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St. John of the Cross defines contemplation as “nothing but a hidden, peaceful, loving inflow of God.”1 John’s insight that prayer is so often a hidden or secret process is something we are reticent to accept or believe. That our prayer is kept secret, even from us, seems almost illogical. Wouldn’t it be beneficial for our growth towards God to know how God is flowing into us, relating and communicating with us?
I am far from the only person who has ever been frustrated by prayer in which “nothing happens.” In fact, I hear this quite regularly from people sharing their spiritual lives. We want to experience our prayer as we do almost everything else: productively. We wish to finish a time in prayer feeling that we have accomplished something, learned something, moved forward, or used our time well.
These desires are left unsatisfied when the fruits of prayer are hidden from us. It is very easy, however, to invent them or derive accomplishments, lessons, or feelings of productivity in order to distract ourselves from the chilling conclusion that God has been silent with us.
It is important to clarify that John provides this definition of contemplation in his book Night, in which he is describing the painful experience of God’s absence. This complete hiddenness and secret nature of prayer is especially felt within this specific season of the spiritual life. There are of course times when God, through our opening of ourselves to God’s activity, inflames our hearts with Faith, Hope, and Love and we are aware of this. This is what St. Ignatius refers to as consolation.
However, it still stands that much more of our contemplation than we would perhaps like is an inflow of God that is hidden from us. And this is why we can fall so easily into thinking of prayer or discernment as functional rather than relational, results-based rather than love-based.
One other reason our prayer is so often kept hidden from us is that the fruit we are expecting to see is rarely the fruit we are looking for. Frequently we are hoping for answers, for sounds, signs, images, words or feelings that will help us make sense of this or that. We turn to prayer as we would a compass, to show us the way.
We also turn to prayer for assurance or affirmation. We want to feel God’s presence in order to know we are on the right path. And this, though it is a very natural and human longing, is not necessarily the fruit that prayer will provide.
In a letter to a friend, Sister Wendy Beckett wrote of this very natural tendency and common approach to prayer. Her words strike to the root of where our longings for productivity, learning, or drama in our prayer come from. She writes,
God “comes in ‘life’, just as it is. The as-it-isness is precisely how God comes. If we look for God in certain patterns or forms, we only receive a fraction. Now for you, the natural tendency is to romanticize the way of God’s coming. Your self wants that, at least: at least that glory, the glory of holiness. And God says, No, I can’t give myself, not fully, in any way that gives self a foothold. Nothing romantic or beautiful or in any way dramatic; nothing to get hold of, in one sense, because it must be God that does the getting hold.”
Sister Wendy’s guidance compliments John of the Cross’s definition of contemplation and speaks to our anxieties for drama, extravagance or simply something concrete to point to in our prayer.
According to Sister Wendy, this desire cannot be fulfilled by our prayer. Rather, we must learn to accept the coming of God to us in the “as-it-isness” which is where God has chosen to hide himself. The invitation is to surrender to this “as-it-isness,” to be content with the boring, hidden silence which makes up the great majority of prayer. “A true gift will feel like no gift at all,” as Fr. Iain Matthew writes.
My spiritual director once told me, boring prayer is good prayer. It is hard for our egos to find a foothold in boring prayer and this, as Sister Wendy explains, is exactly why we are invited to be content with it.
God’s silence and prayer in which “nothing happens” can indeed feel painful and confusing. There is, however, great peace that can come from giving up on looking for results or going to prayer with expectations of productivity.
As you let God, slowly but surely God will take hold of you.
“We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes,” said Pastor Rebecca Turner, echoing Ella’s Song by Sweet Honey in the Rock. It was another beautiful Sunday morning at Christ Church in Maplewood, Missouri. But for Alex García, this wasn’t just any Sunday. For him, it was the 1,094th day of living in sanctuary at Christ Church.
Three years ago, Alex took sanctuary in Christ Church becoming one of 40+ immigrants living in sanctuary across the United States. He has been battling a threat of deportation by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) since 2015. He refuses to be separated from his family and is determined to stay at home in Missouri, where he belongs.
In 2000, René Alexander García Maldonado, or Alex, as he is known by friends, left his birth country of Honduras at 19 years old in order to flee violence and extreme poverty. That same year, after a challenging road North, he was captured and deported to Honduras. A few years later, he re-entered the U.S., settling in Poplar Bluff, Missouri with the help of local residents. There, he worked as a construction worker, educated himself in English, mowed the lawns of elderly folks for free and won the respect and friendship of many in town. In 2007, he met Carly and they married in 2010. The couple raises five children together.
After 11 years of building a life and family in the U.S. and living as a responsible member of society, everything changed in 2015 when Alex was detained by ICE. His sister had recently moved to the U.S. to keep her son safe from gang recruitment in Honduras and Alex accompanied her to request asylum status at an immigration facility in Kansas City. While accompanying her, Alex was approached by ICE agents who, upon realizing his illegal status, detained him in order to deport him again.
Alex’s attorney was able to get a stay of removal, a temporary permit to avoid deportation that needed to be renewed annually. But after the Trump administration adopted a “zero-tolerance” policy in 2017 for immigrants who have committed crimes, Alex’s plea to renew his stay of removal was denied.
Threatened with imminent deportation and permanent separation from his family, his options were scarce. Just two years earlier, his brother-in-law had been murdered in his home village, and his 4-year-old nephew was also shot. Moving back to Honduras was not an option. It was then he decided: he would move to a church.
For some time, ICE has respected a policy of not making arrests in places of worship. The congregation of Christ Church, United Church of Christ, in Maplewood received Alex with open arms. While the community made adaptations to their church building so Alex could live there, he was supported by the Adorers of the Blood of Christ in Illinois, an order of Catholic sisters. When the construction was completed, Alex moved to Christ Church and has been unable to leave the grounds ever since.
Since September 2017, Alex, his family, and supporters have been fighting for a permanent solution. They received immense support from people of all races and ideologies in Poplar Bluff and throughout Missouri; hundreds of people have signed petitions, written letters and attended vigils in his support. U.S. Representative Wm. Lacy Clay, Jr. (D-St Louis), introduced a private bill in Congress last year and St. Louis Alderwoman Annie Rice, Alderwoman Megan Ellia Green, and Maplewood’s Mayor Barry Greenberg have voiced support for his case.
But ICE has remained immovable.
The experience has been very trying for Alex’s family. Carly Garcia has been relentless in the defense of her husband. She now works as the operations manager of the St. Louis Inter-Faith Committee on Latin America (IFCLA), an organization that has had a leading role in supporting Alex.
The García children have also had their share of pain and struggle. Carly’s son Caleb wrote to his congressman, “I want [my dad] to stay because he is my favorite dad in the whole wide world. I am 11 years old. He is the only person I trust.”
Alex’s oldest son has been diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, and relies heavily on his relationship with his father for his support and wellbeing.
IFCLA and others have attempted to submit an application to delay Alex’s deportation several times, but have faced obstacles at every turn. In the meantime, the community of Christ Church continues to be a source of hope for Alex and his family. When addressing her parishioners this past Sunday, Pastor Rebecca Turner said, “We will not grow weary of loving Alex and Carly and her kids…We will not grow weary of being on the right side of history.”
In the eyes of ICE, since Alex continues to avoid deportation, he is a fugitive. Although he is married to Carly, a U.S. citizen, he doesn’t qualify for green card status because of his deportation in 2000.
Alex’s case is not unique. In 2013, 83 percent of the people deported from the US were not given a hearing before a judge. The fate of families like the Garcías will not change, unless immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers are seen as people that need compassion.
Multiple organizations are participating in a virtual Week of Action until September 25. Yesterday, there was a morning service offered by Christ Church and an evening vigil. Other events include social media support, a sneak preview of a documentary about Alex’s story, discussions on present and future strategies, among other things.
More information on the Week of Action can be found here.
Let us not forget Jesus’s words in the Gospel of Matthew, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was a stranger and you welcomed me.” Or, in the words of Christ Church’s Pastor Rebecca Turner, “Let us, church, keep on answering the door, keep on answering that phone, and keep on welcoming Christ to come in.”
