Race and Justice

Yesterday I moderated a program at Our Lady of Lourdes on Race and Justice, the inaugural program in Lourdes’ new Salt and Light Series.  We had a panel of three speakers, each of whom spoke for about ten minutes, after which we had time for dialogue and question and answer.  The three speakers were Archbishop Emeritus Harry Flynn, Nekima Levy-Pounds (my colleague at UST Law School and the newly elected President of the Minneapolis NAACP), and Tom Johnson former county attorney and former president of the Council of Crime and Justice.  It was a moving and sobering event.

One of the things that was mentioned was the pastoral letter on racisim Archbishop Flynn released in 2003, In God’s Image.  Archbishop Flynn talked about the circumstances of his issuing it and the reaction (positive and negative) he received, and Professor Levy-Pounds noted that she assignes the pastoral letter (along with Martin Luther King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail) to her students each semester.

When I went back to look at the pastoral letter again when I got home yesterday afternoon, I realized how that the words the former Archbishop used to introduce his letter are as timely and important today – perhaps more so – than they were when he wrote them in 20o3.

Here is the Preface to In God’s Image:

Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

In the Hebrew Scriptures the prophet Micah gives us a simple but very challenging formula for holiness. He writes,

“… This is what Yahweh asks of you: Only this, to act justly, to love tenderly, and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8)

This is the spirit that I hope all of you will bring to the discussion of racism and racial justice in our church and in our society. We cannot be a church that is true to the demands of the Gospel if we do not act justly, if we do not act to root out racism in the structures of our society and our church. And we cannot achieve personal holiness if we do not love tenderly, if we do not love and respect all human beings, regardless of their race, language, or ethnic heritage.

Only if we do these things can we expect to walk humbly with our God. For our God is a God of love and justice, a God who made all of us in His image. Racism is a denial of that fact. It is an offense against God. I realize that the subject of race can be a very difficult one for all of us. Yet I am convinced that we must address it with honesty and courage. For it remains a significant and sinful reality in our midst.

I am issuing this pastoral letter as an invitation to discussion and dialogue. I hope all of you will accept this invitation by taking part in discussions in your parish and community. By engaging in such a dialogue, we can all enhance our understanding of the role that race plays in our lives and we can join together in working to combat racism in all its forms.

Thank you for your commitment to the values of human dignity and racial justice.

God bless you,

Most Reverend Harry J. Flynn

You can read the pastoral letter in its entirety here, and I encourage you to do so.


What Are you Standing There Looking at the Sky?

Today is the Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord – at least in the diocese in which I currently live.  (I confess a part of me will never get used to the Sunday celebration of what I grew up knowing as “Ascension Thursday.”)

Our first Mass reading records Jesus’ last words to his disciples before he ascends – the commission to be his “witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria,and to the ends of the earth.”  After his Ascension, “while they were looking intently at the sky,” two men dressed in white garments appear to them and ask,

While they were looking intently at the sky as he was going, “Men of Galilee, why are you standing there looking at the sky?”

Why indeed!  As I’ve probably written before, when I hear those reads, what I hear is “What are you doing standing around here? You have work do to. Don’t be looking up there – he’s not going to be doing the heavy lifting from now on – he’ll come back in his own time. Right now it’s up to you.”

As I heard the words this morning, I was reminded of Danielle Rose’s song, Rejoice!, which carries that same sense of the words. Here it is:

Don’t just stand there looking up at the sky.  Go out and proclaim the Gospel to all the world!

May You Find Something Worth Living For

Today is Graduation Day at the UST School of Law.  I’ll head over to the law school this morning for the Baccalaurate Mass, after which we’ll move over to The Convention Center for the graduation ceremony.

My prayer for our graduates is not one of my imagination.  It is taken from a letter written by Ita Ford to her niece and goddaughter in 1980, a few months before Ford, along with two other women, was kidnapped, abused and murdered by the military of El Salvador. Ford wrote:

I hope you come to find that which gives life a deep meaning for you…something worth living for, maybe even worth dying for…something that energizes you, enthuses you, enables you to keep moving ahead. I can’t tell you what it might be — that’s for you to find, to choose, to love. I can just encourage you to start looking, and support you in the search.

Congratulations to the UST Law School Class of 2015!  May you live lives of deep meaning!

Protecting Widows and Orphans

This is an appeal for support for one of my students, Teri Guhl, who has a legal internship through the International Justice Mission (IJM) to work in Uganda this summer to end violence against widows and orphans.  As Teri explains,

When I came back to the U.S. [after visiting Uganda last summer], I began researching property grabbing and other international violence against women issues. This year, I have been a part of my law school’s Legal Services Immigration Clinic. I am representing a young girl who fled gang violence in Central America and is struggling to make a new life in the United States. The impunity for violent crime committed against young girls in her home country is so widespread; she is convinced she will be killed if she returns home. As I have worked on her case, I have thought many times that we need to not only assist people who come to the U.S., we need to empower local people to make communities, like hers, safer, so kids do not have to travel across the world just to survive. The impunity of violent men hurting vulnerable women must end. This year I have thought of this verse many times. “Learn to do right. Seek justice, encourage the oppressed.  Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow.” -Isaiah 1:17 I want to go to Uganda to impact systems that allow for impunity, and to learn how to empower local leaders to create safe communities.

