celebrate the art, music, and history generated within the Black community.
Woodson’s decision to set this week in February was meaningful, as two historical figures who fought for Black rights and recognition, Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln, were born in that month (Feb. 14 and Feb. 12, respectively).
He believed history was initially made by the people, not just by great men. With a nod to both Douglass and Lincoln, Woodson aimed to celebrate the Negro history as a history of diversity and unity. His intention was to draw inspiration from the works of our ancestors. As he said, “We are going back to that beautiful history and it is going to inspire us to greater achievement.”
Since its inception, Woodson’s aim to highlight Black people’s achievement has been well received by many different communities. Negro History week soon became a tradition across the country, promoted primarily through public schools but also white organizations that embraced materials for teaching about Black achievement. By 1937, the ASNLH had spread across the country through several branches.
After successfully founding Negro History Week, Woodson set higher goals for the appreciation and celebration of the Black community. Setting aside just one week out of 52 to honor Blacks was not enough for Woodson.
In unity with some white friends, he convinced the Black community that they needed more. However, he did not realize his dream before his sudden death in 1950 of a heart attack. The Black community had to wait until 1970 to see the acknowledgement of the importance of its history grow into a month-long event at one institution, Kent State University.
It took six more years, until 1976, for the U.S. to begin an official celebration of “Black History Month” in February and March. In that year of the nation’s bicentennial, President Gerald R. Ford reasoned that, “We need to seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”
For me, the key element of this month’s celebration is to remember the achievement of my Black ancestors who knew with audacity how to be inspired and where to stand, to work for truth, justice, and freedom. They fought for freedom, not merely for themselves, but for future generations.
Celebrating Black History month is an act of solidarity, justice, and love for our land that yearns for a true sense of unity and togetherness. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright day of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality…. I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.”
Today, in an America that is struggling to grasp the nuances of her identity, that struggles to make sense of her essence as a United America, celebrating a Black History Month might be perceived by some as divisive; to focus on a single race may seem contrary to the aim of unity. But Black history has systematically been forgotten and erased in so many ways. Rather than division, Black History Month has the power to unite us by bringing us to a greater knowledge of the truth, together. Unity can only flourish in the context of truth.
Not only is Jesus capable of healing, he wants to. Fr. Matt Stewart, SJ, reflects on Jesus’ desire to heal a leper and welcome him back into community. Based on the readings for Sunday, February 14, 2021.
Sure, Jesus can heal. But more importantly, Jesus wants to heal.
I’m Fr. Matt Stewart and this is my one-minute homily.
In today’s Gospel, a leper tells Jesus, “If you wish, you can make me clean.” Jesus tells him that he does wish it, and the leper is cleansed. Here, we see not only a healing miracle, but we also get an insight about the inner workings of Jesus’s mind and heart.
When Jesus sees someone suffering, he knows that he can bring lasting healing to that person’s life, but even more importantly, he longs to do so in his heart. His own heart is moved, and he also reaches out his hands so that the one who felt alone and outside can be warmly welcomed back into society.
When we encounter someone suffering, we know that we can reach out our own hands toward them and offer comfort, compassion, and companionship. But to really be like Jesus, we need to let our hearts be moved, so that more than simply being able to do it, even more so, we want to.
Every other year, the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS) hosts its SEEK conference that draws thousands of young Catholics together to encounter Christ and share the Gospel. For safety reasons, SEEK21 was streamed from Denver, CO in a hybrid format with the majority of events online. As a result, SEEK21 was actually FOCUS’ largest event to-date with 27,000 participants from 40 countries on 6 continents. But SEEK21 was markedly different from previous years, and not just because it was online.
Here are 5 key takeaways from SEEK21:1. A Culture of Life, Not a Culture of Death
The challenges of the past year have been complicated and overwhelming. Many feel lost about what to think, how to pray, and wonder if there is any adequate response to the suffering we see and experience. One popular response to suffering and injustice is “cancel culture.” But condemnation and ostracization are symptoms of the “throwaway culture” that Pope Francis warns against. Instead, SEEK presents the Catholic imagination for a ‘culture of life’.
SEEK presenter Chris Stefanick acknowledged that many Christians, too, are guilty of responding with condemnation instead of love. He encouraged everyone to follow Jesus in preaching the truth of the Gospel, but always with love. Stefanick says that no matter how much we disagree with someone, “the command of Jesus Christ still stands: ‘with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bear with one another in love’.” (Eph 4:2) The Church has always stood boldly for human dignity and reconciliation and now is no different. We as followers of Jesus Christ must be witnesses to a culture of life in our words and actions.2. Personal Conversion Leads to Cultural Conversion
Later in his talk, Chris Stefanick asked the audience, “Has the love of Jesus Christ conquered your heart? If it hasn’t, you will never conquer ‘cancel culture’.” Faced with the world’s immense problems and systemic injustices, young people can feel paralyzed. Rather than withdrawing from the world or wallowing in despair, the speakers at SEEK21 empowered young people to change the world through personal conversion.