In the parable of the workers in the vineyard, the landowner asks, “Are you envious because I am generous?” Jason Quino McCreery, SJ, reflects on the times when our envy prevents us from seeing the gifts that God has given to us. Based on the readings for Sunday, September 20, 2020.
God beholds each of us with mercy. Can we do the same?
Hi, I’m Jason Quino McCreery, and this is my One-Minute Reflection.
If I can be honest right now, I must admit that the end of today’s parable haunts me. The landowner says to the laborers, “are you envious because I am generous?” I have to admit, “Yes, I sometimes am.”
I can see the good things God has given to other people, and I will think, “why not me? Why am I not as patient as my brother Jesuit? Why did you give to my married friends happiness, but to me loneliness?” But I know those thoughts do not come from God. Because I, like the laborers, become envious of God’s generosity to someone else. But when I do that, I become blind to God’s mercy for me.
I have received far more than what I think is deserved to me. Isaiah says, “let the wicked [forsake] his thoughts; let him turn to the Lord for mercy.” It is beyond me to understand why. But I do know that my own envy is quite limited, and God’s generosity is boundless.
About two months ago, I received an email from the Detroit Free Press/TCF Bank Marathon staff which told me that, due to continued uncertainty caused by the pandemic, the race was canceled. The message was disappointing but entirely understandable. They did say, however, that I could choose to run the full race virtually: on my own without a crowd or pacers. Still, after months of training, I can’t help but ask myself if the level of preparation necessary is really worth it.
This experience is not unique to me. Runners set to race in Chicago, Boston, San Diego, New York, or San Francisco, just to name a few, have received similar messages. And I’m sure they might be asking themselves the same question. Is it worth it?
After all, The greatest joy of running a race, whether that is a 5K, a full marathon, or even an ultra-marathon (yes, that’s even longer than 26.2 miles), is the thrill of the crowd surrounding us. I always feel a rush of adrenaline as I run past family, friends, and random onlookers cheering me on to the finish line where I immediately receive a finisher’s medal.
But we don’t just run for the medal. Yes, the medal and the crowds make the physically demanding event easier to complete. Many of us run for the sense of accomplishment; I ran my first race in 2016 because I had always wanted to complete a marathon. That race day got me hooked.
Training runs are hard and long. Most marathoners run at least one 20-mile run before race day to make sure they’re able to handle the grueling course, not to mention the many shorter training days leading up to the event. We runners push ourselves in training runs, often done solo or in small groups. They are not glamorous, nor are they recognized by the wider public. It is a test of will, and runners need to face that test day in and day out. We can think of these virtual races as just one more training run, done without the fanfare of a crowd. But I think there’s something a bit more uplifting about the way we can deal with these circumstances.
This new way of running the race is both flexible and creative. Runners do not need to get up at the crack of dawn and wait at a starting corral for at least an hour to start running. We don’t need to worry about whether or not we’re going to have to use a porta potty after we cross the starting line. The route we run is adaptable and we can choose not to have as many hills as the original race. We can decide how often we need water or food along the route to keep going. We can ask people to station themselves at certain points along the route where we need their support most. We might even allow them to run alongside us to continue to give that support, something that would not be possible during a normal marathon.
Above all, I keep running because I know that, even though my race is virtual, I run alongside that great cloud of running witnesses that inspired me to start running or encouraged me when I could barely go more than three miles. I run in spirit alongside those that will follow in my footsteps, and here I think most especially of the young cross country runners I coach here in Detroit.
And, at the same time, isn’t that just like our lives of faith? We run the race of life, the race of faith inspired of family and friends who taught us and continue to act as guides. We run it imitating the examples of the saints who have shown us a glimpse of the love of God. We’re not alone in the race, but we do have to choose to run it, day in and day out. And, like St. Paul says, we run so as to win; we don’t run the race of faith without preparation, support, and a plan, just like we don’t run long races without training.
Running has always been about the community for me. I learned to break distance records with other people, and their example pushes me to keep running. We take all times, all levels of ability, because we know it’s hard work to keep running—hard work that is worth celebrating.
Whether there is a cheering crowd, tape to break, or the wonderful signs along the route, we still run, just like we live out our faith. Good as these are, we don’t live our faith for the praise of others, just like we don’t just run races for the medals and the crowds. We live our faith because it is good and we recognize there is a lot of hard work that goes into living it well. Our running too is hard, but it’s never impossible.
So, to all the people participating in virtual races, know that I run alongside you in spirit too. May we run this race so as to win, regardless of who is watching.
Photo by Andrea Leopardi
Because COVID hit in March, Lianne La Havas’s self-titled eponymous album sounds like a spring that never came. The English singer released the album in July, only her second studio effort in the last five years. La Havas peaked at 21 on the Billboard charts, but only stayed a week—and it’s the best music of the summer you haven’t heard yet.
The genre is neo-soul. La Havas cites Joni Mitchell, Al Green, and Destiny’s Child as major inspirations. The album chronicles the stages of a relationship, from getting together to breaking up. Recorded in the fall of 2019, the album might at first blush sound like the product of a more innocent, less relevant time. Global pandemics and national uprisings aren’t exactly romantic muses. But, according to La Havas, the album’s love story is meant also to reflect the life cycle of nature. Hers is the sound of hope and quiet resilience in the face of pain and heartbreak. With her at once sweet and powerful voice, La Havas weaves together solitude and desire in a way that takes on contemplative resonance in the time of quarantine. It’s a cosmic lullaby for a world in anguish. She sings us the love story we forgot we were in.
“Bittersweet” is the lead-off single; true to cyclical form, the album starts and ends with it (the first track is full-length, the last isn’t). The opening kick drum hits, overlaid by reverbed piano tinkling, wobble slow enough that the wheels might fall off. If we’re going to hop on board with La Havas, we need to take it down a notch. Soul is in full effect once the guitar, bass, and keyboard join in, La Havas crooning sweetly over wistful rises. The payoff is in the chorus. The kick drum returns and heartbeats us into this feeling-fertile hollow, where La Havas is standing, under bittersweet summer rain/I’m born again. Maybe it’s a song about falling in love, maybe it’s a song about falling in, period. The yes to life that’s been required of us this summer—at home alone, at work (alone?), on the streets—is a kind of diving purposefully into life, a kind of love. In recent months, its bitterness has been obvious; La Havas reminds us of the sweetness. We only brace ourselves for heartbreak when we know we are in love.
La Havas loves deep enough that God gets involved. On “Paper Thin,” La Havas consoles her lover: God only knows the pain you’re in/But the future’s bright/You’ve got God on your side, he’s listening. A verse from “Read My Mind” is worth quoting in full:
Oh, no, you’re everywhere that I go
In my head again, oh, stuck in my head again
A full force, nature taking her course
No need for hide-and-seek I’ll let you find me
Loving like personified
I’m so into him, oh, I hope God is listening
These lovers are star-crossed, but they’re not alone in the universe. La Havas has already clued us in that her story starts like summer rain; it’s part of a natural cycle much larger than herself. So of course God is here, lurking benevolently around the edges. Like all great love stories, feeling and desire transcend the individual and, in the most rapturous moments, enamor us of what Thomas Merton called “Absolute Person.” Or, in La Havas’s terms, loving, like, personified.
Also like all good love stories, there are the erotic bits, too. To a celibate, “Green Papaya” might just as well be about a fruit stand. La Havas does soul right in balladizing love in all its forms. While the sexier stuff may not be in the Jesuit wheelhouse, there’s undeniable power there for every kind of lover. When La Havas invites her partner, Take me home, she’s articulating a desire that passionately includes this one person, but extends beyond them, too. The journey home is one she’s making throughout the album. When the romance has finally run its course and she’s picked up the pieces on “Courage,” La Havas sings, If you ever need me, I’ll be home, home/If you ever need me, I’ll be home. “Green Papaya” is a moment of sensual beauty on a much longer road to consummation.
