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Four of us sat in a recently warmed and running car, the driveway shoveled but filling again with December snow. One of my family of five was running late, and our parish, a mere two-minute drive from our home, was preparing for Christmas Eve Mass.
When we finally arrived, the parking lot was full, and we walked unusually far to get to the doors of the Church. Brushing off our winter coats, it was clear there wasn’t space to accomodate all of us together. Old men, the quintessential ushers at St. Matthew’s in Green Bay, held up fingers in ones and twos, indicating a scarcity of seats to the gathering crowd in back. A few bold souls walked confidently up the aisle to claim a spot, but my family resigned to stand for the duration of the Mass, longer than normal for any of our tastes.
Throughout the service, I remember shifting from one foot to the other, my fourth-grade body straining to see anything when the congregation in front of me stood. A woman near me sang with a particularly high-timbre voice, and I tried to figure out how to plug my ears without her noticing. I was miserable. I couldn’t wait for Mass to end, to be back in the comfort of my house. Food and family and presents awaited me. I wanted out of that packed Church.
Churches are empty these days. Even if they open up again soon, the norms of physical distancing will necessarily limit the way that we pray together. No more hugs and handshakes. No more chalices. No more songbooks, holy water fonts, or donuts after Mass. At least, not yet.
On the one hand, the Christian life is a call to courage in the face of death and darkness. That might mean a rejection of what we’re being asked to do in keeping our Churches closed. One could try and make the argument that to fill a Church these days would be a prophetic act. It would be a witness to faith that God alone provides, that a community that prays together does more than mumbling a quiet rosary alone in the safety of our homes. None of that sounds right to me.
On the other hand, my own Christian faith is not ultimately about me – it’s about we – us all, together. In the minutiae of life during this pandemic, every choice I make is rooted in some consideration of the other – washing my hands, wiping counters, not stockpiling essential items that everyone needs, gloving and masking and distancing myself. It’s easy for me to be selfish, and much harder to create a world in which I choose to act beyond my own need for control. In that sense, not going to Church might be prophetic, a witness to the reality that each of us suffers together in these unusual times.
We need one another to be safe, and we need one another to survive. That might mean sacrificing the gift of the communion we experience when we gather in prayer. That might mean opening myself to receive Jesus in different, but not diminished, ways. That sounds more right to me, but not without a deep and lingering sadness.
The vision of empty Churches in my mind troubles me. The vision of a full Church, though, scares me.
A few years ago, 15 Jesuits were ordained to the priesthood in one liturgy at Gesu Church in Milwaukee. I’ve never seen so many people in one Church, and I had the best seat in the house – the choir loft. Looking down over the congregation, those of us above the fray could see that Christmas Eve-like scramble for seats unfold. Immediate families took the place of privilege in pews near the front of the Church, while a hodge-podge of friends, co-workers, and curious wanderers-by huddled together in the back. The liturgy, which is already long, was extended by the sacred rituals of the ordination, and with more-than-typically grand processions and communion distribution, we were pushing three hours together in Church. For some, three hours of standing. When the Mass ended and the newly ordained Jesuits walked out of the Church, the choir sang “O God Beyond All Praising” and the congregation erupted in a loud and extended applause.
In that moment, the only thing that mattered was that we were all there together, packed into a place that served as the setting for an incredible moment of grace and of gift. I can’t recall singing more loudly in all my life.
I long for a full Church again. I long for late arrivals and standing in the back, for strangers pressing together to make room in the pews, for old man ushers pointing out just one more seat.
I, and indeed we, need to keep the fire of longing burning bright enough to make that full Church a reality once again. For now, we pray together in different ways, trusting that all prayer pleases God and draws us more fully into God’s love. For now, I must trust in the words of that sacred song I belted so loudly those years ago, remembering that God is with me, and beyond all praise:
Then hear, O gracious Saviour,
accept the love we bring,
that we who know your favor
may serve you as our king;
and whether our tomorrows
be filled with good or ill,
we’ll triumph through our sorrows
and rise to bless you still:
to marvel at your beauty
and glory in your ways,
and make a joyful duty
our sacrifice of praise.
Hunter: MJ is great. I get it, but LeBron is my GOAT. Don’t worry, I’m only half serious when I say this. And I say “half” because I enjoy provoking Jordan fans, but also because a part of me actually does believe it (I was born in ‘96, so I didn’t grow up watching MJ like I did LeGoat, I mean, LeBron). ESPN and Netflix’s new 10 part documentary “The Last Dance” is supposed to put this never-ending GOAT conversation to rest. Besides being unconvinced that MJ is, in fact, the GOAT through four episodes, I’ve found myself (like any semi-good student of philosophy) wondering something more fundamental: What is greatness?
Sean: Michael Jordan can teach us all about greatness, perhaps better than any other player. But let me give you some context about why we should focus on him. I grew up in Chicago in the ‘90s, knowing that we had the greatest player in the world and the best team. Let’s agree to disagree about the GOAT (it’s clearly Jordan).
Michael Jordan always gave everything he had on the court. , Whenever you put a challenge in front of Michael, he worked relentlessly until he could overcome it. That kind of dedication has got to enter into the equation, right?
Hunter: You’re right in saying that Jordan has set a new precedent when it comes to dedication and relentlessness. Witnessing his dedication to bulking up and getting stronger after years of continual abuse by the Detroit Piston’s “Bad Boys” is extraordinary. My guess is we will hear even more stories of Jordan’s intensity in the coming episodes. And I must admit as a former athlete and a lover of all things competitive, there is something beautiful and perhaps even transcendent in this kind of dedication, intensity, and mastery. Is this not the same intensity and dedication we see in the lives of so many saints like St. Paul and our own Father Ignatius? But it has me thinking: At what cost does greatness come, and is it worth it?
Sean: There is a limit to what one player can accomplish, regardless of how good they are. This is why you never see a team with only one great player do well. Even a young Jordan who scored a playoff-record 63 points against the Celtics couldn’t win a game in that series. Jordan’s drive to succeed did have drawbacks, particularly his win-at-all-costs mentality. At the start of the ‘98 season when Scottie Pippen (easily the best #2 in NBA history) was out hurt, Jordan lashed out at his teammates because he saw they weren’t putting in enough effort to beat their opponents. On the other hand, isn’t there something inspiring about the desire to call the entire team, not just one player, to greatness?
Hunter: I’m reminded of an episode of The Office when David Wallace asked Michael Scott what his greatest strengths are, to which Michael responds, “Why don’t I tell you what my greatest weaknesses are? I work too hard. I care too much. And sometimes I can be too invested in my job. […] My weaknesses are actually… strengths.” While this is not true for Michael Scott (he famously never works hard), it might actually be true for the other Michael. It’s MJ’s lashing out at teammates and obsession to win at any cost, that is both his greatest strength and weakness.
So yes, I do think Jordan’s ability to draw out an untapped well of greatness from his teammates is inspiring, but I also believe that there is a line which Jordan potentially crosses. Do you think he ever “crossed the line” in the way he drew greatness out of himself and others?
Sean: Jordan certainly crossed the line sometimes. You can look at how he responded to breaking his foot in his second NBA season (referenced in Episode 2). Doctors said he had a 10% chance of suffering a catastrophic injury that would have ended his career, but Michael only saw the 90% chance of success. During a losing season, a gamble that big can be seen as arrogant, perhaps crossing a line. Still, Michael’s decision paid off. In ‘98, with Pippen out and the team started 0-4 on the road, offensively, there was only Jordan. Nobody else had scored more than 14 points in a game. His actions were not ideal, but what do you do when people aren’t living up to their potential?
Hunter: Yeah, I think a central motif to the documentary will continue to be how Jordan walked this line between pushing the limits of himself and those around him and harming those around him in this quest to “greatness.” But your question raises a great point: if people aren’t living up to their potential despite your best efforts, well… you simply lose. And while I love competition and am quite the competitor myself, we must honestly ask ourselves if stepping on the heads of others is a good means of elevating ourselves to the “winner” pedestal. Perhaps Jordan didn’t do this. Perhaps he pushed Scottie, Rodman, and the whole gang the proper degree. I’ll be watching the rest of the documentary with this in mind. Through what lens will you be watching the rest of the series, Sean?
Sean: Growing up, Jordan was this mythical hero. He possessed an untouchable mystique. I’ll watch the rest of this series with both pride and trepidation. Knowing how the story ultimately goes, I’ll cheer on the end of a dynasty and the approaching second retirement of it’s greatest player. I’m a little nervous to learn about what the darker side of a childhood hero might look like. There are no perfect people, not even the great ones. Revisiting all the stories will give me a greater understanding of and appreciation for the complexity of Jordan and the last great stand of this team.
Photo from IMDb, used under Fair Use Laws
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I still remember the day I got my first Bible. One night, my mother, a Black Puerto Rican woman, gathered me and my older brother in one of the bedrooms of our home in Cañaboncito. “I have something to show you,” she said, with a serious and gentle tone in her voice. Having our attention, she continued, “This is the most important book in life,” and she handed to each one of us a volume of the “Latinoamericana” Bible. As she flipped through the pages with us, she paused briefly in order to explain one of the photos that this Catholic Bible had. The picture illustrated a Black man in a suit that had a hopeful and deep gaze. “That’s Martin Luther King,” she said. “Although he was a Baptist, what he did was so important that his photo is in a Catholic Bible, as an example of what we Christians must do.” She explained to us what he achieved in the Montgomery bus boycott alongside his community, and exhorted my brother and me to always respect the Word of God. I think I was seven years old.