Imaculée Ilibagiza is a survivor of the Rwandan genocide, and she shared her story of forgiving the men who killed her family. “I felt like God was telling me, ‘you don’t have to know how to figure out everything. Give it to me! You are only human’…If I can forgive, anyone can forgive. I know the pain and damage of un-forgiveness. Dare to forgive, there is so much joy, there is so much freedom.” Immaculée surrendered her heart to be transformed by God who gave her the grace to forgive and inspired her to spread the Gospel through her talks and books.
Of course, the Church needs constant conversion, too, since the Church has perpetrated violence and oppression. Chika Anyanwu expressed her sorrow for racism in the Church and challenged everyone to boldly confront racism in all its forms. She asked, “If Jesus were to walk in [to the Church] would He recognize His bride and all of her members?…Jesus is showing us the model of how to do these things.” Personal conversion to the heart of Jesus Christ is the first step toward conversion of culture.3. We Are In This Together
SEEK21 was an experience of “Church” in the broadest sense. In a time when many are still unable to visit their local parishes or receive the sacraments, this coming-together of the faithful was very consoling. SEEK21 connected the 800 FOCUS missionaries spread across the U.S. and Europe on 171 campuses. Video feeds from each location gave each participant a sense of belonging to something bigger than themselves.
Though many presentations focused on individual conversion and spirituality, there was also a strong call to grow and move forward together as Church. Keynote Speaker Hilary Draftz remarked that “Our salvation is deeply personal, but it is not individualistic…God saves us as a family in the big, messy, Catholic Church.”
The conference presenters echoed this spirit with invitations to make the Catholic Church your home, to grow it with new members, and to continually build it up to better serve God and neighbor. Chika Anyanwu said, “We can do the hard work, and we can bring brothers and sisters into the hard work with us.” The Catholic Church has a mission of faith and justice, and one cannot exist without the other.4. The Church Is Big and Beautiful
SEEK21 was a rare window into the breadth and depth of the Catholic Church. A popular feature of SEEK is “Mission Way” where Catholic groups can showcase opportunities and resources to grow in faith and love. This includes artists like Village Lights Music and Leanne Bowen; missionary organizations like the Seton Teaching Fellows and Christ in the City; Spanish and bilingual presentations from Fr. Agustino Torres, CFR and Priscilla Garza; and presentations from prominent Black Catholics like Chika Anyanwu and Fr. Josh Johnson.
FOCUS fosters a strong partnership between lay leadership and clergy. Vocations of all kinds were celebrated as many Catholic parents reflected on their call to family life. The conference also included the participation of twenty bishops, members of 59 male and female religious orders, and hundreds of diocesan priests and seminarians. SEEK celebrates the breadth of the Catholic Church and inspires all people to find ways to praise God and serve others. Many find inspiration for how they will live their adult faith life and encouragement to discern their vocations. SEEK wants everyone to feel that in the Church, there is room for everyone.5. We Were Made for This
The usual joy and excitement at SEEK was sobered by the heavy challenges that currently face the world. Yet SEEK21 was infused with hope. The seemingly unprecedented issues of the modern world were transformed from overwhelming problems into creative opportunities. It is true that the saints did not endure our present trials, but that cannot lead us to despair.
Sr. Bethany Madonna, SV reminded everyone, “Do not be afraid, you were chosen at this unique moment in history…you too were chosen for such a time as this, so give God permission [to love you and love the world through you].” Our faith teaches us that God is calling us to be saints of the new millennium. God is giving us the grace to transform our hearts and therefore transform the world. “The one question in Christianity,” said Fr. Mike Schmitz, “is ‘Will you give God permission?’”
*All the digital content from SEEK21 is archived and can be accessed for the next six months. Register to view the full conference here. Registration is now open for SEEK22 in Salt Lake City, you can learn more and register here.
Images courtesy of @focuscatholic on Instagram.
Rend my heart, O’ God, Rend my heart.
These words came to me in prayer tonight, from somewhere, distant, distracted, after a long and dusty day, one of those days I’m just glad is over. Life on Zoom is exhausting. Rend my heart? What does that even mean? I am a Jesuit Scholastic, a student of sorts, a seminarian, in a Catholic religious order; missioned to study philosophy at the Jesuit University in Guadalajara, Mexico, the third largest city in Mexico, about 350 miles south west of Mexico City. I should spend more time in prayer tonight but my eyes are burning, the dust surely and I just can’t keep them open.
The prophet Joel extolls the people of God to rend their hearts and not their garments1, to be touched and broken and changed at a deeper level than what is visible, a profound, inner conversion, one of the heart.
Rend my heart O’ God, rend my heart.
Ding, ding, ding, ding, ding — the doorbell of our community will sound at least twice a day. Prompting, on my part, an impatient sigh, if I am the one closest to it I have to answer it.
“I’m coming Jesus,” brother Alphonsus would say2, a much holier man than I. Instead, I plod to the door, another interruption, I have better things to do.
Rend my heart, O’ God.
“Padre, padre!” I’m greeted with squeals, and the giggles of joy from multiple children. “Padre, padre!” Uncaring, unconcerned that I am, in fact, not a padre, just a wannabe. I must look silly to Christ at my door, fat and bald. I know I sound silly, trying to navigate the tongue twister that is the Spanish language, while greetings and questions are thrown at me, one piled on another faster than my inquisitors can pile over each other and onto me.