Why now? Why a neo-soul album now? The easy answer is that we could all use a distraction. A deeper answer is that we need reminding, now more than ever, of what it’s all about: love. And love in a way that feels integrated with a larger force and a larger will than the all-too-painful paroxysms of the present moment. La Havas’s album is a conceptual victory on that score, but an aesthetic one, too. Her story is richly told over funky instrumentation, with a voice that can soar to smash windows or whisper with tenderness. In a summer of survival, La Havas released a piece of art that reminds us that beauty, and the passionate love of it, makes life worth living.
I’m a list guy.
Most evenings before I go to bed, or mornings while I have my coffee, I write out the tasks of the day: “pray, go to class, exercise, read, write a thank you note, send a birthday card.” Sometimes the items get more esoteric: “call T-Mobile about their special rates for missionaries” has appeared on my list more than once.
While I’ve learned to forgive myself for not completing a day’s tasks, I’ve always drawn comfort from knowing I could turn to my list when life seemed chaotic, or unmanageable, or exhausting. “Don’t worry about doing everything,” I’ve said to myself, “just do the next thing on the list.”
And so when the world entered a chaotic, unmanageable, exhausting period earlier this year, I knew how I’d cope. My early days of sheltering-in-place involved crafting a new list suited to pandemic life. “Pray, log onto Zoom theology class, read Don Quixote (three chapters), work out (in my room), earn 100 points on DuoLingo, pick a movie for our Jesuit house to watch.” Those frightening days seemed a little less scary if I distracted myself with the quotidian.
A couple of times, my sheltering in place has turned into a more intense quarantine. My ever-reliable list got me through the anxiety and tedium of these even more isolated days. In moments of panic, I could turn to my list and thank my former self for providing me with such effective distractions.
That changed during my most recent quarantine. During a trip to visit family, I was directly exposed to a person with COVID-19. In the interest of everyone’s health, I entered a strict quarantine upon return to my Jesuit community. I expected my list to carry me through the fourteen days. Just a few days in, though, I realized it wasn’t sustaining me the way it had before. I continued to pray every morning, and rack up DuoLingo points, and catch up on Netflix. What had changed?
What had changed was that after my direct exposure, it was no longer safe for me to go to Mass with my Jesuit brothers. One of the benefits of being a Jesuit in quarantine is that I’ve always been in a “family pod” with priests. During one of my periods of isolation, a young Jesuit priest from Indonesia even volunteered to be locked up with me!
But in my most recent quarantine, I finally experienced what millions of Catholics around the world have been going through since March. I was locked away from the “source and summit of the Christian life.”1 I joined the rest of the Catholic world by logging onto livestreamed liturgies, but something was missing, even when I tuned in to Masses from the most inspirational priests I know. For two weeks, I experienced the inevitable distraction that friends had reported feeling while watching Mass on Facebook Live. I got a taste of what they’ve been missing because I missed it, too.
I missed the daily connection I had with my Jesuit brothers. Despite working in disparate ministries on irregular schedules, our daily gathering around the altar unites us.
I missed the opportunity to make petitions during the prayers of the faithful. I hadn’t realized how much I’d treasured naming people on their birthdays, holding them up in sickness, and asking for their peaceful repose after death.
I missed that feeling of connection with the Church around the world that is unique to the Eucharistic table. At every Mass, I feel a profound sense of reconnection to all those friends in the Lord to whom I’ve had to say goodbye.
For years, I’ve looked to scribbled lists on scrap paper as a way to ease my mind when the world gets too crazy or too unwieldy or too tiring. Locked up in quarantine, I realized the thing that was easing my anxiety was not the rote completion of mundane tasks. All the distractions that 21st century technology could offer simply didn’t sustain me.
My solitary confinement revealed to me that, maybe without my realizing, I’ve been offering up that worry and stress and exhaustion to Jesus everyday at Mass. I’ve asked Him to take my troubles, my embarrassments, my successes, and transform them. My ability to get through each day was not the result of missions accomplished but of the grace foisted upon me at Mass.
And so, after the requisite time in isolation, I returned to my simple, daily community Mass. On my first evening back, we heard in the Gospel about Jesus healing Peter’s mother-in-law and dining in her house. In the homily, the presider mused about transformations that might have taken place around her table. I rejoiced to be able to join in with that transformation again. I pray fervently for the day when we’ll all gather to be transformed again, maskless and closer than six feet apart.
-//-Photo by Andrew Neel from Pexels
I enjoy cycling for exercise and relaxation. A couple of weeks ago, I skipped my bike ride because I couldn’t find my helmet; I won’t risk riding without one. I wear a helmet to protect myself when I am biking. In contrast, I wear a mask to protect others when I am in public.
A face mask is nothing more than a small barrier against airborne droplets, which can contain and transfer a virus from one individual to another. Today, a mask is the best-known barrier against the Coronavirus known as COVID-19, which at last count has killed more than 190,000 of the nearly 6.5 million people infected in the US alone.
During this pandemic, wearing a face mask is a civil obligation and a Christian vocation: we are all called to protect one another. As created beings and Christian Catholics, this is a fundamental duty.
After more than seven months of dealing with this pandemic, I never thought that I would have to write about the importance of wearing a mask in public. Yet, I am. I did not foresee this pre-election political climate changing how much we care for each other. Yet, it seems to. I didn’t think that political ambitions could trump people’s health. Yet, they do.
After seeing what happened recently at the South Lawn of the White House, where a big group of people gathered without wearing masks, I asked myself “Have we forgotten our responsibility of caring for each other as a nation?” Could wearing a mask be an act of justice?
The justice of wearing a mask means being in the right relationships with each other. As it states in paragraph 1939 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church: “The principle of solidarity, also articulated in terms of ‘friendship’ or ‘social charity.’ Is a direct demand of human and Christian brotherhood.” Therefore, it is a moral obligation for Christian Catholics to wear a face mask in public as an act of social charity.
Recently, a TV newscast showed a group protesting against the restrictions geared to help curtail COVID-19’s spread. The signs read: “My body, my choice,” “Freedom is essential,” and even, humorously, “Jesus is my vaccine.” I could not help but think, “Really?” While there is a kernel of truth to each of these statements, the Catholic tradition easily refutes the argument behind each.
“My body, my choice.” Setting aside the obvious association of this slogan with pro-abortion activists, the sentiment reflects an exhaltation of the autonomous individual over the common good that is whole foreign to the Catholic tradition. I also think that upon serious reflection, those resistant to wearing masks might recognize that it stems not from a reasoned decision but stubborn selfishness born of frustration.
For example, recently, at the entrance to a store, I overheard a couple’s conversation: “Oh, I don’t have my mask,” one said. The other replied, “No one can tell me what to do. This is my life.” And they entered the store without facemasks. A James Baldwin quote came to mind: “There are so many ways of being despicable, it quite makes one’s head spin. But the way to be really despicable is to be contemptuous of other people’s pain.”
We all have an obligation to care for each other. This obligation is more important than any minor inconveniences of wearing a mask. As a responsible citizen, the best way I can protect myself is by protecting others. To quote the apostle Matthew: “Do to others whatever you would have them do to you” (Mt.7:12.)
“Freedom is essential.” More than ever, COVID-19 challenges one of our core American values: freedom. While some misinterpret freedom as individual autonomy, it actually means being held accountable to our existence. Freedom is a call for Ubuntu: states our responsibility toward each other as a community of love and Justice. Freedom is not a license to do whatever we want. We Catholics should proclaim more loudly our understanding of freedom as countercultural. As the catechism of the Catholic Church states in paragraph 1738: “Freedom is exercised in relations between human beings.” It continues: “The more one does what is good, the freer one becomes.” The act of wearing a mask is an act of communal well being.
“Jesus is my vaccine.” Certainly, I would never advocate moving away from Jesus, but Jesus does not free us from our obligations in community. Jesus gives us a responsibility, a moral obligation, to our community. Praying for the end of the pandemic is important, but it does not take the place of taking reasonable precautions. CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield says, “Cloth face covering is one of the most powerful weapons we have to slow and stop the spread of the [COVID-19] virus. ” I believe Jesus would support that.