Some time later, I watched a documentary with my fair-skinned father about the struggles and achievements of the American Black Civil Rights Movement. I saw how bus segregation was defeated through social activism in Montgomery. Not just through words. How liberation was the triumph of an oppressed and organized community that fought for their rights. Not a charitable action by selfish oppressors. All this made an impression on me. A decade later, as I was discerning my vocation while studying in the University of Puerto Rico at Río Piedras in 2008, it was King’s words in his last speech the night before he was killed, that gave me peace when I believed God was calling me to be a priest:
We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn’t matter with me now…Like anybody I would like to live a long life…But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And he has allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I have looked over. And I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land. And I’m happy tonight. I am not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.1
I would have never thought 12 years ago, as I took those first steps of my vocational discernment, that I would ever have the opportunity to participate in a “Civil Rights Pilgrimage.” But from January first to the seventh of this year, that’s just what I did. It gave me the chance to follow closely the steps of this man, whose example has been so important to my following of Jesus. Along with my brothers of the Jesuit Antiracism Sodality (JARS), we prayed our way through important historic sites in New Orleans, Mobile, Selma, Montgomery, Birmingham, and Atlanta, where King and many other civil rights martyrs gave their blood for the on-going cause of racial justice. Walking the streets of Selma and Montgomery, as King and many other martyrs had done, has been one of the most mystical experiences I have had.
As we crossed the historic Edmund Pettus bridge, stepped on its sidewalk, felt its solid structure, and heard the river below, I thought in silence “They were here!” I could almost hear the distant sound of hundreds of nonviolent resisters who joined the 1965 voting rights marches from Selma to Montgomery to ensure the voting rights of African Americans. “They saw this street, they touched this metal, they smelled this air.” I could feel their energy, their faith, their anxiety as they saw (and were harassed by) the police. At Selma, I learned three lessons from the witness of the Civil Rights martyrs.
The first lesson I learned was from Jimmie Lee Jackson, a veteran and a Baptist deacon. He was shot in February 1965 by an Alabama state trooper. His death served as an inspiration for the marches. From him I learned that no sacrifice for justice goes unrewarded, and that the work to build the Kingdom that God calls us to make on earth can only be made with the collaboration of all Christians. We, Catholics, hold no monopoly on truth and righteousness. The faithful testimony of so many Evangelical ministers during the civil rights struggle testify to that.
Viola Liuzzo taught me a second lesson. Viola was a White woman and a mother of five children. She was killed by a member of the Ku Klux Klan for collaborating in the marches’ coordination and for driving protesters back to Selma once the demonstrations were over. She taught me that I do not have to belong to an oppressed group in order to exercise solidarity with them. Love is measured more in deeds than words. Her witness of love showed me that any claim that the White racists of this era were simply “children of their time” is an excuse to avoid responsibility.
Viola chose not to be complacent with the prejudices and racist practices of her White community. She listened to the dissident voices of her era and did not conform to what feminist Mary Hawkesworth calls “evidence blindness:” a refusal to inquire and know about what is true but inconvenient, what makes us feel morally inadequate, because it reveals that we might belong to a social group that benefits from the exploitation of another.2 We can do the same thing she did right now. We can choose not to live at peace with the privileges that race, gender, or sexual orientation give to some of us and oppress so many.
A third lesson came from Jonathan Daniels, an Episcopalian seminarian. He was killed with a shotgun by a special county deputy while shielding Ruby Shields, an African-American activist. He taught me that I can’t wait until I become a priest to do what is right. Nothing assures me that I have more than “today” to imitate Christ. Therefore, I must fight for justice like I have no tomorrow.
After our time in Selma, we moved toward Montgomery where we visited the National Memorial for Peace & Justice of the Equal Justice Initiative. The phrase “We remember” is stamped into the walls of this memorial in honor of the Black men and women who were lynched. As a student of history, I heard the voice of God himself calling me to remind the world of the history that today makes us both who we are and how we are. The victims of the “demon” of lynching taught me that the racial inequalities that divide us today economically in housing, health care, education, and opportunity were not made by God. They are not natural. They are, like any idol, “the work of our hands” (Isaiah 2:8), just like the anti-Black racism that assassinated the lynched.
Letting these injustices continue is to commit idolatry, to choose “our way” instead of God’s way: “All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their property and possessions and divide them among all according to each one’s need.” (Acts 2:44-45). The hundreds of coffins in this memorial raise their voice to heaven as a cry against the sin of anti-Black racism, in which some of us continue to fall so often by idolizing the status quo.
Our pilgrimage ended in Atlanta, King’s hometown. As we toured the house of his infancy, I contemplated how he lived in conditions that were relatively better than the average African American in Atlanta during the 1930s. His house was big, it had high quality furniture, and the neighborhood was a stable one. But he did not settle. Martin and his wife, Coretta Scott King, could have had a more tranquil, middle-class life if they wanted to. But they didn’t. They took to heart those words of Frederick Douglass: “If there is no struggle, there is no progress.” From them, I learned to be faithful to the Cross and not to choose what is easy, but what is right.
We know that racism against Black people is not only still pervasive today but becoming worse. The Jesuit Social Research Institute (JSRI) reports that in states like Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas, the percentage of Black students attending “intensely segregated schools” (schools in which 90 to 100 percent of the population is non-White) has gone from 32.1% in 1988 to over 40% in 2016.3 Black men make 22.0% less in earnings relative to “the average hourly wages of White men with the same education, experience, metro status, and region or residence.”
The disparity between White and Black women is even more stark with Black women making 34.2% less than their White peers with comparable backgrounds.4 Astonishingly, some studies even indicate that “a White man with a criminal conviction has greater success finding a job than a Black man with no criminal record, with other important variables like education and experience being equal.”5
Among the proposed solutions are the implementation of policies that make the intentional integration of schools a priority, enforcement of existing labor discrimination laws, investigations by state and media to denounce wage and hour violations, and creating equal access to quality public education for children of minority groups. But none of these will magically appear. These and all other solutions will come only if we make them happen. From the martyrs I learned that God has chosen to act through us in this world. Therefore, without our diligent cooperation with God’s grace, society will not improve.
Even as the coronavirus spreads through the U.S., studies are already showing that African Americans are among the worst hit by the disease. This can’t be separated from the centuries-long exclusion from quality health services that African Americans have been subjected to, not just in the South, but all around the country. In the city of Milwaukee, where only 39% of the population is Black but about half of the confirmed cases of COVID-19 were among Blacks as of April 3rd: “We declared racism as a public health issue…”
We have to take the lessons from the martyrs seriously. We need to ask the Holy Spirit to grant us the same moral urgency that they received. We especially have to take the words from the Teacher to heart: “I thirst” (John 19:28). Through whom today is he screaming these words to us? Let us not waste this quarantine. Let us love to the end and not be afraid (John 13:1). Let us row deep into prayer, study, and action.
By the grace of God, like King and the other Martyrs, may we see “the glory of the coming of the Lord” and never turn back. Like that old song says, “We shall overcome.”
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Todavía recuerdo el día en que recibí mi primera Biblia. Una noche, mi madre, una puertorriqueña Negra, reunió a mi hermano mayor y a mí en uno de los cuartos de nuestra casa en Cañaboncito. “Tengo que enseñarles algo,” dijo ella, con un tono serio y dulce en su voz. Teniendo nuestra atención, continuó, “Éste es el libro más importante en la vida,” y nos dio a cada uno un volumen de “La Biblia Latinoamericana.” Mientras ella pasaba las páginas, pausó un momento para explicarnos una de las fotos que esta Biblia Católica tenía. La foto mostraba un hombre Negro en traje que tenía una mirada esperanzadora y profunda. “Éste es Martin Luther King,” dijo ella. “Aunque él fue Bautista, lo que él hizo fue tan importante que su foto está en una Biblia Católica, como ejemplo de cómo los Cristianos tenemos que ser.” Ella nos explicó lo que él logró junto a su comunidad en el boycott a los buses de Montgomery, y nos exhortó a mi hermano y a mí a siempre respetar la Palabra de Dios. Creo que yo tenía siete años cuando esto pasó.
Un tiempo después, vi un documental con mi padre, que tiene la piel clara, acerca de las luchas y logros de la comunidad Negra Estadounidense en el Movimiento por los Derechos Civiles. Vi como la segregación fue derrotada a través del activismo social en Montgomery. Y no sólo con palabras. Vi como la liberación fue el triunfo de una comunidad oprimida organizada que luchó por sus derechos. No fue una obra de caridad por opresores egoístas. Todo esto causó una impresión en mí. Una década después, en el 2008, mientras discernía mi vocación a la vez que estudiaba en la Universidad de Puerto Rico en Río Piedras, fueron las palabras de King en su último discurso la noche antes de ser asesinado, las que me dieron paz al sentir que Dios me estaba llamando a ser sacerdote:
Tenemos días difíciles delante de nosotros. Pero eso ya no me importa…Como cualquier persona me gustaría vivir una vida larga…Pero eso ya no me preocupa. Sólo quiero hacer la voluntad de Dios. Y Él me ha permitido subir al monte. Y he mirado. Y he visto la tierra prometida. Quizá no llegue allá junto a ustedes. Pero esta noche quiero que sepan, que nosotros, como pueblo, llegaremos a la tierra prometida. Y estoy feliz esta noche. Nada me preocupa. No le temo a ningún hombre. Mis ojos han visto la gloria de la venida del Señor.1
Nunca hubiera pensado hace doce años atrás, mientras tomaba aquellos primeros pasos en mi discernimiento vocacional, que yo tendría la oportunidad de participar en una “Peregrinación de los Derechos Civiles.” Pero del primero al siete de enero de este año, eso es exactamente lo que hice. Esto me dio un chance para seguir los pasos de este hombre, cuyo ejemplo ha sido tan importante en mi seguimiento de Jesús. Junto a mis hermanos de la Liga Jesuita Antirracista (Jesuit Antiracism Sodality – JARS), recorrimos en espíritu de oración nuestra ruta por lugares históricos en Nueva Orleans, Mobile, Selma, Montgomery, Birmingham y Atlanta, donde King y muchos otros mártires del Movimiento por los Derechos Civiles dieron su sangre por la incesante causa de la justicia racial. Caminar las calles de Selma y Montgomery, tal como King y los otros mártires hicieron, ha sido una de las experiencias más místicas que he tenido.