She gives as an example of the hardship she would like to help remedy this one:

When a male head of household dies, many families face violence through property grabbing. Since most rural widows’ livelihood depends on the food they grow in their garden, this violent crime not only costs the victim’s home and possessions, but their food and income as well. Now, I have been given the opportunity to be on the IJM team in Kampala who works to end this!

Those working with IJM must raise their own funds to cover travel and other expenses.  Teri has set up a gofund me site, which you can find here, to raise some of those funds.

I have already made a contribution and I hope you will also.

As regular readers of this blog know, I never have (and never will) ask for any compensation for myself in connection with this blog.  But I have (and will continue t0) occasionally bring opportunities dear to my heart to you.  Many of you read this blog regularly, hundreds receive it in their e-mail each day.  If even a significant number of regular readers made a small contribution (really, any amount helps, no matter how small), it would make an enormous difference to Teri’s ability to make a difference in Uganda this summer.

I would be grateful if you would prayerfully consider making a donation.

If you are looking for other worthwhile donation recipients, consider supporting City House (which I wrote about here) or the work of my friend Fr. Aidan Rooney in Bolivia (which you can support here).

Being Outside

My dear friend Maria Scaperlanda captured beautifully in a blog post my the feelings that overwhelm me, particularly this time of year.  She writes

I simply can’t get enough of being outside.

Sometimes I am in awe at how much nature affects me, how deeply it blesses and renews my spirit. It’s not about just recognizing the beauty in creation—and the hand of the Creator, but about the peace and grace I find just being in it.

I know, I know. Nature can also be fierce, unpredictable, combustible, extreme.  Trust me. I know. I live in Oklahoma!

But no matter what I need, or what emotional state I’m in, or how much anxiety I’m fighting, or what feelings are bubbling from deep inside me, or how dry my prayer life seems… I look at clouds in the sky, or listen to the concert put on by the birds in my backyard, or feel the wind come sweeping down the plains and across my face—and I breathe deeper.

God is here. The Beloved is within me… and I can rest in the Beloved.

When the weather permits, I walk to and from the UST St. Paul campus to take the shuttle to the law school (which is is downtown Minneapolis), rather than have my husband drive me as he often does during inclement weather.  When I do it is my favorite time of the work day.  Especially now.  What new bud has popped open today?  What colors will I see?  What birdsong will I hear?  It is different every day and as I smile my way along the 20-25 minute walk, I breathe deeper.

Looking Up To Heaven

One of the really talented Vincentian priests it has been my fortune to come in contact with is Fr. Pat Griffin.  The famvin website posted earlier today a homily Pat recently gave.  In it he suggested some reasons we might spend time each day “looking up to heaven and anticipating the Lord’s imminent return.”

First of all, in the Liturgy, we pray for the Lord’s return. Advent and Christmas Season advance the constant refrain: “maranatha,” “come, Lord Jesus.” We want the Lord to draw near and soon. In the Our Father, we anticipate and yearn for the coming of the Lord: “thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as in heaven.” We want God to establish the divine rule and ways among us, and that is done most fully with the return of Jesus in glory. Since we pray in earnest for this reality, it seems sensible to take a peek every now and then to see if the Lord whom we seek approaches. After all, we wait in joyful hope for that moment.

Secondly, we turn our eyes, minds, and hearts heavenward when we pray. We are so trained and inclined that looking up seems the most natural way to speak to the Lord. We think of our prayers tending up as incense rises and our hands point upward. We can hardly keep our eyes from following the direction in which all our symbolism places the throne of God.

Thirdly, we look up because it reflects our dignity. Bowing low and putting our face to the ground makes sense when we are so conscious of our sinfulness. When we remember, however, how much God loves us, and how he has made us in the divine image and likeness, and how much he yearns that we be joined to him forever, we cannot but look up to seek the face of God, eagerly turned toward us. We feel moved to do so as his beloved daughters and sons.

He ended his homily by suggesting that “even now, in this Easter Season, we pray: “maranatha,” “Come, Lord Jesus.” We look to heaven for that glorious advent.”

You can read the entire homily at the link above.

I Search For God

The other day I found a prayer among my material from an old retreat I attended.  As is sometimes the case with these old handouts I discover, there was not source attached to the prayer. [Update: Thanks to the reader who commented to say that Joyce Rupp is the source of the prayer.]  The prayer seems a wonderful follow-up to my posts of the last two days, so I thought I would share it.

I search for God;
elusive, hidden God.
I long to dwell in the heart of mystery.
I search for my true self,
more of whom I already am,
Knowing there’s so much yet to be discovered.