Wearing a mask in America might be difficult for some with health conditions and impossible for others due to their jobs. However, we can protect those people by wearing our own masks. As Christian Catholics, we answer God’s call to maintain the common good by playing our part with love and justice. Although we are members of a free society, we balance our individual freedoms with what is “right” and “just” for the community. It is just to stay home if possible, practice social distancing, and view wearing a mask as a “pro-life” duty.
COVID-19 social restrictions can feel oppressive, and many of us are frustrated, confused, and sad. However, we are strong citizens of the land of the free and true Christians living by hope. We can pray for God to grant us the grace of patience to wear a mask. This small sacrifice can lead us to freedom and keep us together.
A few days after I had to skip my bike ride, a good friend loaned me a helmet. That friend demonstrated his concern for my well-being by making sure my head is protected. Similarly, I show concern for the safety of others by wearing my mask.
Jesus tells Peter that he must be willing to forgive 77 times. That seems like a lot…until we think about how merciful God has been to us. Fr. David Romero, SJ, reflects on the boundless love and mercy of Jesus and how we need to be transformed by it in this week’s One-Minute Homily. Based on the readings for Sunday, September 13, 2020.
You want me to forgive them 7 times—wait, 77 times?! Psssst—man!
Hi, I’m David Romero, and this is my One-Minute Homily.
Jesus gives us one of those hard sayings. His parable is pretty clear. The heart of the matter is the matter of the heart. And forgiveness is at the heart of being Christ-like. But 77 times? That’s a lot!
And yet, it doesn’t take long for my heart to reveal its need for mercy. As well as the many experiences of mercy in my life. How many times did God forgive me, embrace me, trusts me, and call me, again and again?
I’m also reminded how often I forget Christ’s mercy, like the debtor in the Gospel. My heart hardens and becomes stingy. I can’t wrap my head around the boundless mercy shown to me. It can take a while for my head to catch up to my heart.
Today’s call is to allow Jesus to deeply transform me, so that the forgiveness I receive isn’t something that just happens to me, but also changes the way I see myself, others and the world.
This article contains minor spoilers for the TV series, The Boys.
What do you get when you add superheroes to American life as we know it today? Creator and show-runner of The Boys, Eric Kripke, answers with a mixture of the charisma of movie stars, the lethality of military-grade weapons, and the soullessness of a multibillion-dollar corporation. Superheroes (or ‘Supes’) are brands, often more concerned with their public image (and making money from endorsements) than actually saving lives. The Seven, the premier supes of the U.S., are pitted against the Boys, four men (and later, one woman) who are committed to taking them down.
But where The Boys could’ve stayed with the superficial explosions and gunfights, it keeps returning to the broken humanity of all the people involved. Queen Maeve (Dominique McElligott), one of the Seven, puts it succinctly: “Everyone always asks, what’s our special weakness? … Our weakness is the same as anyone’s. It’s people. The people we care about.”
The supes, most of whom are physically impervious, live their lives without too much concern for the people around them (though plenty are scared of more-powerful supes). They are almost all managed by Vought International, the Disney-esque company that controls the branding, marketing, and cover-ups. When timid Hughie (Jack Quaid) sees his girlfriend killed in a horrific accident caused by a supe, a Vought lawyer shows up trying to pay him off to sign a non-disclosure agreement. Hughie refuses, and is approached by Billy Butcher (the effortlessly charismatic Karl Urban) who wants Hughie’s help to expose Vought’s corruption. And over the rest of the season as we are introduced to the two sides, the Supes and the Boys, we find that every person carries wounds, every person is somehow broken, and every person hurts those around them.
Hughie, the point-of-view character whom we follow into this world of glamor and gore, meets and falls for the newest member of the Seven, Starlight (Erin Moriarty). And as she falls for him as well, they begin their secret romance. Both of them feel like they have to ‘put on a face’ to the rest of the world, and only feel comfortable dropping the masks around each other. But shared secrets are not true intimacy, and they both avoid working on a deeper relationship. Hughie lies to Starlight again and again as he tries to infiltrate Vought, even as his feelings for her deepen. Starlight, disillusioned by the insincerity of both Hughie and her own mother, pushes away her weaknesses – the people she cares about.
Hughie’s and Starlight’s flights from love are foreshadowed in the leaders of the Boys and the Supes, Billy Butcher and Homelander (Antony Starr). The two men close themselves off from love. They both carry deep wounds , and neither really knows how to heal. So they lash out. They murder those who go against them. They refuse to find love in new places. As Maeve said, they consider people to be weaknesses, and try to remove every potential weakness in their lives. They use the people who trust them, exploiting that trust to further their agendas. Further, Butcher and Homelander try to make Hughie and Starlight in their own image: powerful, bitter and vengeful.
Despite these lessons against vulnerability, two side characters insist on the need for love. Frenchie (Tomer Capon) and Maeve both fight for love, even as they are hurt by that fight. Frenchie tries to befriend the scared and abused ‘Female’ (Karen Fukuhara). Frenchie is by no means a gentle soul (we are introduced to him as the gun-brandishing superhero-killer), but recognizes his own past in the Female. Even though she continues to run, endangering Frenchie and the other Boys, he refuses to use violence against her. Butcher tries to assert his image of invulnerability upon Frenchie, but the latter seems to understand something deeper about how relationships grow. He is no starry-eyed Hughie; his love is tempered by the pain of the world. Where Hughie is often overwhelmed by his fear and Butcher is driven by ruthless vengeance, Frenchie commits himself to follow a vulnerable love.
Whereas Frenchie fights for a new love in his life, Maeve tries to rebuild a past love. One of the oldest of the Seven, she seems burnt out from dealing with Homelander’s hate. In the above quote, when she tells Starlight about how people we care about are our weakness, she ends the scene with, “So I say, cut ‘em loose.” But despite this rhetoric, she keeps trying to rekindle her relationship with an old lover (Nicola Correia-Damude). What is most striking about Maeve is that she isn’t some paragon. Even though not as morally bankrupt as Homelander, she falls in line behind him rather than risk his anger. She rebuffs Starlight’s attempts to try to fight for justice. She isn’t perfect. But how many of us are?
In a show filled with almost gleeful amounts of gore, Maeve is one of the few people who is genuinely disgusted by her own complicitness. Maeve, like all of us, desperately wants to be vulnerable in a world that prizes her imperviousness. She tries to do the ‘right thing,’ even though she doesn’t really know what the right thing is anymore. She seeks forgiveness, even as she doesn’t know how to ask for it. She fights for love, even though she doesn’t really know if that love is worth the pain it would bring. Because Maeve realizes that fighting for love isn’t about just making yourself happy; the fight itself makes the world a little bit better.
The Boys is available for streaming on Amazon Prime. Season 2 is currently airing on Fridays.
“I love the feeling of the fresh air on my face and the wind blowing through my hair.” (Evel Knievel)
The primary somatosensory cortex and the brainstem nuclei are important regions in our brain that help us generate feelings and emotions. The brain’s complexity should help us increase our faith in God!
Feeling screening is a technique used in psychoanalysis, and it helps people get in touch with their deepest self through their feelings. This can be seen as an experience of rediscovery and a cognitive journey of self-exploration. St. Ignatius of Loyola always invites individuals to pay attention to their deepest spiritual movements and feel what is going on within themselves. This method can help us uncover God’s voice or presence through our passions, desires, gifts, and even our shortcomings. Feeling screening can aid in pointing us towards the road to freedom.
Let us discover how to engage what we feel while screening ourselves to more clearly experience the greater glory of God in our lives and in the world around us. Take a moment and to screen your feelings and recognize God in the deep recesses of your soul. Close your eyes and relax as best you can and ask yourself:
- What am I feeling now?
- Is there a significance to that feeling?
- Using your senses, what is the smell, the touch, or the sound of your feeling?
- Does it conger up a memory, an idea, a moment, a sentiment, an emotion?
- Consider what God might be saying to you or inviting you to look more closely.
- Give thanks to God for the gift of feelings.