Mientras cruzábamos el histórico puente Edmund Pettus, caminábamos por su acera, sentíamos su sólida estructura, y escuchábamos el río bajo nuestros pies, yo meditaba en silencio “¡Ellos y ellas estuvieron aquí!” Casi que podía escuchar el sonido distante de cientos de manifestantes no-violentos que se unieron a las marchas de 1965 en favor del derecho al voto de la comunidad Afroamericana, que iban desde Selma a Montgomery. “Ellas y ellos vieron esta calle, tocaron este metal, olieron este aire.” Yo podía sentir su energía, su fe, y su ansiedad al ver (y ser asediados por) la policía. En Selma, aprendí tres lecciones a través del testimonio de los mártires del Movimiento por los Derechos Civiles.
La primera lección que aprendí fue de Jimmie Lee Jackson, un veterano y diácono Bautista. Un policía estatal de Alabama le disparó en febrero de 1965. Su muerte sirvió como inspiración para las marchas. De él aprendí que ningún sacrificio que se haga por la justicia, terminará sin recompensa, y que el trabajo de construir el Reino que Dios nos llama a construir en la Tierra sólo puede realizarse con la colaboración de todos los Cristianos y Cristianas. Nosotros, Católicos y Católicas, no tenemos monopolio ni de la verdad ni de la justicia. El testimonio fiel de tantos ministros Evangélicos durante la lucha por los derechos civiles da testimonio de este hecho.
Viola Liuzzo me dio la segunda lección. Viola fue una mujer Blanca y una madre de cinco hijos. La mató un miembro del Ku Klux Klan por colaborar con la coordinación de las marchas, transportando a manifestantes de vuelta a Selma, una vez terminadas las protestas. De ella aprendí, que no tengo que ser miembro de un grupo oprimido para ejercer solidaridad con dicho grupo. El amor se demuestra más con obras que con palabras. Su testimonio de amor me enseñó que cualquier reclamo de que las personas Blancas racistas de aquella era fueron simplemente “hijas e hijos de su tiempo,” es una excusa para evadir responsabilidad personal.
Viola escogió no acomodarse con los prejuicios y leyes racistas de su comunidad Blanca. Escuchó las voces disidentes de su tiempo y no se conformó con lo que la feminista Mary Hawkesworth llama “ceguera ante la evidencia” (“evidence blindness”): negarse a investigar y conocer lo que es verdadero pero inconveniente, lo que nos hace sentir moralmente inadecuados, porque revela que es posible que pertenezcamos a un grupo que se beneficia de la explotación de otro grupo.2 Podemos hacer lo mismo que ella hizo ahora mismo. Podemos escoger no vivir en paz con los privilegios que raza, género, u orientación sexual proveen para algunos y algunas de nosotros, y oprimen a tantos otros.
La tercera lección es de Jonathan Daniels, un seminarista episcopa. Fue asesinado a tiro de escopeta por un diputado especial de condado, mientras usaba su cuerpo como escudo para proteger a la activista Afroamericana Ruby Shields. Él me enseñó que no puedo esperar a ser sacerdote para hacer lo correcto. Nada me asegura que yo tengo más que el “hoy” para imitar a Cristo. Por lo tanto, tengo que luchar por la justicia como si no tuviera mañana.
Después de nuestro tiempo en Selma, nos movimos a Montgomery donde visitamos el “National Memorial for Peace and Justice” de la “Equal Justice Initiative,” el lugar donde aprendí mi cuarta lección. Como estudiante de historia, la frase “Nosotros Recordamos,” estampada en las paredes de este monumento en honor a las hombres y mujeres Negros que fueron linchados, sonó para mí como la voz de Dios mismo, llamándome a recordarle al mundo la historia que hoy nos hace quiénes somos y cómo somos. Las víctimas del “demonio” del linchamiento me enseñan que las inequidades raciales que nos separan hoy económicamente en vivienda, seguro de salud, educación y oportunidad, no fueron creadas por Dios. No son naturales. Son, como cualquier ídolo, “la obra de nuestras manos” (Isaías 2:8), tal como el racismo anti-Negros que asesinó a los linchados.
Dejar que estas injusticias continúen es cometer idolatría, es escoger “nuestra manera” en lugar de la manera de Dios: “Todos los creyentes se mantenían unidos y ponían lo suyo en común: vendían sus propiedades y sus bienes, y distribuían el dinero entre ellos, según las necesidades de cada uno” (Hechos de los Apóstoles 2:44-45). Los cientos de féretros en este monumento levantan su voz al Cielo como lamento contra el pecado del racismo anti-Negro, en el cual algunos de nosotros, continuamos cayendo tan a menudo por idolatrar el estatus quo.
Nuestra peregrinación concluyó en Atlanta, el pueblo natal de King. Mientras paseábamos por la casa de su infancia, contemplé cómo él vivió en condiciones relativamente mejores a las del Afroamericano promedio. Su casa era grande, los muebles de buena calidad, y el vecindario era estable. Pero él no se acomodó. Martin y su esposa, Coretta Scott King, pudieron haber tenido una vida de clase media más tranquila si hubieran querido. Pero no lo hicieron. Llevaron a su corazón las palabras de Frederick Douglass: “Sin lucha no hay progreso” (“If there is no struggle, there is no progress”). De ellos aprendí a ser fiel a la Cruz y a no escoger lo que es fácil, sino lo que es correcto.
Sabemos que el racismo anti-Negro no sólo continúa regado hoy en día, sino que está empeorando. El Instituto Jesuita de Investigación Social (Jesuit Social Research Institute – JSRI) en Nueva Orleans reporta que en estados como Alabama, Florida, Luisiana, Mississippi y Texas, el porcentaje de estudiantes Negros atendiendo “escuelas intensamente segregadas” (escuelas donde la población no-Blanca representa entre el 90 y 100 porciento del estudiantado) ha pasado de 32.1% en 1988 a más del 40% en 2016.3 Los hombres Negros ganan 22.0% menos que la ganancia relativa “del promedio de salarios por hora que hombres Blancos con la misma educación, experiencia, estatus metro, y región o residencia.”
La disparidad entre mujeres Blancas y Negras es aun más evidente, con las mujeres Negras ganando 34.2% menos que sus compañeras Blancas con trasfondos similares.4 Asombrosamente, algunos estudios indican que “un hombre Blanco que haya sido condenado criminalmente en el pasado tiene más éxito consiguiendo trabajo, que un hombre Negro sin expediente criminal y con otras variables importantes, como educación y experiencia, estando al mismo nivel.”5
Entre las soluciones propuestas están la implementación de leyes que hagan de la integración intencional de las escuelas una prioridad, la aplicación de leyes laborales existentes sobre discriminación, investigaciones por los estados y por los medios de comunicación para denunciar violaciones en salarios y horarios, y crear acceso igualitario a la educación pública de niños y niñas pertenecientes a grupos minoritarios. Pero ninguna de estas medidas se realizarán por arte de magia. Éstas, y todas las demás soluciones, sólo se realizarán si nosotros nos aseguramos de que se realicen. De los mártires aprendí que Dios ha escogido actuar en el mundo a través de nosotros. Por lo tanto, sin nuestra diligente cooperación con su gracia, la sociedad no va a mejorar.
Incluso mientras se propaga el coronavirus por los Estados Unidos, estudios ya muestran que los Afroamericanos están entre los peores afectados por la enfermedad. Esto no puede ser separado de la exclusión de medios de salud adecuados a la cual los Afroamericanos han sido sometidos durante siglos, no sólo en el Sur, sino también en todo el país. En la ciudad de Milwaukee, donde sólo el 39% de la población es Negra pero casi la mitad de los casos confirmados de COVID-19 son entre la comunidad Negra, la comisionada de salud Jeannette Kowalik lo puso de esta manera: “Declaramos al racismo como un asunto de salud pública…”
Tenemos que tomar las lecciones de los mártires en serio. Tenemos que pedirle al Espíritu Santo que nos conceda la misma urgencia moral que ellos y ellas recibieron. Especialmente, tenemos que poner en nuestro corazón las palabras del Maestro: “Tengo Sed” (Juan 19:28). ¿A través de quién nos grita Jesús estas palabras hoy? No desperdiciemos esta cuarentena. Amemos hasta el extremo y no tengamos miedo (Juan 13:1). Rememos mar adentro en oración, estudio y acción.
Que por la gracia de Dios, como King y los demás mártires, veamos “la gloria de la venida del Señor” y no volvamos atrás. Como dice aquella vieja canción: “Venceremos.”
The story of the disciples on the road to Emmaus reminds us that Jesus is always willing to take time to encounter us and draw us closer to himself. Eric Immel, SJ, reflects in this week’s One-Minute Homily, based on the readings for Sunday, April 26, 2020.
I’m busy ALL THE TIME. Or, at least I say that I am…I’m Eric Immel, and this is my One-Minute Reflection. I may be too busy, but Jesus definitely isn’t – he has time for all of us.
Imagine – It’s the day of the resurrection, and rumors abound. Jesus was killed, but apparently his body is missing from the tomb and he is alive!
Two guys are making the seven-mile walk from Jerusalem to Emmaus, no doubt spreading this incredible news. And then, a mystery man shows up, who not only walks all seven miles with them, but stays for dinner! In the breaking of the bread, they realize that Jesus was with them the whole time.
We’ve only got 24 hours a day. The time we have with others is precious. I’ve sometimes wondered whether Jesus has time for me.. But, when I remember today’s gospel, I am reminded – more than anything, Jesus wants to walk with me – he gives me the gift of his time. And, if anything is possible with God, then Jesus can give me as much time as I need. All I have to do is ask.