The middle one pulls on my beard and laughs before rushing past me to the deflated soccer ball. The youngest investigates inquisitively the hanging plant, tugging at its leaves; it hasn’t changed since yesterday, but one must be sure.
“I can ride a bike,” casually mentions the oldest, insinuating I should gift her one of the many unused bikes in the entryway, casualties of online classes.
“Those bikes are way too big,” I tell her. Not a problem she reassures me.
When this routine has run its course the oldest one will ask for food, shyly, like we both don’t know it’s coming. “I’ll see what we have,” I reply, trying hard to hide that this is the best part of my day.
Rend my heart, O’ God.
I can be cold, uncaring and unfeeling to the suffering around me; a necessary tool, a way to protect myself, to keep from being hurt in the face of so much pain like the face of dirt caked, hungry children. Developed through years of practice, necessary at times to make it through the day. Suffering is troublesome, it can break me, softening my heart of stone. All those emotions make it difficult to focus on only me. But Jesus wasn’t afraid to share in the pain of others. Moved by compassion he was compelled to act, to heal wounds, to invite from isolation into community. The suffering of others affected Jesus deeply.
Stand with them and see how they will change you — a much better writer than I encourages.3 These children, sometimes three, sometimes more, always hungry and looking for affirmation that they are worthy, siblings and cousins ring our doorbell every day, tricking me into thinking I’m giving them something, when really I am the one receiving.
A member of my community is a medical doctor. His love for these kids is evident as he treats hair loss and viral outbreaks, results of malnutrition. He has become an example for me of one who has a tender heart, like Jesus. Jumping to answer the door, not dragging his feet or rolling his eyes; greeting the Christ that is these dirty, wild children.
Rend my heart, O’ God, because in breaking me open, your love flows freely.
As I pray tonight, I ask God to keep them safe, to keep them laughing. I pray that God might bring them, once again, to our door tomorrow. That as the doorbell rings repeatedly, annoyingly, I would be broken from my self-centeredness, greeted by God’s joy as they ask for a new bicycle, a deflated soccer ball and finally, settle on lunch. As tears drip onto my keyboard, my heart broken open once again, I beg God that my tears might be a testament to the ways they bless me.
Like I could really have anything better to do than answer the door.
I’ve never had a heart-to-heart conversation where somebody didn’t express some sort of pain. To be sure, I’ve had plenty of deep conversations full of wonderful ideas, good humor, and plans to solve the world’s problems, but those aren’t necessarily heart-to-heart conversations. Heart-to-heart conversations are more reflective than cerebral; they involve the opening of ourselves to another and being vulnerable about our lives – and there is much pain in our lives.
As a Jesuit, people will often share with me their struggles. Some people will refer to God as a bulwark of strength for them. Many others, however, will refer to God negatively and ask accusatory questions: Why isn’t God doing anything? How could God allow this to happen? Where is God now? Is God even good?
When these questions arise, my philosophical instincts wake up and I remember all kinds of theodicies and justifications for God’s actions or inaction. I nearly begin talking about those theories when I stop myself and remember that I’m not even satisfied by all these defenses of God. Why feed these ideas to others when I struggle to accept them myself? It is in these moments of dissatisfaction that I can better empathize with their pain and accompany them.
Perhaps this is why Brother Joe Hoover, SJ’s recent book O Death, Where is Thy Sting: A Meditation on Suffering resonated with me. It doesn’t offer theodicies or justifications of God’s goodness; it is a collection of thoughts from a man trying to process the suffering in the world. It raises more questions than answers. It’s good for people like me and those I encounter in ministry to realize that we are not alone in asking these questions. There is value in commiseration.
The reality of commiseration helps to explain why some people don’t find much comfort in theodicy. Paraphrasing Georges Clemenceau’s famous quip that “war is too important to be left to the generals”, Hoover shared in a conversation about his book that, “theology is too important to be left to the theologians – it needs poets.” When I heard this, I thought of the brain recognizing that it needs the heart.
Perhaps this is because the heart is agile; it can soar to the heights of mysticism and sink to the depths of despair and still maintain its integrity. It is the heart that seeks to understand not by theory, but by internalizing and communicating the riches and poverty of reality – a reality that needs to be communicated.
“More than anything, I think people just want to be heard,” Joe Hoover told me. Sometimes people aren’t looking for an explanation of their suffering, but a recognition of it. They want us to show that we hear them, that we are affected by their suffering, and that their suffering is important. They want the validation of their frustration, confusion, and pain, rather than theories about God which turn the conversation away from their own experiences. If they take their pain out on God and want to put God on trial, who am I to stop them from making that all too human prayer? The philosopher in me might balk at this, but the poet in me welcomes it.
We would do well to consider Christ on the cross. He cries to the Heavens, “My God, My God, why have you abandoned me?” This is the message of Divine commiseration as Jesus effectively screams out in his own pain to all of us in our pain, “I hear you! Your suffering is horrible and I am suffering alongside you. You are not alone.”