Video Production by Matthew Bjorklund, SJ
Since 2012, The Jesuit Post has offered a Jesuit, Catholic perspective on the contemporary world. Our team is comprised of young Jesuits seeking God in all things. Our work focuses on both sacred and secular issues because we are convinced that God’s does too. Over the years, we have received lots of feedback from educators and ministers who use our content in the classroom, on retreats, and for faculty formation.
In the Spring of 2020, we created a new resource to share: the TJP Curriculum Guide. This guide includes articles and videos published by TJP, organized around twenty different themes, with hyperlinks to the content. Today, we are releasing an updated version which includes articles and videos published between March-August 2020.
We added the theme of “Coronavirus Pandemic and Response,” along with links to many articles written on racial justice since the murder of George Floyd, plus links to the 12-part video series Know Justice, Know Peace: A Jesuit Antiracism Retreat.
The list of themes includes all of the following (* indicates new content added):
- Climate Change and the Environment*
- Church Teaching*
- Coronavirus Pandemic and Response*
- Ignatian Spirituality*
- Immigrants and Refugees*
- Mental Health*
- Race and Racism*
- Pop Culture*
- Post-College Life
- Social Justice*
- Women in the Church
You can view and download the TJP Curriculum Guide here. We hope you find this content helpful in your work and ministry. It will be updated periodically, so be sure to check back at the start of a new semester.
Submit your email address to this Google Form if you are using this in your work or ministry to let us know how it’s been helpful and how we could make it better. On the form, you’ll find an option to receive a direct copy when we update the TJP Curriculum Guide every 3-6 months with new content.
If you want to stay in the loop about updates and get connected to others who are using TJP as a resource, you can also send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
There is a tendency among some commentators to defend the police officers who commit acts of violence against unarmed black people by describing what is suspicious about the victim.
“George Floyd was a felon and intoxicated at the time of his death.”
“Jacob Blake had a knife in his car.”
“This or that person was non-compliant, etc….” Such statements are intended to justify police actions and discredit the protesters.
The innocence, or lack thereof, of the slain suspects is irrelevant to the issue at hand.
As a former Air Force officer, it disturbs me when I hear people making excuses for police violence. For the sake of argument, let us momentarily overlook the racial overtones of this violence and focus on just one aspect of the crisis: the extrajudicial killing of civilians. In that other arm of government that exercises violence, there are specific criteria that govern the legitimate use of force. The Law of Armed Conflict and Rules of Engagement will shed light on the trigger-happy culture of many police departments as compared to the standard that the US military tries to observe in war zones.
Military personnel have an inherent right to self-defense. This principle informs the criteria under which force may be used against a person, be they civilian, terrorist, or otherwise. Deadly force is authorized only against a person who has been positively identified as hostile by legal declaration (e.g., known member of ISIS), by committing a hostile act (e.g., firing upon friendly forces), and/or unequivocally displaying hostile intent (e.g., pointing a weapon at friendly forces). A hostile person, in other words, demonstrates an unambiguous threat.
Admittedly, many of the incidents of fatal police actions involve non-compliant suspects. It must be noted, though, that according to military standards mere non-compliance does not constitute a threat and does not warrant deadly force. To kill a suspected (not positively identified as hostile) insurgent under such circumstances would constitute a war crime.
Police may say that they thought a suspect might have been reaching for a weapon. For the military, the simple possibility or fear of a threat, however, is not enough to determine either a hostile act or hostile intent. If a suspect is perhaps reaching for a knife in his car, he has yet to be positively identified as hostile. Even the visible possession of a weapon is not sufficient to identify a person as hostile. In fact, many innocent civilians in Afghanistan have weapons (much like in the United States). To engage a suspected insurgent in such a situation would be a war crime.
But what about suspects who are not only non-compliant but even resistant? Would the military be allowed to use force in such situations? Only within the bounds of military necessity and proportionality. Military Necessity is the principle of the Law of Armed Conflict which forbids the unnecessary use of violence outside of “the fight.” Proportionality is the principle that violence, when authorized, cannot be excessive and cause damage to life or property disproportionate to the military advantage gained. In other words, the use of deadly force when there is no established threat of deadly force from the other is a war crime.
Those who rush to the defense of the police officers involved in the extrajudicial killing of people of color must consider this fact: the forces of government violence are slower to use deadly force in a war zone then they are within the United States. This is a dehumanizing reality felt by people of color. It is yet another example of systemic racism that law enforcement is quicker to engage black civilians than the military is to engage suspected insurgents in a war zone. This is in no way to suggest that combat restrictions should be loosened, but to urge that some such restrictions should be placed on all agents of government violence, including law enforcement.
In the Gospel story of the woman caught in adultery, Jesus prevents the extrajudicial killing of what seems to clearly be a guilty party, saying “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” (Jn 8:10-11). Jesus disapproved of the proposed killing regardless of her guilt. If the woman had been noncompliant and resistant (a natural response to a murderous mob), Jesus’ merciful response would not have been any different. Murder was not acceptable then, nor is it acceptable today, especially by the police.
Tensions continue to rise and many seem willing to start or jump into a fight. What do Jesus and Paul recommend? Love one another. Martin Ngo, SJ, reflects on our call to love God and neighbor in this week’s One-Minute Homily. Based on the readings for Sunday, September 9, 2020.
What if I’m the one that’s wrong? Nah, that’s crazy.
Hi, I’m Martin, and this is my One-Minute Reflection.
We don’t hear that question much. We, myself included, are so quick to take sides and fight to the death for the better cause, or just because we swear we’re right. But think about it; how in the world would reconciliation happen in our very divided society if the only solution is who can shout the loudest, wait the longest, outsmart, out-spend, out-insult, out-shame the other side?
Was this the way Jesus intended reconciliation? Self-righteousness makes little room for self-reflection and even less room for real contrition.
Most of the verses in the Gospel today are spent on the work it takes to reconcile with one another, or another one. Paul amplifies Jesus, basically saying, “Don’t just not do harm to each other; go love one another” – the one great commandment of Jesus directly tied to loving God with all your heart, your being, and your strength.
We’re invited always to imagine letting compassion happen between us and someone who’s “not one of us.” And maybe that’s not so crazy.
St. Mother Teresa is a saint of our own time, showing the world what it truly means to see and love Christ through the poor and marginalized. Brian Strassburger, SJ, reflects on the life and legacy of Mother Teresa on her Feast Day.
“If you can’t feed a hundred people, then feed just one.”
Hi, my name is Brian Strassburger, and I’m with The Jesuit Post.
Born in Albania, Mother Teresa set off for India as a young missionary. She lived and served there for nearly twenty years before she received the “call within in the call” that prompted her to found the Missionaries of Charity.
Clothed in simple white and blue saris, her congregation devoted themselves to serving the “poorest of the poor,” running hospices, orphanages, and leper houses- first in India, and now around the world.
In the chapel of every community hangs a single crucifix with the words “I thirst.” For Mother Teresa, these final words of Jesus on the cross were a reminder that Jesus thirsts for our love. And we can only satiate that thirst by showing our love for Jesus in how we care for each other, especially the poor.
Mother Teresa tells us, “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.” So reach out to the poor in your community. Help to quench Jesus’s thirst.
St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta, pray for us.
You’ve just had a baby! Or, you’re going to have a baby! Either way, congratulations! Hopefully everyone is healthy and happy.
Once you’re home from the hospital and settling into your new sleep-deprived routine, it might be time to begin making some plans to get your child baptized. If you’re into planning, you could even start this process before the delivery.“Wait, but why?”
Like all of the sacraments, baptism is primarily about our connection to Jesus Christ. Jesus himself was baptized at the beginning of his ministry, and baptism has been a hallmark of Christian identity since the time of the apostles. To quote the Catechism, “Through baptism we are freed from sin and reborn as [children] of God; we become members of Christ, are incorporated into the Church, and made sharers in her mission.”1
In other words, baptism connects us to Christ, and through him connects us to all of the other baptized.“Ok, so what do I do now?”