Millions tuned in on Easter Sunday to see Andrea Bocelli’s concert from Milano’s Duomo. Italy’s famous singer belted out familiar tunes such as “Amazing Grace” and “Panis Angelicus” to an audience spanning the globe. Beautiful as the performance was, the first anniversary of Notre Dame burning, my memories of the Duomo, our present circumstances under quarantine, and hopes for the future drew my focus to the cathedral itself.
Cathedrals are works of art, made by human hands. Cultural critic Walter Benjamin described art as having an aura, a term reminding us that art does not exist in abstraction. It always exists in a particular time and place that is impossible to replicate. Behind every painting, song, and cathedral is a story not only of its makers but those who have interacted with it from various distances and at differing times.
The Milanese Duomo tells the story of generations of artisans who labored over the cathedral for nearly six hundred years. It is a testament to the patient faith of people who knew that they would not see the fruits of their work in their lifetime. Faith became art and art then housed faith. If the stones of the Duomo could sing, we would hear a canto containing centuries of prayers amid plague and health, war and peace, and famine and abundance. Echoes from the stony vault of time reverberate sonorously into our present day. I hear the cries of separated lovers and worried parents, the sick begging for health, the unemployed asking for work, and the anxious pleading for peace.
Not just art carries a history. As individuals and communities we encounter art at different times and places in our earthly journey. The Duomo became a marker in my own life of faith, and as I watched the concert, I returned in my mind’s eye to the Easter Vigil that I spent there six years ago.
I had arrived in Milan the day before and didn’t know a soul. On the way to the Duomo, I felt terribly lonely and was second-guessing my decision to take a few days to travel alone in northern Italy before meeting up fellow pilgrims in Rome. I carried the grief stemming from the untimely passing of a friend two weeks before. Vocational questions abounded as her death prompted me to consider my own finitude. Where was God in all of this?
Yet, when I walked through the portal of the Duomo, I felt a sudden reorientation in my deliberations and anxieties as my senses became filled. Tall pillars ascending to heaven and the crypt tombs of saints descending to muddy earth. An octagonal baptistery of living water. Marian murmurings in a foreign tongue but a familiar rhythm. A weighty presence filled me, and I suddenly saw my life as a thread in the tapestry of humanity that hung from the spire to the foundation of this church. Faces unseen and voices unheard made their presence felt. Feeling connected, I interiorly knew that I had a place and home, drawn into this strange communion of the living and the dead. My interminable solitude was a mere illusion—a revelation of sheer gift.
Now, the Duomo again means something different. My memories of a crowd crammed together in silence, pregnant with paschal expectation, and the faces of joyful catechumens contrasted with Bocelli and his accompanist, serenading a cavern of grey emptiness. In the six years separating my last trip to the Duomo, my faith and understanding of myself have changed. New commitments, new joys, new heartbreaks. And yet, one temptation remains. To think of myself as alone as I was on a Saturday six years ago stumbling through a Milanese piazza. If I forgot everything that happened, everything that I experienced at that moment in the Duomo, wouldn’t that be the ultimate betrayal of both God and myself?
I don’t think I’m alone in this temptation to forget the places and people who shape our narratives. COVID-19 measures have perhaps triggered the worst of some of our fears. Space becomes distances measured in six-feet increments and time bracketed with befores and afters. We can barely articulate the questions emerging from the depths of our hearts. Are we abandoned? Does anyone genuinely care for us?
Perhaps the key to answering these questions involves a return to the memories of graced moments. A gesture like Bocelli’s helps me to remember. I see a different reality when I see a man with limitations sharing what he has with the world. I feel myself in communion with others. I long for an encounter with the Other who makes its face known to me in others. I remember that I have a past and I feel called to find renewal once again in the event that anticipated and launched the solemn enterprises of cathedral-building and hymn-singing. It’s the event of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. The Other came to me with a human face and told me that I mattered, no longer forsaken.
Isn’t this the ultimate pop culture message? The One who informed the imagination and hearts of the artists of centuries-long gone is still with us today in the companionship that we offer each other. Desperate as things may seem, we can all find ways of being generous with others and receive their gifts. In doing so, we weave new tapestries of belonging and generate the creativity to live through this crisis. May the day come soon when we can once again greet the familiar with fuller hearts and eyes dazzled at the brightness of a communion that we never dreamed possible.
Photo by Alex Vasey
Is it really the Easter season? With the coronavirus pandemic gripping the world, it can feel a lot like we’re still stuck in Lent.
While we continue to face dangers and uncertainty, TJP also wants to offer a reminder that the signs of Easter are around us. For the rest of the Easter season, which runs until Pentecost on May 31st, we’re going to publish an article every Thursday sharing some “Signs of Easter” that point to life, hope, and positivity in our world today.
This week, I would like to offer you a story and a few joyful videos that are signs of Easter for me.
*****Going for a Walk
My typical life involves plenty of walking. I’m a grad student at Boston College, and I live less than a mile from where I take classes, so that’s a well-worn path in my life. I usually walk with purpose. There is a destination in mind and a fixed time that I need to arrive by. (Maybe that’s the German in me?)
Now I don’t have to walk anywhere. All my classes are online. But gosh that takes its toll – lots of time spent sitting in a chair staring at a screen. Zoom classes, reading PDFs, posting on discussion boards, and writing papers. What should I do to relax? Watch Netflix? FaceTime friends? You mean: stare at the screen more?
I do those things in moderation. And they are healthy. But another pleasant joy, an Easter discovery, has been the pleasure of going for a walk. It’s good for the body, but even more importantly, it’s good for the soul.
Of course, I take precautions like wearing a mask and maintaining distances. But I walk without a destination in mind, without a plan or agenda. I just “go for a walk.” It’s just its own thing. It doesn’t need to be anything more.
Even on my busiest days or the times when I’m most anxious, I force myself out of my chair and out of my house. Because that’s when I need it the most. To unplug, breathe deep, and collect myself.
A couple of days after Easter Sunday, I took a long walk. Just up the hill from my house is the local cemetery. I started up the hill and followed the sidewalk alongside it. I peered out over the tombstones, and then let my gaze slowly drift to the opposite side of the empty street. The embankment on the other side was bursting with color: purples, oranges, pinks, and yellows. The springtime flowers were in full bloom.
Reminders of death across from signs of new life.
My walk continued. A stiff early-spring wind blew into me, so I zipped up my jacket. As I turned onto BC’s campus, the bright afternoon sun shone out. I stopped and raised my face towards it, soaking in its warmth.
I reached a green space where a family of four had gathered. I paused to watch. Two young brothers, both under seven, were trying to get a kite to rise in the wind as their parents encouraged them. The kite would start to lift, then the boys would run towards it in hopeful excitement. But the string would go slack, and the kite would come crashing to the ground. Undeterred, they would try again. I smiled at their relentless enthusiasm.
After a few failed attempts, they decided to try something new. When the kite began to rise, they ran away from it. The wind began to pull the kite up as the string held tight in their hands. Higher and higher, it rose.
My eyes widened in amazement. Had I stumbled upon an Easter metaphor on my walk?
When we face a strong wind, our first instinct is to turn our back to it and run with it behind us. But if we tighten our grip, face the wind, and walk headfirst into it…only then will the kite rise.
To accompany this Easter story, I would like to offer three music videos of Easter joy:1.) Andrea Bocelli: Music for Hope– Live from the Duomo in Milan
If you haven’t listened to this yet, stop what you are doing and listen. This remarkable Italian tenor makes two appearances on my list. This video was recorded on Easter Sunday in the empty Duomo Cathedral in Milan. Both the visuals and the voice are simply stunning.2.) “The Prayer”– Celine Dion, Andrea Bocelli, Lady Gaga, Lang Lang, and John Legend
Bocelli and Celine Dion were nominated for an Oscar in 1999 for their duet “The Prayer” for the animated film Quest for Camelot. In this version, they are joined (virtually) by the Chinese pianist Lang Lang, along with pop singers Lady Gaga and John Legend. This is one performance out of many from the Global Citizen event “One World: Together At Home,” arranged to help raise funds to combat coronavirus. Peruse the full selection of videos here.3.) “Hallelujah Chorus” from College Church in Wheaton
This evangelical church in the Chicago area got its parishioners involved (from a distance) in creating a delightful video of the “Hallelujah Chorus” from Handel’s Messiah. It’s just plain fun. Smile and enjoy!
Stay tuned next week for more “Signs of Easter” from The Jesuit Post.
“When young and old alike are open to the Holy Spirit, they make a wonderful combination. The old dream dreams, and the young see visions” (Christus Vivit, 192)
In the midst of these beautiful spring days, I find myself dreaming. My mind wanders off to bearded irises. As much as I try to focus on virtual classes, community chores, or the day’s Gospel, I get lost in an understory of flowering dogwoods in the speckled shadows of pin oaks. I imagine a garden where shasta daisies dance and shine in the sun, where cardinals sing and squirrels play, where the monarch butterflies have returned after years of a mysterious absence.
I dream of a peaceful place, a canvas of crisp brown leaves dotted with pink azaleas and the rustling of robins excavating for earthworms. This dream, however, is not my own. It belongs to my grandma; she gave it to me.
“All of us, even before our birth,” writes Pope Francis, “received as a blessing from our grandparents a dream filled with love and hope, the dream for a better life.”
This dream was handed to me by my grandma in a bag of gnarled iris rhizomes, like a knot of arthritic fingers adorned with sharp green fins. On that summer day many years ago, Grandma planted within me a dream of a human family that rejoices in letting God take the lead.
That day, Grandma and I worked together to dig out the grass from a forgotten patch next to my garage. When the earth was exposed, we laid the irises in their new bed, covering each one gently with a blanket of topsoil.
In the years that followed, so many visits to Grandma’s included a hunt through her garden for plants that were waiting to be shared. We would wield the trusty “sharp shooter,” a narrow shovel perfect for the precise maneuvering needed to parcel out tuberous clumps of hostas or unearth the deepest taproots. Stopping along the way, Grandma would teach me the plants’ names, from the obvious and apt to the puzzling and peculiar. Without fail, I would come home with bags of bulbs or a trunkload of shrubs. As my garden grew, her dream took deeper root in my soul.