And in that agony, in the tension of believing in a good God yet feeling abandoned by God, we find that we actually have more in common with Jesus than we might have thought. He felt abandoned too—and, mysteriously, we become closer to the Divine in commiserating with Jesus over the distance we feel from God.
Saint Josephine Bakhita suffered horrific abuse as a victim of human trafficking, yet she treasured her life and is remembered for her love.
In 1877, as a young girl, Josephine was taken from her village in Sudan and forced to walk 600 miles to the market where she was sold.
Over the next 10 years, she was bought, sold, and regularly abused.
One of her owners even cut intricate designs onto her skin with a razor and salted the wounds, scarring her life.
Finally, as a young woman, she was freed in Italy through the intervention of the Canossian Sisters, with whom she spent the next 57 years as a vowed religious. But loved by her community.
She even lived to one day say: “The whole of my life has been God’s gift.”
It is clear why Josephine Bakhita is the patron saint of human trafficking: She was not defined by the abuse that she received, but by the love that she shared.
St. Josephine Bakhita, pray for us.
Does everything happen for a reason? The story of Job and the lessons of Jesus teach us something different. Christopher Alt, SJ, reflects in this week’s One-Minute Homily. Based on the readings for Sunday, February 7, 2021.
“Everything happens for a reason” … right?
Hi, I’m Christopher Alt and this is my One-Minute Reflection.
Today we hear from the suffering Job, who cries out: “God, why is this happening to me?” Job’s friends respond: “Everything happens for a reason. You must have done something wrong. And this is what you get.”
Hidden in this explanation is the belief that God somehow wills bad things to happen. But as Christians, this is simply not the God we know, especially in Jesus. Just look at today’s Gospel.
Today Jesus encounters a sick woman and her frightened family. Nowhere is it suggested that God caused this woman’s illness. The people in this story are not asking: “God why is this happening?” But rather, “God, see what is happening. Can you help?”
Illnesses and tragedies do not come from God. Our misfortunes are not caused by God’s hand. But God’s hand is in each situation, ready to help us up.
Everything happens for a reason? Nah. Rather: In everything, God is present, ready to make new things happen.
“Where were you when the blast happened?” It’s a new question added to the plethora of salutations and well wishes that usually season conversation here in Lebanon. The reference is, of course, to the Beirut blast which happened six months ago at 6:07 PM. Forgive the specificity, one of our clocks stopped ticking at the moment of the blast and we haven’t yet replaced it.
In a few seconds, carelessly stored ammonium nitrate at the city’s port devastated Beirut in a way that decades of civil war could not. More than two hundred people perished, thousands were injured, and an entire city sunk into a pit of shock and anger.
When I arrived, a few weeks after the explosion, I witnessed a post-apocalyptic scene of shattered glass and strewn debris. Yet, there have also been many invisible wounds. In my work with the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS), I’ve listened to our psychologists and social workers tell stories of traumatized children who refuse to sleep next to windows. I’ve seen grown men and women crouch in fear at the sound of thunder. Many of the Palestinian and Syrian refugees (estimated at 170,000 and 1 million respectively), live in areas badly damaged by the blast.
Many refugees have shared that the blast triggered memories of the circumstances that led them to leave home. The tragedy of the blast has been compounded by an economic crisis (the value of the currency has declined by 80%), a political stalemate (no functioning government), and a surge in COVD-19 cases that has utterly overwhelmed the hospital system.
It’s from this vantage point that I’ve been listening to Pope Francis’s calls to grow in fraternity, especially via Fratelli Tutti and the various overtures that he has made towards those of other religious faiths. Indeed, Pope Francis notes that his 2019 meeting with the Imam of the Al-Azhar mosque in Abu Dhabi served partly as the inspiration of Fratelli Tutti.
The legacy of the meeting also continues today through International Human Fraternity Day, which was celebrated yesterday. Pope Francis is also planning on meeting with the foremost religious authority in Shia Islam, Grand Ayatollah of Iran, Ali al-Sistani, when he visits Iraq next month. These gestures are really quite profound in Lebanon, where the confessional structure of the government (the President has to be Maronite Christian, the Prime Minister, Sunni, and the Speaker of the House, a Shia) makes religion and politics very difficult to separate. In such a climate, religion can sometimes appear to be a source of division.
In Fratelli Tutti, however, Pope Francis suggests that suffering can be a locus where those of different faiths can connect. Using the example of the Good Samaritan, he proposes:
Jesus asks us to be present to those in need of help, regardless of whether or not they belong to our social group. In this case, the Samaritan became a neighbour to the wounded Judean. By approaching and making himself present, he crossed all cultural and historical barriers. Jesus…challenges us to put aside all differences and, in the face of suffering, to draw near to others with no questions asked. I should no longer say that I have neighbours to help, but that I must myself be a neighbour to others.
The Good Samaritan is only one image of compassion. Another possible image is the hospitality of Abraham and Sarah (Genesis 18), a story shared across Islam, Judaism, and Christianity. Three strangers approach Abraham as he stands at the entrance of his tent. Then, as now, hospitality can be a matter of life or death in the Near East. Abraham moves towards the strangers, welcomes them, and entertains them while Sarah generously prepares a meal. In the very carnal actions of feeding the hungry, and making themselves available for conversation, Abraham and Sarah find that their relationship with the strangers and with God unfolds in tandem.