The best and only universally-applicable instruction I can give you in this article is this: contact your local parish. Call them up, and you’ll likely get a very friendly and helpful person working in the parish office. They’ll be able to talk you through all of the planning and particulars.
Many parishes have a preparation class for the parents, particularly if this is your first child. Going to this class will give you a chance to meet other young parents at your parish and learn more about baptism.
Similarly, many parishes already have set dates for when they normally celebrate baptisms. For example, your parish might have baptisms after one of the Masses every first and third Sunday of the month, or something like that. You might find this schedule on your parish website. Otherwise you’ll likely hear about it when you call the parish office or at the preparation class.
No matter what the particularities of your parish are, the parish office is now your best source of information. Honestly, once you’re in contact with someone there, you could probably stop reading this article (although I hope you don’t!).“We don’t have a regular parish.”
No problem, this could be a great chance to find a faith community wherever you’re living. You can likely find your local parish through your diocese’s website or just through a Google search. Alternatively, if there’s a parish in your area that you know you’d like to join, just give them a call.“What if I want to have my child baptized somewhere else?”
The parish where you’re a member is the usual option for where to have your child baptized. That said, there might be a good reason to have your child baptized elsewhere. Elderly relatives who can’t travel, a strong connection to the parish you grew up in, having the baptism closer to where most of the guests live, or a close relationship with a priest or deacon who you want to baptize your child could all be cause to have the baptism somewhere other than your home parish.
If this is the case for you, it’d be best to contact the parish where you want to have the baptism to explain your situation. They’ll be able to talk you through their own particulars regarding preparation classes, schedules, and so forth.“So how do I go about choosing godparents?”
The role of godparents is incredibly important. Godparents serve as models of faith and help the parents to raise the child in leading a Christian life.2
You need to have at least one person, and no more than two, who meets the following criteria:
- Designated by the parents (I know, this seems one seems obvious. But, to quote one of my former spiritual directors, “Every rule comes from somewhere!”)
- At least 16 years old3
- A practicing Catholic who has been confirmed and received First Communion
- Not the child’s father or mother (Sorry parents, you’ve gotta choose someone else!)
As long as you’ve got one person who meets the above criteria, the baptism can happen. You actually only “need” one godparent. If you want your child to have a godfather and a godmother, then you’ll need to find one man and one woman who both meet the above criteria.
If you want to have two people of the same sex be godparents to your child and they both meet the above criteria, you’re fine. On the formal documentation, one will be listed as the “sponsor” (read: official godparent) and the other will be listed as the “witness of the baptism.”
In fact, any baptized Christian can be a “witness of the baptism,” to pair alongside an official Catholic godparent. Maybe you have a close friend who is – *gasp* – a Lutheran! – who you think would be a great Christian role model to your child. Great, you’ve got yourself a witness of the baptism. If you’ve got a friend who is Jewish, Hindu, or of any other non-Christian religion, they cannot be listed as a witness of the baptism. No matter how virtuous they are or how well they live out their own faith, baptism is about our belief in Christ. Again, the goal of choosing a godparent is to find someone who will help your child grow as a disciple of Christ.
Alright, you’ve contacted your parish, you’ve attended the preparation classes, you’ve got godparents picked out, and your parents are even flying in to be there. Let’s baptize that baby!
Baptisms can happen either during or outside of Mass. Your local parish likely has a custom for which of these two options it follows. The ceremony itself looks pretty similar in either of these situations.
Talking through every single aspect of the Rite of Baptism would take far too long, plus I don’t want to steal the thunder of whoever runs the preparation class you might wind up attending. So here are some key parts.Prayer of Exorcism
Yeah, you read that right. No, your baby isn’t possessed, no matter how loudly they scream and cry. The key line of this prayer is, “We pray for this child: set him/her free from original sin, and make him/her a temple of your glory, and send your Holy Spirit to dwell with him/her.” This prayer is about cleansing the baby from original sin, which is one of the key effects of baptism.Renunciation of Sin and Profession of Faith
This is the big moment for the parents and godparent(s). The priest or deacon will ask them if they reject Satan, all his works, and all his empty promises. If these phrases sound familiar but you can’t quite place them, you might be thinking of this famous scene from The Godfather.4 After the renunciation of sin, the priest or deacon will ask the parents and godparents to affirm the statements of the Apostles’ Creed.The Baptism
Now it’s the big moment for the baby! The priest or deacon will pour water over the child’s head, saying, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” It is absolutely essential that these are the exact words that are used. Any alterations to this phrasing make the baptism invalid, which can cause a real headache down the road.
As soon as the priest or deacon pours the water and says those words, congratulations! Your child is now the newest member of the Christian community!Anointing after Baptism
After the pouring of the water, the priest or deacon will anoint your child’s head with sacred chrism, a perfumed oil which might be the best-smelling substance in the universe.5 Chrism only gets used for three things: anointing the newly-baptized, anointing people receiving the sacrament of confirmation, and anointing the hands of newly-ordained priests. The fact that chrism is only used for these three moments speaks to the power of baptism. Its connection to confirmation points out how baptism begins the process of initiation into the Christian community, which will be completed at confirmation. Chrism’s symbolism of the connection between baptism and ordination should remind us that all of the baptized, not just the ordained, are called to make the world a holier and more just place.
The ceremony will wrap up with the presentation of a white garment, the lighting of your child’s baptismal candle, and the closing prayers.
Baptism is a beautiful and holy sacrament. Please do reach out to your local parish to begin your child’s initiation into the Christian community. And congratulations on your growing family!
Last Saturday, August 29th, marked the feast of the beheading of St. John the Baptizer, the last and greatest of all scriptural prophets. The words from the book of the prophet Jeremiah which coincided in the Divine Office with St. John’s feast could not have been more appropriate, not only to the feast but even more to the present moment in our nation:
“Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Reform your ways and your deeds, so that I may remain with you in this place. Put not your trust in the deceitful words: ‘This is the temple of the Lord! The temple of the Lord! The temple of the Lord!’ Only if you thoroughly reform your ways and your deeds; if each of you deals justly with his neighbor; if you no longer oppress the resident alien, the orphan, and the widow; if you no longer shed innocent blood in this place, or follow strange gods to your own harm, will I remain with you in this place, in the land which I gave your fathers long ago and forever” (Jer. 7:3-7).
Think of the words and phrases we hear proclaimed in our country today. “America First,” “America, the city on the hill,” “America, God’s country,” “America, land of the free and home of the brave.”
“America, the temple of the Lord! The temple of the Lord!”
God’s intention in speaking his word through the prophet Jeremiah was not to deny God’s presence in the temple. It was to affirm the conditions under which the ancient covenant sealed with Israel on Mt. Sinai and later confirmed eternally through the blood of Christ at Golgotha was accorded (Heb. 9:11-15). It was to remind Israel of the choice they – we – made when blood was poured over the altar at the foot of Sinai (Ex. 24:8) and water was poured over our heads at the baptismal font (Rm. 6:3-4).
“Only if you thoroughly reform your ways and your deeds…will I remain with you in this place” (Jer. 7:5).
These words from Jeremiah recall the words Martin Luther King Jr. wrote fifty-seven years ago: “For years now I have heard the word ‘Wait!’ It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This ‘Wait’ has almost always meant ‘Never.’ We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that ‘justice too long delayed is justice denied.’” To reform one’s ways – as individuals and as a nation – cannot mean waiting for ‘time to heal all wounds’ nor can it mean ‘making the best of a bad situation.’ That’s not what it meant for Israel. For Israel it meant change, imminent change or the devastation wrought by the eviction of God from his temple by the wickedness of those who lived in it (Ez. 10:18).
“[Only] if you no longer oppress the resident alien, the orphan, and the widow…will I remain with you in this place” (Jer. 7:6).
Oppression has never meant violation of the law. Slavery, the mother of all forms of oppression, was legal in human society far longer than not. Oppression means the crushing of one person’s hope for the sake of the safety, security, or even pleasure of another. It means the trampling of God’s promise in another soul because he who tramples is afraid God is not rich enough to keep his promises – of freedom, of life, of security, of meaning, of shelter, of belonging – to all peoples in all times. Some rights must be hoarded; the hope of the resident alien – the immigrant living among us – cannot be accommodated.