Grandma has always reminded me, and more so as old age has limited her ability to do the digging and planting herself, that God is the real gardener. God shelters the plants from winter frost and coaxes them into bloom each spring. There is no sprinkler in Grandma’s garden; God waters the plants with rain. When people compliment the dazzling array of flowers—the purples, yellows, and reds—that burst forth in her yard this time of year, Grandma uses the opportunity to praise the Creator.
From the way my grandma tends her plants, I learned that Creation is not something to dominate. Gardening is not about the perfectly manicured and poison-soaked lawn of the American Dream; in fact, you will find very little grass in my grandparents’ yard. If grass doesn’t want to grow, Grandma figures, why force it?
And fertilizer? As the leaves fall, they collect at the base of the trees, a feast for an army of decomposers. If there are too many leaves for them to eat, Grandma piles them behind Grandpa’s workshop where they, along with food scraps and coffee grounds, morph into a bounty of rich soil. Grandma composted before it was cool, and her patient trust in the slow work of God, the natural cycles of death and new life, has paid dividends.
My grandma’s dream helps me envision a human family that cares for our common home with humility, patience, trust, and love. I can imagine a world where we choose to listen to the cry of the earth because we have learned to cherish all of God’s gifts. I see a world where we trust in the work of God’s grace, and through our labor strive to let God’s glory shine. We dig a little here, plant a little there, and then step back and watch with wonder as it blooms.
When we dominate the earth, it obscures God’s ways. When we cooperate with the Creator, then beauty, harmony, and love cannot be contained. Our obsession with control can lead us to believe that somehow the final victory in the endless war on dandelions will bring us peace, or that pouring fertilizers on our lawns will obtain for us the perfect order for which we long. Just the opposite is true.
When we let God be God and abandon our need for control, we begin to see that the world, as Jesuit poet Gerard Manley Hopkins observed, “is charged with the grandeur of God.” We can feel the peace that comes with receiving and enjoying the beautiful array of gifts that God pours on us each day. Our perspective can shift from looking for control to seeing nothing but grandeur.
God, I don’t love you how you love me.
I can’t, more exactly.
Can’t seem to give a love
I love what you have given me-
Those times where you
overwhelmed my heart,
Throbbing in my chest.
Your grace like a warm breeze
Blowing through an old open window-
But to love you God,
What the hell does that even mean?
Not for what I get from you.
But for you?
You want to teach me, I know:
Slowly removing sensual comforts;
Thoughts of security and clarity;
Even feelings of consolation
So I don’t love these
More than I love you.
When these are gone
I’m left with only myself, you
And a new invitation
I think a parent knows best
What it means to love someone purely,
Not for what they get from them.
With a child to love
Who yells and screams
And never says thank you
And can’t really give you anything
Except its vulnerable existence.
Now I’m invited to parent the infant Christ
The vulnerable Christ
The truly human Christ
“like his brothers and sisters in every respect…”1
“This is the mystery of God,
Who is no benevolent almighty, lavishing gifts upon his creatures from afar, but love seeking intimacy;
Love that is vulnerable
Delivered into our hands to dispose of as we choose…
Christ crucified in weakness.”2
To love this Christ.
And some days I don’t understand
Why God can’t give me something
Like I felt before,
Which made the love so effortless.
But then one day,
Your sweet face
With infant’s eyes unburnt by the sun
Look up at me,
And all I feel is utterly flushed
At the beauty of you.
“Hold me” you say, without words.
“I depend on you.”
“I trust you.”
This is new
And now I see
What I had to lose;
You’ve won me over.
You can have everything.
“It’s all yours,
you gave it to me
And now I give it back to you.”4
Then the mystery begins to peek in
Because I am being saved.
It may seem an inopportune moment to rethink our political system as we find ourselves in the midst of a pandemic. However, the unprecedented near-halt of our society and economy has given us a rare opportunity to step back and re-examine how we structure our world and the impact we have on one another and the environment. Now that we’re back to basics, perhaps we can think more clearly and consider what alternatives exist.
The rampant speculation as to what comes next (or ought to come next) after COVID-19 is primarily geared toward outcomes: How long will it take to get the economy back to where it was? What will the 2020 presidential election look like if we vote by mail? There is also fear-mongering about newly emboldened authoritarian governments and demands for an expanded social safety net. Unsurprisingly, we shy away from a frank discussion of fundamental values, since we suspect that it will probably lead to stalemate if not leave us with less clarity than before.
But I say, no — let’s be frank. We’re in dire need of explicitly defining and acting on our values. I believe that, while respecting the dignity of all persons, we should consider giving priority to the common good over individual rights and liberties. Simply put, our surviving coronavirus and climate change depends on it.
One category-breaking scholar who also thinks this way is Adrian Vermeule, a professor at Harvard Law and extremely-online Catholic. Here I want to examine his recent proposal for prioritizing the common good, then examine some of his concrete proposals. My hope is that, even if we don’t accept Vermeule’s proposal wholesale, his articulation of the common good will give us a starting point for thinking about public policy in a more fruitful way.
Vermeule’s Take on the Common Good
Adrian Vermeule, “a star on the conservative wing of legal academia” before joining Harvard Law, converted to Catholicism less than five years ago. In spite of his short time on this side of the Tiber, he makes waves like few Catholics in the English-speaking world can.
A recently published article in The Atlantic has confirmed his reputation for ruffling feathers. In his manifesto, Vermeule proposes a re-reading of the United States Constitution according to what he calls “common-good constitutionalism.” Though his declared target is the conservative reading of the Constitution called Originalism, his position is much more ambitious than a simple critique. He advances a complete re-reading of the founding document, one that discards the emphasis on individual liberties and enthrones the common good.
His argument can be summarized as thus: liberalism, the system of law that posits that individual rights should be protected by governments over and against the will of the majority or a government that represents the majority, is deeply flawed. It claims to operate on principles of reason, yet is deeply irrational; it claims to be free of religion, yet promotes its own worldview, with its own liturgies and feasts that is in conflict with a worldview rooted in faith. (As another piece of his claims, all human conflict is theological.) Vermeule contends these contradictions should be intolerable to people of faith, but also on their own terms. Liberalism is, in short, a greater problem than it is a solution.
Therefore, he claims, we ought to return to a more substantive worldview, encapsulated in the idea of the common good. To do so, we need not start from scratch; rather, we can take advantage of the American founding document’s ambiguities. In other words, it’s not so hard to re-read the Constitution as a communitarian document rather than an individualistic charter.
Specifically, this would be a society grounded in the common good as our first priority. The common good as Vermeule sees it does not mean general wellbeing, but instead safeguarding certain goods through certain means. In his concise formulation, the goods are “peace, justice, abundance, health, and safety, by means of just authority, hierarchy, solidarity, and subsidiarity.” These are goods necessary not only for a good life, but very possibly for human existence itself.
To my ears, this is not so objectionable on its own terms. Indeed, millennials, though often disparaged as the “me” generation, might easily get behind the common good as the “we” generation. Then again, the majority of commentators find Vermeule’s ideas to be problematic.
As most would have anticipated, Vermeule’s piece elicited furor, and more furor than dialogue. Matt Ford summed it up in The New Republic: “On social media, Vermeule’s autocratic vision for American life received a negative reception, to say the least. Legal academics across the political spectrum veered between mockery and horror. Some observers called him a fascist. Others sharply criticized The Atlantic for publishing his arguments in the first place.”
Both Ford and James Chappel see Vermeule as a fringe character with dangerous proposals and dangerous connections in legal circles. Most critics from the left identify him with theocracy, and caricature his ideas as simple-minded fundamentalism dressed up in a novel, but questionable, legal philosophy.
I suspect Vermeule’s critics deploy such strong rhetoric because they see his work as further enabling a power-hungry administration. While I understand their objection to how Vermeule’s work may be used in the current political climate, I do not see that as a sufficient reason to ignore the ethical principle Vermeule wants to deploy in American life — the common good.
Of course, when most people hear “the common good,” they do not necessarily think within the same framework as Vermeule does. The ambiguity of the term leaves it open to debate, which seems to be a weakness for turning it into a criterion for laws or policies. However, Vermeule does not shy away from real proposals, which we’ll consider next.
Concrete Proposals for the Common Good
Vermeule believes the common good he has laid out — peace, justice, abundance, health, and safety — ought to be ensured for all, even if that is over and against the will of citizens. Specifically, Vermeule applies common good principles to three of the most intransigent problems of our day: coronavirus, climate change, and economic inequality.
First, consider our current circumstances. As this pandemic continues, it seems the only way out, toward a new normal, may be through widespread vaccination, presuming a vaccine can be found to prevent coronavirus. However, because individual rights reign supreme, those who believe vaccinations are a poison would, one presumes, be able to opt out. If they weren’t, it would certainly be seen as a government infringement and would be taken to court.
Under Vermeule’s conception of the common good, which includes public health, the state would not need to rely on voluntary compliance, but could overrule any appeal to individual rights by pointing to the necessity of universal vaccination for ensuring the health of all.2 Forced vaccination may sound radical, but in Vermeule’s conception, the law is not oppressive, but “parental, a wise teacher and inculcator of good habits.”
Another area where common good constitutionalism might advance the conversation is in our response to climate change. As Pope Francis has emphasized in his encyclical Laudato si’ (and as Vermeule pointed out in a previous article for Church Life Journal), individualism prioritizes personal wants over collective needs, and is predicated on a deficient view of the human person (Laudato Si’ 119). When the climate crisis comes, it will be a matter of both safety and justice: safety, because stronger hurricanes and stronger droughts will take lives, and justice, because the developing world will suffer more than those who contribute most to climate change in the first place.