Religion does not limit itself to the fuzzy stuff. We’re also heir to the often violent narratives that surround the formation and continuation of religious communities as they differentiate themselves from their neighbours. Divine election can often be accompanied by genocide, imperial enforcement of orthodoxy, and conversion by compulsion. Yet, we always have a choice of what images of God and neighbour to hold. Pope Francis is inviting us to pay special attention to those narratives within our respective traditions that foster hospitality and allow us to receive each other in charity.
When I look at the moments of consolation amidst the darkness that I’ve experienced here in Lebanon, I think that I get a sense of what the Pope means. In my work with JRS, I’ve been struck by the communities that form around suffering. Our staff and beneficiaries come from Sunni, Shia, and Christian traditions. We have Syrians, Lebanese, Egyptians, Jordanians, Iraqis, and Americans, who work side by side. Of course tensions and differences exist, and we acknowledge them. We also experience ourselves as connecting with a far more fundamental reality.
This reality is beautiful, dizzying, and terrifying. It’s the knowledge that we are all wanderers and stand in need of respite from the harshness of the desert. It impels us to see the angelic in the stranger, the messenger who reveals the uncomfortable truth of our fragility and yet invites us to grow through fraternal service. It is the possibility that even amidst the crunch of broken glass, we can hear the faint but steady call to trust that our meanderings trace out a path to a shared home.
As I journaled my thoughts upon finishing Father James Martin, SJ’s new book, Learning to Pray, I was struck with a consoling realization. It dawned on me that I was reviewing the new book of a writer whose books played key roles in both my faith life and in my discernment to enter the Jesuits over six years ago. I simultaneously shook my head and chuckled as I thought, “God, you’re so good.” What a privilege to dive into the newest writings of someone who has been so influential in my prayer life and vocation. Accompanying this epiphany was a fresh reminder of the foundations of my prayer life, and I don’t think that’s a coincidence. Learning to Pray returns those more experienced in prayer back to their roots, and it provides a sure base for those at the first exploring a regular practice of prayer.
The first book I read by Father Martin was Becoming Who You Are: Insights on the True Self from Thomas Merton and Other Saints. The core insight of that book continues to form me: God desires for me to be completely myself. Yes, God calls me to conversion, but it’s a conversion to the original vision by which God created me.
The same is true for all of us, and I believe Learning to Pray is a helpful guide for us to become truly ourselves. That’s because prayer forms us. We go to God in prayer to learn who we are.
Father Martin acknowledges at the beginning of this extensive book that some people (even many people) can feel like prayer is reserved only for “holy people.” The worthy goal of this book is to assure the reader that this isn’t true. Prayer is for all people, especially for those of us who feel we have a long way to go in approaching holiness (myself among them!).
Using his own extensive experience as priest, pray-er, and spiritual director, Father Martin simplifies the approach to prayer. He does this by referencing spiritual masters, both classic and contemporary, and by breaking down questions about prayer into digestible answers. What is prayer? What happens in prayer? How do I know I’m not just talking to myself? What do I do if nothing “happens” in prayer? Father Martin addresses all these questions and more with simplicity, clarity, humor, and humility.
In the opening pages, Father Martin explains his book is written for people of all faiths and none. He is writing to explain what happens in the process of praying, rather than describing the fruits of prayer, upon which most books on prayer tend to focus.
The first question Father Martin poses is simple: why pray? That may sound trite to the believer, but prayer is a cornerstone of our life of faith, and we should have an answer. Father Martin responds that the reason is not so much about us. Rather, the answer is about God. We pray because God desires to be in a relationship with us. That is a wonderful reality worth praying over in itself.
I read this portion of the book just after I had a conversation with one of the young men I provide pastoral council to at a local prison, where I work as a chaplain. He said that he was surprised with a thought that popped into his head, seemingly at random: “What if I tried to live closer to God? What would that be like?” I shared with him my conviction that this thought was not random at all. Rather, it is a call from God! Whereas some people would write off such an experience as a fleeting thought, Father Martin remarks on these sorts of experiences in his book: “How else would God speak to us other than through our own consciousness?”
One of the most helpful aspects of Learning to Pray is all the lists Father Martin puts together as systematic answers to the questions of prayer. In this way, he makes what could be otherwise complex and hard-to-understand answers into organized, pragmatic steps. For example, Father Martin asserts that God indeed speaks to us through our own consciousness. But he adds an important clarification: this doesn’t mean everything that pops into our head is from God! To help us discern the difference between God’s voice and our own, Father Martin provides and expounds upon the following criteria, posed as questions:
(1) Is it from the evil spirit? (2) Does it make sense? (3) Does it lead to an increase in love and charity? (4) Does it fit with what I know about God? (5) Is it a distraction? (6) Is it wish fulfillment? (7) Is it important?
I find his list-making to be a helpful, concrete method to approach the sometimes ethereal subject of prayer. Other lists in the book include: 10 reasons believers don’t pray, gifts to pray for in prayer, how to understand surprising emotions in prayer, why rote prayers are good, and many more.