“[Only] if you no longer shed innocent blood in this place…will I remain with you in this place” (Jer. 7:7).
Innocent blood has been shed. Trayvon Martin. Tamir Rice. Eric Garner. Philando Castile. Breonna Taylor. George Floyd. Jacob Blake. How many others? How many more?
“[Only] if you no longer…follow strange gods to your own harm, will I remain with you in this place” (Jer. 7:7).
Trump will make America’s streets safe again. Biden will save the immigrants in our country. Sanders will ensure the health of all Americans. Pence will protect the unborn. Harris will justify the tax code. Ocasio-Cortez will bring the Green New Deal to America. A ‘god’ is not a spiritual being with power over the fates of peoples; a ‘god’ is any being at all to whom is ascribed the power to save. “Woe to the obstinate children who carry out plans that are not mine…who go down to Egypt” – the powers of the world – “[for help] without consulting me…Egypt’s shade will bring you disgrace” (Is. 30:1-3).
God’s words through the prophet Jeremiah are as piercing today as they were millennia ago when spoken to a similarly “stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in hearts and ears” (Acts 7:51).
As we look to the example of the prophets gone before us – and those still present in our midst – may we “consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith” (Heb. 13:7).
“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Heb. 13:8)” May we, like the greatest of all prophets born of women, St. John the Baptizer, be willing to live our lives – and offer them too – for the sake of the name which is above every name (Phil. 2:9) and for the Kingdom of justice and peace (Rm. 14:17) to which that Name is forever bound.
Not to do so comes at our own peril.
“Is it I whom they hurt, says the Lord; [or] is not rather themselves, to their own confusion” (Jer. 7:19)?
Cover image courtesy of FlickrCC user Gerard Van der Leun.
Two days ago, my phone started blaring at around 4:45 AM; at 5:15 AM, I finally acknowledged it, halting dreams filled with a strange monster screeching out the alarm in my subconscious. I hadn’t woken up that early in nearly six months. Groggy, I told myself that I wanted to live differently this semester, and I dressed for a workout at the campus recreation center, where I had been only once in nearly six months. Just before 6:00 AM, I stood in a long line of other gym-goers, reminding me that nearly every ‘good’ idea I have isn’t uniquely mine.
Later, at 8:20 AM, I walked into my school’s main classroom building for the first time in, again, nearly six months.
Thus began what I now recognize as a jarring and incomplete re-entry into the world as I once knew it.
And, my world grew just a little that morning two days ago, bearing something closer to normalcy than I’d experienced in – you guessed it – nearly six months.
If I’m being honest, I didn’t entirely like it.
That’s not to say I prefered my way of existing between March 11 and August 31. My life, while deeply sheltered and relatively safe from the risks of COVID-19, also changed when the pandemic moved dramatically from headlines into homes, from a faraway curiosity to an in-your-face fear.
I spent more time in my room these past nearly six months that I had the previous, say, four years combined. The same is true for the number of times I’ve washed my hands. I’ve high-fived less people in the past nearly six months than was typical for me in a day pre-COVID, and I cannot count the number of times I’ve wanted to yell at people for getting too close to me, which I don’t think I’d ever thought to do before in my life. For the first time in my 38 years, I may go a full year without seeing my immediate family.
Certainly, good things arose these past nearly six months – Friday night card games and Zoom Happy Hours, plenty of ministry online, a chance to read, reflect, and pray more robustly, catching up with old friends, and even the grace of learning more about powerlessness and patience.
Yet, a sense of being watched has also lingered, a microscopic killer on the loose. It has illuminated vast inequity. It has amplified questions about race, hunger, work, learning, wealth, leadership, community, responsibility, and public health. It has forced me to rethink much, and as I slowly begin to anticipate a world different from that of the past nearly six months, I don’t really know where to begin.
Depending on the route, I live about eight miles from the Atlantic Ocean. I hadn’t seen the Atlantic in nearly six months. So, the day before classes started, my friend Damian and I decided to take a little drive and look at the water. After a short discernment about where to go, we ended up in Gloucester, MA where in January of 2012, I made a 30-day silent retreat. Every morning on that retreat, I would wake up before the sunrise, step out into the mild Massachusetts winter, and find a spot on some rocks looking out over the great Pond.
I listened to three songs every day as part of my morning prayer. Lyrics from them still sing to me: I just want something beautiful to touch me – I know I am in reach, and I’m waiting for my real life to begin, and so I’ve learned to listen through silence.
Standing there so many years later with my friend, I was reminded of how free I felt those days. I remembered marvelling at the vastness of the ocean, nothing but water between me and Portugal, Ireland, and Morocco. I reflected on the horrific and heroic journeys people had made across it. I remembered the sun slowly casting a shimmer of sparks across the water, igniting a trail of liquid fire from me into the vastness beyond. I remember thinking that while I could see nearly endless water before me, I really saw almost nothing, the surface of the water hiding untold mysteries beneath its waves. It offered me a divine intimacy I’d never felt before and have tried to hold onto ever since. A tiny version of me on the edge of something immeasurable.
Years later gazing over those waters again, my world, which has felt so small these past nearly six months, opened up again. Not in the sense that I can safely eat inside at restaurants or stroll around unmasked, but in the sense that the world is still here, always open for me to explore and cherish. And that’s just what I need now – to remember just how huge the world is, and how desperately I want to be in it, small as I am.
It will take time – it will take masks, careful entrance into churches, gyms, and classrooms, a continued withholding of hugs and plenty more soap. It will take reform, repentance, and reconciliation. We may continue to step back before our precious steps forward accumulate into much. But, if only for now, that ocean isn’t going anywhere, and neither am I.
They call it “suspension of disbelief.” When an audience shuts down the inner voice which reminds them that what they’re watching is just a show, you know an actor is earning their pay. But, another important part of acting is creating a connection between the audience and the character. In other words, making the audience “care” and empathize with the person. Projecting authentic feelings with which the audience can identify is an essential part of the actor’s job. However, sometimes to make one laugh is easier than to make one cry or solidarize with pain. Chadwick Boseman made this challenge look easy throughout his acting career. I think it’s because empathy was common practice for him.
I was first introduced to his work by the movie “42,” (2013) the biopic of Jackie Robinson, the first African American to play in Major League Baseball. I remember one scene in particular. During a game, the rival coach starts insulting Robinson with racial slurs while he is at bat. Eventually, Jackie’s justified rage grows so much that he runs toward the dressing rooms with tears in his eyes and, in the midst of his frustration, smashes his bat against the wall. Shortly after, the team’s owner, Branch Rickie, comes to console him and motivates him to prove racists wrong by winning the game.
I assure you, when I saw this scene for the first time, I could feel Robinson’s anger. Memories of experienced racism came to my mind along with that sense of impotence that hits when nothing seems to change racist individuals and institutions. People tend to think that whenever African American “firsts” like Jackie came in and desegregated spaces, change happened quickly and everyone loved them for it. We confuse the “battle” of the past with the honor of the present. In reality, Robinson started the desegregation of the MLB in 1947, seven years before Brown v. Board of Education prohibited segregated schools (1954) and 17 years before the 1964 Civil Rights Act ensured federal protection for minority groups against discrimination based on race. Robinson was almost alone against the world in 1947. Boseman, in “42,” was able to project that and connect the audience to the struggle the character was going through.
For many of us who still struggle against racism, Robinson’s life “confirms our reality” and our experience, as James Baldwin used to say. This confirmation is important for our health when denial and indifference reigns in the hearts and minds of so many people. By portraying flawed, but important, African American figures that overcame many challenges and opened doors for many People of Color, Boseman breathed life into the Black community! That’s why it was so hard for me to hear of his death last Friday. Jacob Blake was shot in the back by a police officer on Sunday August 23. Days later, same week, Kyle Rittenhouse, a White seventeen year-old from Illinois drove to Wisconsin and killed two people who were protesting Blake’s shooting. It was such an exhausting week, and to finish it with Boseman’s death was just another shock.