The common good requires that we take drastic measures, and since the reduction of the carbon footprint of many first-world citizens will not come around by market pressures or altruism, we would need a state to coax (if not coerce) us into taking climate change seriously.
Interestingly, Vermeule is also amenable to the abolition of the billionaire class and redistribution of wealth; he claims it would be an administrative puzzle to implement, but that a principle of solidarity should be a legal instrument for reducing economic inequality. This is a clarity of commitment I admire.
Young people today are acutely aware of problems like coronavirus, climate change, and economic inequality. They stand to be disproportionately affected by these issues, not to mention others. The time is ripe for a renewal of the common good, even if it means sacrificing some of our cherished individual liberties. If liberal democracy cannot solve our collective problems, we can hardly be blamed for allowing ourselves to be romanced by a political system that might.
“Watching the liturgy on a screen just isn’t the same experience.”
I have heard many people speak this honest reflection over the past few weeks. And it’s true! Of course it’s not the same experience, and it can’t be. That’s part of what is making this extended period of sheltering-in-place so difficult. We simply can’t experience liturgy in the same way.
But that’s not entirely true. There is an underutilized form of Catholic liturgy that we can experience in the same way (or at least a similar way) throughout these days. And that’s the Liturgy of the Hours. Are you familiar with this form of prayer?
If it’s new for you, consider this an invitation to experience another form of Catholic liturgy that might help you through this time of physical distancing.
How can you learn more about this form of prayer? Here are some suggested steps:
- Give this article a read: “Catholic 101: Intro to the Liturgy of the Hours.” If you are unfamiliar with the Liturgy of the Hours altogether, it’s a perfect introduction.
- Download an app that includes the Liturgy of the Hours, like iBreviary. It’s free!
- Look up a YouTube video tutorial that walks you through the steps of praying it. Here’s a video that shows you how to pray it specifically with the iBreviary app from step 2. Isn’t that helpful??
- Give it a try!
These prayers can be prayed in common with others that you are sheltering with, like your spouse, other family members, or roommates. Or they can be prayed individually. One of the great benefits is that you can pray this anywhere, with anyone. It’s also a very participatory prayer. When praying it with others, one person takes the lead, but everyone joins in. 1 Most importantly, when we pray the Liturgy of the Hours, we join in the prayer of the whole church.
Why bother? Just take a look at what the General Instruction for the Liturgy of the Hours has to say about it:
Our sanctification is accomplished and worship is offered to God in the liturgy of the hours in such a way that an exchange or dialogue is set up between God and us, in which “God is speaking to his people … and his people are responding to him by both song and prayer.”
Those taking part in the liturgy of the hours have access to holiness of the richest kind through the life-giving word of God, which in this liturgy receives great emphasis. Thus its readings are drawn from sacred Scripture, God’s words in the psalms are sung in his presence, and the intercessions, prayers, and hymns are inspired by Scripture and steeped in its spirit.
Hence, not only when those things are read “that are written for our instruction” (Rom 15:4), but also when the Church prays or sings, faith is deepened for those who take part and their minds are lifted up to God, in order to offer him their worship as intelligent beings and to receive his grace more plentifully.
Do you need any more motivation than that??
This form of prayer could be especially helpful for families during this time when public Masses aren’t available. As the General Instruction says, “It is of great advantage for the family, the domestic sanctuary of the Church, not only to pray together to God but also to celebrate some parts of the liturgy of the hours as occasion offers, in order to enter more deeply into the life of the Church.”
So maybe before gathering with your family to watch a Mass on a screen this Sunday, you could try starting by celebrating liturgy together, in person, with no screens…using the Liturgy of the Hours. 2
The first couple of times might be haphazard, but trust me: you’ll get the hang of it. You might just find it a better form of liturgy for you than watching it on a screen.
If ever there was a time to give it a try, that time is now.
I grieve we didn’t get to gather around a giant sacred fire and walk our candles into a darkened church to the sound of the Exultet.
I grieve we didn’t get to don our flowered dresses and pastel-colored bow-ties and leave that same church singing full-throated with the choir, “The Strife is O’er” – which never fails to make my shoulders tingle as the timpani trembles beneath our joyful uproar.
I grieve there was no egg hunt with my little legion of nieces and nephews.
And I grieve not gathering in a tulip-fragranced hall with the eighty-some Jesuits with whom I live to share in our annual Easter morning brunch.
Before any of the shelter-in-place orders took effect, while Coronavirus was still a strange happening on cruise-liners “over there,” I visited two good friends who had just given birth to their firstborn child – Rosie. They had asked me to be her godfather, which made me even more excited to welcome her to the world. She was beautiful and tiny and fragile. I noticed her eyes were like two loose marbles in oval picture frames, wobbling here and there around the room, unfocused and quivering.
After a time, I thought: Well, I guess she’s just going to sit there, a lump on a blanket, doing nothing. It was a funny thought, as I am after all a proud uncle to thirteen. Unless you’re the parent, I have to say that newborns aren’t all that exciting to be around. Soon, my friend’s sweet, rambunctious pound-mutt caught my attention. She never fails to shower me with affection – dog kisses and nuzzles – which, for a celibate like me, can be the highlight of the week!
Four years ago, I provided an interactive art retreat to a group of Jesuit high school faculty. This week I came across some notes from the retreat. It read:
Consider a newborn baby.
This newborn can be awake with eyes wide open, yet its vision is by no means fully developed. In truth, they must learn to see; the process is gradual. Though bombarded with all kinds of new visual stimulation, the reality is that newborns see little more than the difference between light and dark in those first couple of days and weeks. Slowly, forms, shapes, patterns and dimensions become increasingly discernible. Before they ever reach and grab with their hands, crawl or sit, walk or talk, the newborn must, wherever they happen to be placed, explore the world around them with their eyes. And the first thing that comes into focus are those objects eight to ten inches away – about the distance between their face and that of their caregiver.
My perception of Rosie just sitting there, doing nothing could not have been further from the truth. Under the surface she was buzzing with activity. In her stillness, she was diligently, mightily, silently, learning to see.
On the last phone call with my parents, they asked: “So, what lessons are there in all of this Coronavirus, lockdown, business, you think? What is this Easter going to mean to you in light of all that’s going on?”
“I honestly don’t know,” I responded.
People have offered their interpretations: It’s a punishment from God; It’s a sign that the end days are near; The Lord works in mysterious ways.
I’ve ruled these out. But I’m still left groping for answers. Luckily, I have exemplary companions.
John wrote: “Early in the morning, on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb” (Jn 20:1). It was only after stumbling in the dark and mistaking Jesus for the gardener that Mary recognized him.
Those apostles in the upper room fared no better. In frenzied disbelief at the incredulous sight, they confuse Jesus for a ghost.
Though there in the flesh, Thomas insists doubt until he can reach out and touch his friend whose death he just witnessed.
And the disciples headed toward Emmaus, they only came to recognize their risen Lord after having walked with him the whole day.
Easter spirituality doesn’t offer sudden and final jolts of perfect realization. If the spiritual life is learning to wake up, or to see, as it were, this implies a gradual process. Confusion, anxiety, disorientation, and grief, even, are not excluded from the Easter experience.
When the cacophonous, bustling city of Wuhan was forced to shut down, they said songbirds could be heard again. I don’t know if this is true, but it’s a lovely image, isn’t it?
From my bedroom window, where I am spending more time than usual, I’ve noticed buds on the trees start to form and the tulips pushing up on the other side of the street.
T.S. Eliot believed we must continue explore, despite any silence, through whatever cold, dark, desolation, or supposed immobility:
Here and there does not matter
We must be still and still moving
Into another intensity
For a further union, a deeper communion.1
The churches are empty this Easter. Rosie’s baptism is postponed indefinitely. But our spiritual exploration and learning to see with Easter eyes continues. Out of our experiences – however hazy or amorphous – the face of the Lord will be revealed in contours and detail we might have otherwise missed. As our vision grows more acute, we will be taught to respond accordingly. It just might happen more quietly – in stillness – from wherever we happen to be placed.
Photos courtesy of the author.
Warning: This article contains spoilers
“ [Jesus] was in the wilderness with the wild beasts.”-Mark 1:13
Tiger King, Netflix’s docu-series about the life and crimes of former zoo operator Joe Exotic, has achieved mass appeal to the surprise of many. Perhaps the COVID-19 pandemic has triggered a need for distraction from the uncertainty plaguing our lives. Yet, I think that the Tiger King and our current crisis both raise an essential question: What is our humanity capable of? It’s an inquiry that can’t be raised by an isolated individual; we have to explore how we relate to each other and the rest of creation. On this strangest of Easters, we are invited especially to contemplate our human condition in the light of the risen Christ.
Tiger King describes Joe Exotic’s initial intentions as therapeutic both for himself and the animals. In his telling of the story, he adopted two abandoned tigers after a failed suicide attempt stemming from his family’s rejection of his homosexual orientation. In caring for fellow forsaken creatures, he recovered a sense of dignity.
Unfortunately, the story did not end there. Over the course of the series, we see how Joe’s passion for animals devolves into profiteering and abuse. He breeds and sells tigers, charging exorbitant fees to a complicit public eager for photos with cubs. His relationships with other human beings also become distorted under the lures of fame and wealth. To satisfy his desires for human connection, he entraps troubled young men in a drug-fueled fantasy world. Eventually, his hatred of an animal-rights activist erupts into a plan to hire someone to kill her. When the would-be assassin confesses to the police, the fantasy collapses and Joe has to face the consequences of his actions.
The fall and rise of Joe Exotic, told through his relationship with his tigers, echo the story of Adam, the first human. One version of the Genesis account tells us that God created the animals before Adam. Yet, Adam lived in such harmony with them that he gave the animals their names, seeing each being for what it truly was. After sinning against God, Adam’s relationship with all other things becomes fractured. He and Eve leave Eden clad in garments of skin. Bloodshed and distortion mark their departure from paradise.