One of my favorite parts of the book, besides the down-to-earth writing, is the explanation of what actually happens when a person prays. I’ve been in religious life for the better part of six years, and this is the first time I’ve seen the phenomenon of prayer laid out so simply. I already know this will be the part of the book I return to most often for both personal help and to teach prayer to others.
Father Martin breaks down what happens in prayer into eight categories: emotions, insights, memories, desires, images, words, feelings, and mystical experiences. This is a lengthy section of the book, and it alone makes the book worth picking up. But one of the most consoling sections was the explanation of the role of memory in our prayer. That struck me so deeply because memories are central to my own prayer.
One of the memories I return to most often is my first eight-day silent retreat in 2013, two years before I entered the Society of Jesus. By that time, I had read Father Martin’s Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything, as well as some other Jesuit stuff (including articles here on The Jesuit Post!). I began to feel drawn to a Jesuit vocation, and that prompted my parish priest to advise me to go on a retreat at the local Jesuit retreat house. During Mass on the fifth day, after the priest preached on how “with God, nothing is impossible,” I experienced an utter sense of clarity. I recognized God’s desire for me and my own deepest desire were the same thing: I wanted to be a Jesuit. God’s presence was so tangible in that moment that I began to cry right there in the middle of Mass.
Even though the clouds of doubt slowly moved back in after that moment, and sometimes still do, I return to that memory in prayer as often as needed to remind myself of God’s call to me. From this experience, I have to agree with Father Martin when he writes, “Memory is one of God’s greatest gifts, because it allows us to return to a past filled with grace.”
Reading Learning to Pray didn’t just help me return to the foundations of my own prayer life. It also taught me more about prayer. And perhaps most importantly, it made me want to pray even more. I bet it will have the same effect on you.
Right before Chicago shut down in March I went to the theater. I had tickets for three shows that weekend. Two of them had to be cancelled due to the mayor’s orders closing large venues. The third, in a storefront theater on the very northern edge of the city, was small enough to remain open, at least for the weekend. I still didn’t fully understand how COVID-19 spread, so I wasn’t worried about the fact that a group of strangers would be singing at me for two hours. With two other Jesuits from my community, I bravely (or maybe stupidly?) attended the (unbeknownst-to-us) final performance of Theo Ubique’s Grey Gardens. Despite my ignorance about the virus, I did appreciate the irony of watching a show about two women who live alone in their house, cut off from the outside world, and skeptical about strangers coming inside.
Just a week prior to Grey Gardens, I had been in New York City. Even less conscious of the raging pandemic, I had attended another musical, the still-in-previews production of Stephen Sondheim’s Company. I definitely did not appreciate the irony of watching a show in the epicenter of a global health crisis about how our lives are not fully lived alone, but when we can depend on one another.
As you may be able to tell from my (in hindsight) very rash behavior in the early days of the pandemic, I love musicals. I love watching them, discussing them, debating about them, criticizing them, comparing them. I work out listening to soundtracks from esoteric musicals from the 1960s. I appeared in musicals every year from when I was 5 to 22, and wrote a musical in lieu of a philosophy final.
But musicals are not merely a passion of mine, they were often my most profound experiences of prayer. Before I became a Jesuit and really learned how to pray they were a quick route to the divine. The sustained attention, collective effervescence, heightened emotions of a good show meant Jesus often found me in those cramped seats. Plus, it was one of the few places I turned off my cell phone, for fear of an angry diva yelling at me if it went off.
I went to see Dear Evan Hansen, in its Off-Broadway run. A friend of mine had seen the Washington, D.C. tryout and insisted that I get tickets before it became a runaway hit. (She was right, by the way.) I knew very little about the show, except that the songwriters had produced a small musical that my theater camp friends liked to listen to on repeat.
I was already a Jesuit when I attended an early performance with two dear friends. I had recently made our 30-day Silent Retreat, the Spiritual Exercises. In making the retreat, St. Ignatius instructs retreatants to imagine themselves in Gospel scenes with Jesus. Walk with him, talk with him, see who he sees, and eat what he eats. In those imaginings, Jesus performs miracles for us and heals us from our ills and casts out our demons just like those of the people in the stories.
On my retreat, I spent many days exploring my strained relationship with my deeply troubled younger brother.1 Jesus told us the story of the prodigal son together. We experienced His knowing us intimately in the way he described the relationship of the brothers. I stood as the older brother, resentful of the second and third and fiftieth chances he had been afforded. Still, it was abundantly clear that Jesus would continue to give him chances and hoped I would move in that direction too. In the weeks and months after the retreat, I was still unpacking exactly how Jesus was calling me to love my prodigal brother.
As the musical started, Jesus came alive in my prayerful imagination as the character of Connor Murphy, a troubled teen whose suicide sparks the events of the show. Much like my experience on the retreat, I re-experienced moments of my life in a new context. At the Second Stage Theater on 43rd Street, a group of actors seemed to know us intimately as well, portraying fights that so closely resembled our own. As Connor’s sister sang about how he had so disrupted her life, it felt like they eavesdropped on conversations I’d had with my sister. For years, we struggled to find a way to love someone who had caused so much strife.