God of passionate love,
stir up the embers of my heart.

I search for love,
the unconditional love of a God
who enfolds me and asks me to come close.
I search for vision
in the shadows of my soul
impatiently waiting for the moment of light.

God of passionate love,
stir up the embers of my heart.

I search for a quiet heart
amid life’s busyness and distractions.
My soul cries out yearning to rest in you.
I search for compassion
in a world that has grown deaf
to the cries of the hurting and the pleas of the powerless.

God of passionate love,
stir up the embers of my heart.

I search for you in the events of my life,
always discovering that you are already there.
You search for me.
You believe in me.
You love me unconditionally.
You wait for me and welcome me.
Let me truly hear your invitation to come.

God of passionate love,
stir up the embers of my heart.

P.S.  If anyone has a source for it, I’d be grateful if you would share that with me.

Justice and Growing in Love

Yesterday I posted a piece suggesting that charity alone is not enough; we must be concerned with breaking down the unjust structures that lead to suffering.

This morning the Inward/Outward post that appeared in my e-mail, written by K. Killian Noe, was a good follow-up to that post.  Noe writes

If we truly are growing in love with our neighbors who are suffering at the hands of unjust systems—if that love is deep enough and authentic enough—then finding ourselves opposing those unjust systems will follow as naturally as the morning follows the night…. I don’t think we go out looking for oppressive systems to confront, like Don Quixote went out looking for windmills to attack. Our doing must flow naturally out of our being. Our doing for justice must flow naturally out of our being in love with those for whom there is no justice.

That reflection was a perfect accompanying reflection for today’s Gospel reading from John: Jesus’ instruction to his disciples to “love one another a I love you.  No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

Love God.  Love One Another.  Everything else flows from that.

Sorry for the late posting; I’m in Cambridge where I’m speaking at a conference at Harvard Law School, and we started at 8:00 this morning and I just got back to my room a little while ago. You can see the several blog posts I wrote today on Mirror of Justice about the conference here.

Charity Alone is Not Enough

The title of this post is not a new revelation to me, and perhaps not to you; it is something I have known for as long as I’ve thought abut the issue.  But I had a graphic illustration of it this afternoon.

I flew into Boston earlier today, as I will be speaking at a conference at Harvard Law School that begins later today.  After settling into my hotel room in Cambridge, I spent some time wandering around the area, since I haven’t been here in quite some time.

On just about every street I walked down, I saw someone begging for money, several people on some of the streets.  I don’t know what their stories were; some had posters saying things like “homeless and hungry,” “need a job,” or “nothing going right.”  The disability of others was obvious (e.g. a one-legged man in a wheelchair, another obviously ill person).  But they all looked tired, worn, sad.

And I knew I could empty my wallet totally, giving each some money or some food and I wouldn’t make a dent.  I won’t say I wouldn’t have made any difference – someone would be less hungry, and would have at least the benefit of a smile and a kind word.  So I’m not saying charity doesn’t matter (although we can argue about whether giving a handout to people in the street is the good way to effectuate that charity).  But it is clear charity is not enough.  There are systemic issues that need to be dealt with, and we are doing a miserably bad of job of dealing with them.

What are we going to do about it?  The answer is not laws forbidding people from feeding people on the street, as some jurisdictions have done.  And it is not to run sprinklers on places the homeless sleep.  And it is not any of the other laws that have been enacted recently targetting the homeless.  But it is surely more than simple charity.

What are we going to do about it?

The Vine and the Branches

In today’s first Mass reading from Act, Paul and Barnabus arrive back in Jerusalem and report to the Apostles and the presbyters “what God had done with them.”  Not what they had done, but what God had done through them.

That first reading from Acts (and I’ve written before about how much I love hearing from Acts every year during the Easter season) is coupled with the passage in John’s Gospel where Jesus tells his disciples that he is the true vine and we are the branches.  And, he warns them, “Just as a branch cannot bear fruit on its own unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in me…Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing.”

For me, this is at one and the same time humbling and empowering, and it is both of those for the same reason.  What we do we do, not through our own power, but through the Spirit of God that flows through us.  Without Jesus, we can do nothing; the branch without the vine will never bear fruit.  So it is humbling.  But at the same time, it is empowering because it reminds us that with Jesus, there is no limit.  “Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit.”

Both readings also remind us that what we do we do for the glory of God, not for ourselves.  In the words of Psalm 115, “Not to us, O Lord, but to your name give the glory.”  We need to be mindful of that we are about God’s work and God’s glory, not our own.  Once in a while, even the most well-intentioned among us loses sight of that.  We are capable of of forgetting it is not about us, but about God.  

Jesus also tells his disciples in this reading that the vine grower – the Father – prunes the branches that bear fruit so that they bear more fruit.  We might profitably reflect on the question: Where do I need some pruning?  What in me needs to be pruned so that I can bear more fruit for God?