Yet, the story does not end here. An icon displays what we know by faith. Jesus enters into our chaos and embraces Adam, Eve, and us, in our misery. Gospel details When we see Christ in the wilderness with the wild animals, Christ praying and weeping in the garden of Gethsemane and Christ being crucified in Golgotha (the burial place of Adam’s skull according to St. John Chrystostom), we see a restoration. Somewhere between the wild beasts and the angels, suspended between heaven and earth, he shows us what it is to be a full human being. He conquers death by dying and rising from the grave. When he breathes a gentle forgiving breath upon friends who abandoned him in his greatest hour of need, he provides the possibility of reconciliation.
This is a reconciliation that extends to all creation. We see glimpses of it in the lives of the saints. A motif in hagiography is that saints come to such union with Christ that even feral beasts obey them. Think of St. Francis of Assisi’s successful plea to the rapacious wolf of Gubbio to stop harassing townsfolk or of St. Seraphim of Sarov amazing visitors with his gentle treatment of a bear.
I think that our fascination with animals, wild and tame, is a hint of the desire for reconciliation with created reality. The wildness of nature can signify our own self-destructive tendencies. We know that our own union with God is incomplete and that we each have a journey of conversion to undertake. A show like Tiger King can elicit disgust and repulsion towards Joe Exotic. Yet, could it also be that we fear what is inside of ourselves? Desert father and spiritual writer, Pseudo-Macarius of Egypt, suggests that the greatest ferocity is not external, but internal:
“The heart itself is but a small vessel, yet there also are dragons and there are lions; there are poisonous beasts and all the treasures of evil. And there are rough and uneven roads; there are precipices. But there is also God, the angels, the life and the kingdom…the treasures of grace—there are all things.”
All things are indeed in our hearts. We’re all somewhere between Adam in the pits and the risen Jesus. We know the dragons of violence and selfishness and the gentle doves of generosity and service. Sometimes villains, sometimes heroes. Are we forever stuck in this ambiguity? No, the good news of Easter, the gospel of the risen Christ is that he reaches towards us in our condition. He enters into our hells and offers us his hand. St. Ignatius asks us to pray to come to a deeper understanding of this joy and to see everything in our lives, the lights and the shadows, as moving us towards God.
As we interiorize this proposal, we cannot help but realize that we are drawn into an ever-deepening communion with the rest of the created reality. We embrace all as our Saviour embraces us. We may not tame tigers, but we ask to be in right relationship with all things. We can realize that we are all here together and must be saved together.
St. Silouan the Athonite captures this notion best in his simple but challenging reminder, “my brother is my life.” While I’m not sure of the shape and hue of Joe Exotic’s redemption, I know that I am called to pray for him. I can learn greater respect for creation and humbly admit that I am just as easily tempted to let myself be deluded by egoistic fantasies.
In this Easter season, what good do you see in the light of the risen Christ? Where is His spirit of reconciliation at work?
Who wouldn’t visit their mom after being away for a while? In the Spiritual Exercises, St. Ignatius has us imagine Jesus visiting Mary, his mother, first after the resurrection. Take a moment to imagine the intense joy of this resurrection encounter. Happy Easter!
Jesus is Risen, alleluia!
I’m Fr Joe Laramie and this is my One-Minute Homily.
This Easter we celebrate the Resurrection of Christ from the dead. For St Ignatius Loyola, the Resurrected Jesus appeared first to His mother. Ignatius describes this scene in the Spiritual Exercises. Though not mentioned in the New Testament, this was a popular devotion in medieval Spain. We might imagine this encounter between the Blessed Mother and her Son.
Mary last saw her Son on Good Friday. His friends wrapped His broken Body in burial cloths and placed Him in the tomb. Mary held Him many times as a boy. She holds him a final time before His burial in the tomb. Three days later, he greets her as the sun rises on Easter.
“Mom. It’s me.”
“Son? Is that you? Is it really you!”
He brings her joy in this glorious visit on Sunday morning. She embraces Him again, weeping again, now smiling through tears of joy.
This Easter, we ask to share in the joy of the Risen Jesus.
The grace of the Fourth Week is to enter into the joy and consolation of Jesus as he savors the glory of the Resurrection. The episode reflects on the reactions of the disciples of Jesus to his death: pain and heartbreak, fear and anguish, doubt and uncertainty, and disappointment. The Resurrected Jesus takes on the role of “consoler,” and brings joy and consolation to all his disciples in the resurrection accounts. The episode concludes with the Contemplation on Divine Love. We pray for the grace of intimate knowledge of all the goods which God lovingly shares with us, that filled with gratitude, we might love and serve the Lord. This final contemplation inspires us to set off anew on our journey of faith at the conclusion of this retreat experience.
- John 20:1-29
- John 21:1-19
- Luke 24:13-35
- John 15:1-17
- Matthew 28:16-20
Points for Reflection: Enter into the joy and consolation of the Resurrection. Contemplate God’s love, and be filled with gratitude, so as to love and serve the Lord.
- What are the experiences of new life that stand out to you in your life?
- When has Jesus been a consoler for you? When has he brought you joy and consolation?
- What gifts has God given the world? What gifts has God given you? Say “thanks.”
- How can you give back to God, not just with words, but in action? How can you give back to God, who has given you everything?
Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding, and my entire will- all that I have and call my own. You have given it all to me. To you, Lord, I return it. Everything is yours; do with it what you will. Give me only your love and your grace. That is enough for me.
On this Good Friday, let us ask for the grace that the pain of the cross may be our ‘wake up call’ to the pain of the world.
I invite us to prayerfully reflect upon the images, lyrics and sounds of this music video I produced in response to this global pandemic.
What image/s is God using to speak to us today?
… The looming shadow of the cross,
The suffering caused by the virus as another drop of blood from the cross,
Coronavirus has become our world,
A quarantined altar with yellow tape,
Christ’s body on a stretcher and ventilator,
Priests celebrating masses on the digital altars of the internet,
Solemn images from the extraordinary ‘Urbi et Orbi’ blessing from Pope Francis on March 27, 2020…
All this closes with the words of Jesus to his frightened apostles: “Peace be with you” 1
Points for Prayer
- As we crown Christ the King with the painful crown of thorns, we ask ourselves what/whom do we “crown” in our own lives? This coronavirus (which in Latin means “crown”) may be an invitation for us to further reflect on our priorities. What or whom are those false idols in our life?
- At this moment, the virus has claimed over 90,000 lives. In the midst of this pandemic, what are the other social illnesses we are avoiding? For example, 8,400 children die of hunger everyday 2, 26 million refugees in the globe 3, 37 million infected with HIV 4, 785 million don’t have access to clean water. 5 What social ill are we being called to confront in our community?
- Do we recognize the suffering of others as Christ being crucified today? What can we do to help Jesus on the cross right now?
During this particularly painful Good Friday, we are called to consider the three fundamental questions St. Ignatius asked retreatants to contemplate as they imagine Christ crucified on the cross:
What have I done for Christ?
What am I doing for Christ?
What will I do for Christ? 6
In response to these questions, the Society of Jesus worldwide has compiled an official list of Jesuit initiatives for us to pray and act upon during this COVID-19 global pandemic.
The grace of the Third Week is to have sorrow and compassion for Jesus, to suffer with him because he goes to his passion for us. This episode begins by discussing the Paschal Path, which is where the Lord is leading us, and a path that all of us will have to walk in this life. It includes success, misunderstanding, suffering, death and loss, waiting in suspense, and new life. Jesus modeled this path for us, and we other examples in our lives of people who have modeled it for us too. When we recognize where we are on the Paschal Path, we recognize how we are in solidarity with Jesus. This episode ends by shifting the focus to Jesus on the cross. St. Ignatius encourages us in the Third Week to pause before the cross and spend time there, to place ourselves with Jesus on the cross.
- Suggested texts:
- Matthew 16:24-28
- Matthew 27:33-56
- Mark 15:22-41
- Luke 23:33-49
- John 19:16-37
- Or any of the full Passion accounts from the Gospels.
Paschal Path: Success – Misunderstanding/Rejection – Suffering – Death/Loss – Waiting – New Life.
Points for Reflection: Reflect on where you are on the Paschal Path and spend time with Jesus on the cross.
- Where do you find yourself on the Paschal Path right now?
- Who has modeled the Paschal Path for you?
- Use your imagination or sit in front of a crucifix. What does it look like? How does it make you feel?
In the Spiritual Exercises, St. Ignatius invites us to imagine scenes from the gospel in our prayer. In this “composition of place,” we try to see the furnishings in a room, inhale the smells wafting in a market, hear the sound of the waves crashing on the sea of Galilee and chew the doughy bread at the last supper. Being situated in 2020, we have the ability to use the cinematic masterpieces of brilliant filmmakers to aid our contemplations. Knowing that many use the time of Holy Week to reflect on Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection through film, we wanted to share some movies that have aided our own prayerful reflections on the gospel. Please share your thoughts and favorite films below.
Jason McCreery – Jesus Christ Superstar (1973)
The film adaptation of the musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, the 1973 Jesus Christ Superstar is a bit of a strange movie. The rock opera is set ostensibly in first century Palestine, but includes ‘70s-inspired costumes and military planes flying overhead. As a kid I remember some of the songs playing through my head during the reading of the Passion during Holy Week. But what keeps me coming back to the music is not (just) that it’s catchy; it is far and away my favorite interpretation of Judas Iscariot.
Judas, when read in the gospel stories, can come across as a moustache-twirling villain. He resents Jesus’s ministry – the writer of John goes out of his way to note that Judas stole money from their common purse. However, this story presents a sympathetic Judas. In the opening song, “Heaven on their Minds,” he pleads,
“I’ve been your right hand man all along / You have set them all on fire / They think they’ve found the new Messiah / And they’ll hurt you when they find they’re wrong”
We are given a very human explanation for his betrayal: Judas is scared that his friend is getting swept away by ideology. He is unable to see Jesus as anything more than the carpenter from Nazareth he had grown to admire. Judas is afraid, but only because he doesn’t want to lose someone he loves. How many times have I missed others’ goodness, because I grasped onto who they used to be?