Chadwick had been fighting cancer in silence for four years now. He received his diagnosis in the same year the world was introduced to his most famous character, the superhero Black Panther. Since then he tirelessly worked in a diversity of roles. Black Panther got his own film in 2018, which won the Marvel Cinematic Universe its first Academy Awards. He made two more appearances as the Black Panther in “Avengers Infinity War” and “Avengers Endgame.” He starred as Thurgood Marshall (“Marshall” 2017), the first African American Supreme Court Justice and fellow alumnus of Howard University. And he played a central role in Spike Lee’s 2020 project, “Da Five Bloods.”. In the meantime, he visited children patients of cancer.
Only a strong soul could have undergone so many physical and mental demands while also working hard and separating time to give hope to others. No wonder he was able to project dignity and strength into his characters: he himself had them. As Wesley Morris said in a piece honoring the actor, “No one approximates this greatness without a considerable reserve of greatness himself.”
Just five years after playing his role as the Georgia native baseball player, Boseman explained in his commencement speech at Howard University that it was his experiences of racism and his education at his alma mater, that allowed him to play Robinson’s role, as well as his most famous role, king T’Challa, in Marvel’s “Black Panther,” so well. He said to graduating students who participated in protests to improve the university: “Everything that you fight for was not for yourself, it was for those who come after,” and told them how “promising” these protests and their education were for their future, as many of them would join institutions accustomed to marginalization, and would have to fight their way through change.
With this exhortation, Chadwick demonstrated that he was aware that his acting was not just a job, but it was his God-given purpose, his way of serving his brothers and sisters. His gift was tied to who he was and how he was going to inspire others into loving more. No wonder Bishop Fernand Cheri from New Orleans, in his message about the witness that the Catholic Church must give when responding to racism, said of the Black Panther movie: “it centers around the question ‘Who are you?’ The answer was not only for the main character to answer but for each person in the film. The discovery of who you are was not only in what you said about yourself, but also what you showed to others.” That is what Chadwick Boseman’s characters did for me. They made me question if the way I live my life matches my beliefs, if there is a divorce between my faith in Jesus and my praxis of empathy, which is the ultimate guarantee of faith.
Chadwick Boseman did not just imagine how to project empathy in his characters. He had a reserve of it in his own life. May his legacy, bringing to life the experiences of historical figures, inspire us to give more. Of all days he could have passed away, August 28, 2020, the 57th anniversary of the Civil Rights Movement’s March on Washington, was particularly and painfully prescient. As King T’Challa said in the End credits scene of Black Panther, may we “no longer watch from the shadows,” for in “times of crisis the wise build bridges while the foolish build barriers. We must find a way to look after one another as if we were one single tribe.”
The Maasai is one of the most well-known African tribes. One aspect of their culture is its value of children. When Maasai people greet each other, they begin: “How are the Children?” The response is always: “All the Children are Well.” This exchange connotes an interest in peace and safety in the community, but also refers to the well-being of children, who always come first. The Maasai cannot be well as a people unless their children are well.
America could stand to learn from this value system. Somewhere along the way, we forgot that our children must be treasured, protected, and entrusted with our future.
Over this past year, as many young people have experienced violence and police brutality. We have lost our way and let our children down. Six-year-old Gianna Floyd witnessed her father’s brutal murder last May in Minneapolis, and Jacob Blake’s four youngsters watched him being shot seven times in the back, as he walked away from policemen, On August 23, in Kenosha, WI.
If a Maasai tribesperson walked onto our continent, they could not honestly say that the children are well. We Americans are failing them.
In my home country of Haiti, from 1957-86, Francois Duvalier (Papa Doc) and his son Jean Claude Duvalier (Baby Doc) led a dictatorial regime rife with violence. Ultimately, a strong oppositional movement emerged and succeeded. My own father, a minister in the Duvalier regime, became a target. However, when members of the resistance arrived at our home before dawn one day, planning to torture or kill my father, they saw me, a three-year-old (just three years younger than Gianna Floyd), so they spared Dad and departed without incident. Although the civil war was bloody and violent, the children remained safe. Haitians understand the value of young people.
Today, we should be concerned that our children are confronted with the reality of death every day; senseless killings and suffering due to racial injustice that have become the norm in our land.
This situation makes me wonder about America’s children. How do these visuals impact their collective conscience? How would America look if we could say, with conviction: “All the children are well”?
As a young Black Catholic in America, my head is spinning and my heart is aching. Often, I ask myself if America really demonstrates care and concern for God’s children, particularly Black children.
Once again, the Black community is suffering at its very core, an issue that is magnified in negative interactions with white police. The way police officers treat Blacks today will be the way our society acts tomorrow. As James Baldwin eloquently wrote, “Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them.“ Case in point: Kyle Rittenhouse, a 17-year-old from Illinois, shot several people with a semi-automatic rifle in the name of “protecting” a business.
America, we ought to recognize that we failed to protect our children and often ignore the need for their safety. As Jacob Blake’s mother told Don Lemon on CNN, other countries are laughing at us. Perhaps we could learn something from the international community.
In many nations, the presence of children serves as protective shields for adults, even during wartime. On the contrary, in modern-day America, children watch videos exposing violent interactions between police officers and Black people, and the more they see, the more normal this behavior seems.
Perhaps, we should ask ourselves, how do we want to be remembered by our children? What does the image of a 17-year-old boy with an AR-15 mean to us? How will children regard their father, the symbol of protection and authority in a household, after they see him shot in the back by a police officer? Where is our sense of human decency to still handcuff a paralyzed Black man in a hospital bed after four days?
America, we have forgotten to take care of our most vulnerable. Whatever we say about love for our children, our behavior demonstrates neglect. With a minimal display of human decency, or Christian responsibility, we seem to forget that children lives matter and being anti-abortion is just a start.
Children are even more fragile than adults when they lack adequate healthcare, nutrition, and shelter. Negative experiences can cause lifelong trauma in younger people. This in turn results in a traumatic society. We must shelter them from extreme violence and racism. As Pope Francis said, “A society which abandons children severs its roots and darkens its future.”
What happened to Gianna Floyd and Jacob Blake’s children should serve as a cautionary tale for America. Adults must heed the call to redefine its behavior toward our children and reset its priorities. We should reconsider what really matters for the future of America. Protecting all children, especially Blacks, from racial injustice is a pro-life obligation for all Christians and a moral mandate for every adult in this country. The year 2020 should be the time that calls our collective conscience to a spiritual conversion that does our children justice.
I wonder how it would feel if each time a police officer interacted with a Black person, they asked, “How are the children?” And what if they waited before shooting, just to hear: “All the children are well.” Just as the Maasai people know that their well-being depends on that of the children, my prayer is that one day, America will value and protect her children as if her ‘Greatness’ and her ‘Soul’ depended on it.
When Jeremiah spoke the word of God, it wasn’t what people wanted to hear. Jason Quino McCreery, SJ, reflects on unwelcomed truths and that the message of God is not always what we expect. Based on the readings for Sunday, August 30, 2020.
Have you ever heard the word of God being spoken to you? Have you ever been afraid of it?
Hi, I’m Jason Quino McCreery, and this is my One-Minute Reflection.
The prophet Jeremiah, sometimes called the weeping prophet, was given the task of telling Jerusalem, God’s chosen people, that the city would be destroyed and the people taken into exile. Which did not make him popular among his peers. Jeremiah prophesized, spoke an unwelcome truth to the people of God, and they told him to stop, to just be quiet.
Sometimes, what God tells us isn’t pleasant. Peter was horrified when he heard that Jesus had to suffer and be killed. How do we respond to unwelcome truth?
I sometimes think that God’s message must always be respectful, be civil, be nice. But Jeremiah says, “violence and outrage is my message.” So when we hear the outrage of the disenfranchised, the anger of those suffering, are we willing to listen to their prophecy? When a black man cries out again, “I can’t breathe,” are we willing to recognize the voice of God?