Tears overwhelmed me. The song named and crystallized the acute pain I’d carried for years and thought I had resolved on the retreat. Such pain doesn’t get resolved so easily, though. My sobs started to distract other audience members.
And as He is wont to do in such moments, Jesus showed up.
My friend rummaged in her purse for a tissue and grabbed my arm in support. With her touch, He told me, “I know, I’m here.” He stood with me, like He had so often on the retreat, amidst the anguish that I feared would overwhelm me. I made it through the rest of the show, barely.
After Company and Grey Gardens, I knew it would be a while before I saw another show. Sitting in too-small seats while people spit on you is a recipe for disaster as a respiratory virus is raging. I have happily made do with filmed productions and obscure soundtracks and YouTube wormholes of actresses belting. It hasn’t been quite the same, of course, but it’s a necessary sacrifice.
Then I got vaccinated last month, and I realized: musicals are coming back soon.
Jesus has shown up for me in countless, unexpected ways since everything shut down last March. I have no doubt he’ll continue to. Still, I’m eagerly awaiting the day he finds me again in a dark room surrounded by strangers experiencing something transcendent together.
[Haga clic aquí para español.]
[Cliquez ici pour le français.]
February 1st is the beginning of Black History Month. In order to help mark this month, The Jesuit Post is re-releasing “Know Justice, Know Peace: A Jesuit Antiracism Retreat.” It is a series of twelve talks published in video, podcast, and text across TJP’s media platforms. The retreat seeks to assist Christians in their growth as antiracist followers of Jesus. It’s a great pastoral tool for churches, schools, and social justice ministry groups, reflecting on the issue of racism and looking for ways to fight it. These talks are intended to be accompanied by inner reflection and prayer by those who wish to follow along.
As a Jesuit retreat, we follow the basic structure of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola, and provide a variety of tools to the participants along the way from the Jesuit spiritual tradition, and other sources. The retreat was originally designed for participants to meditate upon three talks per week, over the course of four weeks, but you can follow along at your own pace.
Our re-release of the retreat includes translations of all twelve talks into both Spanish and French. The text and translations can be found here:
Introduction to Know Justice, Know Peace: A Jesuit Antiracism Retreat
Talk 1: Racism and White Supremacy
Talk 2: Mundane Racism
Talk 3: Racism as Man-Made Evil
Talk 4: Solidarity and Anti-Racism
Talk 5: Accountability and the Oppressed Jesus
Talk 6: Humility and Anti-Racism
Talk 7: Bear Witness to Suffering
Talk 8: Lament Must Precede Solidarity
Talk 9: White Apathy and the Crucifixion
Talk 10: We Are Not Alone
Talk 11: Eucharist, Hope and Antiracism
Talk 12: Laboring with the Resurrected Jesus
Special thanks to our Jesuit brothers from the province of West Africa (AOC), who donated their time and effort to translate the talks of the retreat into French. Thank you!
Join us this Black History Month as we continue our process of conversion toward antiracism, in our own hearts and in our society at large.
*****Relanzamiento de “Conoce la justicia, Conoce la paz: Un Retiro Jesuita Antiracista”
El 1 de febrero es el comienzo del Mes de la Historia Afroestadounidense. Para ayudar a marcar este mes, The Jesuit Post está relanzando “Conoce la justicia, Conoce la paz: Un Retiro Jesuita Antiracista.” Es una serie de doce charlas publicadas en vídeo, podcast y texto en las plataformas de medios de TJP. El retiro busca ayudar a cristianos y cristianas en su crecimiento como seguidores antirracistas de Jesús. Es una gran herramienta pastoral para iglesias, escuelas y grupos ministeriales de justicia social que están reflexionando sobre el tema del racismo y que buscan formas para combatirlo. Estas charlas están diseñadas para ser acompañadas con la reflexión interior y la oración de aquellos que deseen participar.
Como retiro jesuita, seguimos la estructura básica de los Ejercicios Espirituales de San Ignacio de Loyola y ofrecemos a los participantes una variedad de herramientas de la tradición espiritual jesuita y de otras fuentes. El retiro fue originalmente diseñado para que las personas participantes meditaran sobre tres charlas a la semana, durante el transcurso de cuatro semanas, pero puedes seguirlo a tu propio ritmo.
Puedes encontrar todos los vídeos en nuestra página de YouTube. El podcast se encuentra aquí, pero también se puede encontrar buscando “Seeking God: A Jesuit Retreat” dondequiera que obtengas tus podcasts. Los vídeos y el podcast están en inglés.