Ryan Birjoo – Pasolini’s The Gospel According to St. Matthew (1964)
True to its name, this film directed by Pier Paolo Pasolini recounts the events of Matthew almost word for word. Pasolini’s masterpiece displays creativity through raw acting (most of the actors were rural villagers with little professional training), the eclectic soundtrack (featuring everything from Bach concertos to the African American gospel song “Sometimes I feel like a motherless child”), and the harsh but stunning vistas of the rugged southern Italian countryside.
But, I am most drawn to Pasolini’s work because of the dynamism and authenticity of Jesus. Coming from an atheistic vantage point, Pasolini’s fascination with Christ is especially curious. His Jesus is one who is entirely centered on the urgent preaching of the reign of God with an unnerving conviction. Pasolini shows the radicality and forcefulness of the beatitudes with a sequence of close-up shots in which Jesus almost shouts them over swirling wind. Jesus, operating from this paradigm, is not afraid to confront unjust authorities and earns the ire of many. His tenderness is undoubtedly reserved for the poor, sick, and downtrodden with whom he shares gazes of empathy and healing caresses.
Pasolini’s faithful rendering shows us that Jesus of Nazareth was controversial. He attracted, repelled, and intrigued. Who was this man that plucked the strings of the human heart, yielding dueling notes of admiration and violence? Pasolini’s Jesus most clearly identifies himself with those who lack. We are reminded of our own neediness in front of this question. Jesus, then and now, does not easily fit into our categories. How does Jesus surprise you today? Can you bring this sensation to prayer?
Pasolini’s The Gospel According to Saint Matthew is available for free on YouTube.
Shane Liesegang – Martin Scorcese’s The Last Temptation of Christ (1988)
The Last Temptation of Christ has a bit of a bad reputation in some circles, because of the very human side of Jesus that it’s willing to portray. Leaving aside that he and all the apostles are portrayed as white men with New York accents, it feels like a grounded, realistic portrayal of how the earthly ministry may have gone and the psychological reality of being divine and being human. When he’s about to preach for the first time, he ponders, “What if I say the wrong thing? What if I say the right thing?” It’s easy to tell which terrifies him more.
The movie is structured around temptations that actually appear in the Gospels, but takes an imaginative turn in the final sequence, the titular Last Temptation, where Jesus is presented with the prospect of living a totally normal life, of not being the Messiah. It includes family, work, joy, and sorrow. If we forget that it is explicitly a temptation sent from the devil, the more sensual aspects would be offensive, but if we’re willing to go with it, we see Jesus at his most human. To deny that humanity is one of the earliest (and most persistent) heresies, but to truly embrace it is the challenge of our faith. If Christ was fully human, then he felt the same desires and, yes, temptations as all of us. That includes not wanting to die. Last Temptation invites us to enter into that state of mind and dwell in it, bringing an even greater meaning to the sacrifice we know must come at the end.
Ian Peoples – Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ (2004)
Few movies have stirred up controversy like Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ. Some have labeled it sadistic, while others question whether the film encourages antisemitic sentiments. These controversies are serious and worth discussion, but I want to share my personal experience of the movie.
I remember seeing the film when it first came to theaters in 2004. My friend’s Baptist Church was taking a group to watch it on a school day. For some reason, my Mom let me skip out early from class to attend the film with the group. The graphic nature of Jesus’s crucifixion hit all of us hard. Everyone was silent—a somber silence— as we left the theater and got back in the church van to return home.
What was it about the film that silenced us?
The Third Week of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius helps provide an answer. In the Third Week, we are called to witness the Passion and death of Christ. During my 30 day retreat in novitiate, there was a prayer period during the Third Week in which I helped take Christ’s body off the cross. I felt the weight of his death. Dead weight. It was crushing. “You died. You died,” I kept repeating in prayer. Jesus’s death became real. I experienced it.
I think that experience was also what silenced us in that van all those years ago.
The Passion of the Christ is bloody; it is meant to depict the awful death that Christ experienced. We often want to turn our heads from such violence, in films and in real life. But walking with Christ through his Passion also gives us the strength to accompany others in their own suffering. In another prayer during that 30 day retreat, Jesus told me he was still being crucified today: in the abused, the abandoned, the elderly, people on the streets, the forgotten people of the world. From the cross, he called me to be attentive to them.
And death is not the only experience of Jesus on display in the film. It also portrays Jesus’s love for his mother, for his friends. It shows the fear he experienced in the Agony of the Garden. But ultimately, it shows the triumph of the Resurrection.
Even if you don’t watch the film, I encourage you to pray through the Passion narrative. Jesus died a violent death. We need to witness that so we can celebrate even more in Christ’s Resurrection. Then we can echo Paul’s words, “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” 1
The Passion of the Christ of the Christ is available on Youtube.
The Second Week of the Spiritual Exercises is split into two episodes. This second one focuses on how we can stay on the path to God on our journey of faith. The episode begins by outlining the discernment of spirits as a way to be attentive to the different spirits that pull us in one direction or another. Along with sharing lessons from St. Ignatius’s story, this episode offers concrete methods to help us respond to the urgings of the good spirit in our lives and resist the movements of the false spirit. Later in the episode, it shifts to friendship, beginning with our friendship with Jesus. An important component of the Second Week is praying over the life of Jesus and asking for the grace to know him more intimately, to love him more devotedly, and to follow him more completely. The technique of Ignatian Contemplation is introduced, which can help when praying with Gospel stories of Jesus. The episode also reflects on the many friends in faith who help inspire us and guide us, including friends of Jesus in the Scriptures, the Communion of Saints, and our own family and friends.
- 1 Thessalonians 5:14-22
- Psalm 34
- Luke 10:29-37
- Matthew 6:19-21
Points for Reflection: Reflect on the movements of the good spirit and the false spirit in your own life, and on friendships that help you stay on the path to God.
- How does the false spirit try to lead you astray in sneaky and subtle ways?
- Where do you most clearly see the good spirit at work in your life? How are you responding?
- How are you deepening your friendship with Jesus?
- Who are the friends in faith that inspire you and help you stay on the path to God? Reflect on friends of Jesus in the Gospels, your favorite Saints, and friends and family.
3 Methods of Discernment:
- Pros and cons list
- Imagine giving advice to a friend
- Imagine reflecting back from some time in the future
It’s because of Holy Week that we can approach the Coronavirus crisis with the hope we do. It’s because of Holy Week that we approach death the way we do. It’s because of Holy Week that Christians are anything at all. There is no doubt, and you will read this in so many tweets these days, this is “the holiest week of the year.”
There are consequences to this week, however.
“What is truth?” Pilot will ask Jesus. (John 18:38) And Jesus will answer with his life.
I’ve been thinking this week about a Jesuit brother of mine who has been sitting in jail in Brunswick, Georgia for the last two years trying to do the same: answer with his life.
In the grand scheme of things, few people know about Fr. Steve Kelly, S.J. Few will ever know about him. Little will probably change because of Fr. Steve Kelly, S.J. Maybe some hearts. Perhaps the knowledge held by certain judges and court officials about nuclear weapons and bombs and Christianity. Definitely the schedules of jury members. Other than this, I expect little else will change.
But, Fr. Steve and his friends aren’t concerned with being effective. They are concerned with being faithful, with giving witness to the truth with their lives.
Fr. Steve is in jail because he broke into Kings Bay Naval Base two years ago with six other Catholics to “nonviolently and symbolically disarm the Trident nuclear submarine base.” They were protesting the ultimate logic of nuclear weapons which they say is omnicide.
The Catholics spray-painted scripture quotes on sidewalks, hung banners on the administration building, symbolically poured their own blood on the buildings, and used hammers to damage statues of nuclear missiles. It was, of course, highly illegal to enter this base. You can read more about their actions here and more about Fr. Steve here.
I am moved by their actions. And, I’m mostly convinced by the arguments they give for their decisions. More than anything, however, I’m struck by their purity of heart. Their conviction. Their ability to stand like Jesus with such peace and propose the truth with their lives.
Steve continues to enter my prayer these days as I contemplate the consequences of this Holy Week. His life and the decisions he has made are so conformed to the consequences of this week. He has spared no convenience in trying to give his life for what he feels God has called him (and us) to do.
Fr. Steve will eventually be sentenced to time in prison and it won’t be a negligible number of years. He will serve it, he will offer it. He will minister to people inside the prison walls and he will write to many of us about the incredibly unjust carceral system. He will minister to prisoners as a fellow prisoner. He will refuse to eat meat and offer that up too. From all accounts, he will live what looks from the outside a very uncomfortable and inconvenient life for a number of years.
And I will think of him often and question, did he really need to do that? Did he need to inconvenience himself in such an awful way. Is this whole business really that practical, realistic, prudent?
And, I will recall his letters that speak not only of the carceral system or nuclear weapons or the evils of white supremacy. I will recall seeing these words alongside Steve’s assurance that he feels privileged to share in the Lord’s sufferings.
He refers to the Spiritual Exercises, the heart of Jesuit Spirituality. St. Ignatius describes this third type of humility like this:
“In order to imitate and be more actually like Christ our Lord, I want and choose poverty with Christ poor rather than riches, insults with Christ rather than honors; and to desire to be rated as worthless and a fool for Christ, who first was held as such, rather than wise or prudent in this world.”
Fr. Steve is very much a fool for Christ and indeed rated as such rather than wise or prudent. And as we go through Holy Week and I see Christ giving up his comforts, hiding his divinity, and choosing such sacrificial love that we may be free, I am left with these other questions from St. Ignatius: What have you done for Christ? What are you doing for Christ? What ought you do for Christ?