Pero nuestro relanzamiento del retiro incluye traducciones de las doce charlas al español y al francés. El texto y las traducciones se pueden encontrar aquí:
Introdución a Conoce la justice, Conoce la paz: Un Retiro Jesuita Antiracista
Charla 1: Racismo y Supremacía Blanca
Charla 2: Racismo Mundano
Charla 3: Racismo Como Maldad Creada Por El Ser Humano
Charla 4: Solidaridad y Antirracismo
Charla 5: Responsabilidad y el Jesús Oprimido
Charla 6: La Necesidad de Ser Humildes en la Labor Antiracista
Charla 7: Dar Testimonio del Sufrimiento
Charla 8: El Lamento Debe Preceder a la Solidaridad
Charla 9: Apatía Blanca y la Crucifixión
Charla 10: No Estamos Solos
Charla 11: La Eucharistia, la Esperanza y el Antirracismo
Charla 12: Colaboradores del Dios Amoroso
Agradecemos a nuestros hermanos jesuitas de la provincia de África Occidental (AOC), quienes generosamente donaron su tiempo y esfuerzo para traducir las charlas del retiro al francés. ¡Muchas gracias!
Únete a nosotros en este Mes de la Historia Afroestadounidense, mientras continuamos nuestro proceso de conversión al antiracismo, en nuestros corazones y en nuestra sociedad.
*****Relance de: “Connais la Justice, Connais la Paix : Une Retraite Jésuite Antiracisme”
Traduit par: Armel Setubi, SJ
Le 1er février marque le début du Mois de l’Histoire des Noirs ou Noirs Américains. Pour marquer ce mois, Le Jesuit Post publie à nouveau «la retraite jésuite antiracisme Know Justice, Know Peace ». Il s’agit d’une série de douze exposés publiés sous forme de vidéos, de podcasts et de textes sur les plates-formes médiatiques du TJP. Le but de cette retraite est d’aider les chrétiens dans leur croissance comme des disciples antiracistes de Jésus. C’est un excellent outil pastoral pour les communautés ecclésiales, les écoles et les groupes engagés dans le ministère de la justice sociale, qui réfléchissent sur la question du racisme et sur les moyens pour le combattre. Pour ceux qui suivront cette retraite, ces entretiens auront pour but de faciliter la réflexion intérieure dans la prière.
Ceci étant une retraite jésuite, la structure de la retraite est basée sur le modèle des Exercices spirituels de Saint Ignace de Loyola. Nous proposons une variété d’outils aux participants tout au long de ce cheminement basé sur la tradition spirituelle jésuite et sur d’autres sources. La retraite a été conçue à l’origine pour que les participants méditent sur trois exposés par semaine, au cours d’une période de quatre semaines. Cependant, chacun pourra suivre la retraite à son rythme.
Vous pouvez avoir accès à toutes les vidéos de la retraite sur notre page YouTube. Les podcasts sont hébergés sur cette plateforme, mais ils peuvent également être trouvés en cherchant « Seeking God: A Jesuit Retreat » sur les plateformes où vous obtenez souvent vos podcasts.
Notre réédition de la retraite comprend des traductions des douze exposés en espagnol et en français. Le texte et les traductions peuvent être accédés sur cette plateforme a travers les liens suivants :
Introduction à Connaître la justice, Connaître la paix: Une retraite antiraciste des jésuites
Présentation 1: “Racisme et suprématie blanche”
Présentation 2: “Racisme banal”
Présentation 3: “Le racisme en tant que mal créé par l’homme”
Présentation 4: “Le rôle de la solidarité dans le voyage antiraciste”
Présentation 5: “Être responsable devant Dieu signifie être responsable devant ceux qui sont opprimés”
Présentation 6: “Le besoin d’humilité dans l’engagement contre le racisme”
Présentation 7: “Témoignez de la souffrance”
Présentation 8: “La complainte doit précéder la solidarité”
Présentation 9: “Apathie blanche et crucifixion”
Présentation 10: “Nous ne sommes pas seuls”
Présentation 11: “L’Eucharistie, l’espoir et l’antiracisme”
Présentation 12: “Collaborateurs du Dieu aimant”
Nous adressons un merci spécial aux compagnons jésuites de la Province de l’Afrique de l’Ouest (AOC), qui ont donné de leur temps et de leurs efforts pour traduire les exposés de la retraite en français. Merci !
Rejoignez-nous en ce Mois de l’histoire des Noirs alors que nous poursuivons notre processus de conversion vers l’antiracisme, non seulement dans notre propre cœur mais aussi dans notre société en général.
In the Gospels, Jesus constantly shatters people’s expectations of who they think he is. Hunter D’Armond, SJ, reflects on how Jesus shatters our own expectations in this week’s One-Minute Homily. Based on the readings for Sunday, January 31, 2021.
Let’s face it: we often like things to be in our control.
Hi, I’m Hunter D’Armond and this is my One-Minute Reflection.
When I was in high school and began to think more critically about my faith, I found that I really liked what Jesus taught, but I had a more difficult time in believing who Jesus was. To me, Jesus was an expert moral teacher, and not much more.
But today’s gospel isn’t about what Jesus teaches, but how Jesus teaches: with authority. The scribes were astonished at whatever Jesus was teaching because it was unlike everything they’ve ever heard. The power, force, and authenticity of Jesus’s word hit them different.
In other words, Jesus shattered their expectations of who they thought he was. So too should Jesus constantly be shattering our own expectations of who we think he is, because Jesus is not ours to control. We cannot domesticate Jesus nor his words, because his authority is more than that of an expert moral teacher. He is the Word of God.