All posts by Jane

Homily – Fr. Michael Casagram – July 4, 2020

(Am: 9:11-15; Mt 9:14-17)

“You put new wine in fresh skins, then both are preserved” Jesus tell us in our gospel  this 4th of July weekend. And in our first reading from the prophet Amos we heard how Yahweh shall plant his people “in their own country and they shall never again be rooted up from the land which I have given them.” Though taken from ordinary time, these readings are entirely fitting for today’s holiday. If we are true to what the original authors of the Declaration of Independence tell us, we will indeed be new wine in fresh skins and will never to be rooted up from the land which has been given us.

The pandemic our country and the whole world is experiencing and the way we are having to face the reality of racism in this country and elsewhere, are clear reminders of the wisdom of the founders of this land. They told us of the self-evident truth that all human beings are created equal, are endowed by their Creator with inalienable rights. More than ever the demands of our time are calling us to truly live as brothers and sisters created equal and made in the very image and likeness of God. It is simply a matter of seeing every living person as a member of Christ’s Body. It is this Body we are about to receive at this Altar, under the appearance of bread made of ground grain and wine made from many grapes. If we feel pressed or ground at times, let us not be surprised how we too are drawn into Christ’s redeeming love.

Homily for 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Sisters of Loretto)

HOMILY FOR FOURTEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

July 5, 2020

“The Spirit of God dwells in you!” Powerful words, Transforming words. “The Spirit of God dwells in each of us.” What do those words mean to you? Are they just words or do they really help to see life differently?

Years ago, S. Maureen McCormack and I lived in Houston together and on Saturday mornings would go downtown to Sacred Heart Church to help prepare children with learning difficulties for their First Communion. One of my students, Beth, was about nine years old. For weeks we started every session with pictures of animals and asking the question “What is this” She would name the animal and I would ask “Who made this animal?” and she would respond “God.” After a few minutes of that exercise she would be likely to run off to something else that interested her. That was about as far as we ever got so progress was pretty much nonexistent in my estimation. We never even got to the point of talking about Jesus.

I was very wrong. I obviously wasn’t the one in charge of her education. The Spirit of God was at work in Beth. One day at home she was looking at a catechism book that had a picture of a chalice with a host above it. Her mother noticed her and asked: “What is that?” Beth answered simply “Jesus.” That was it. That was all she needed to know.

On the day of her First Communion, Beth was kneeling in the center of the altar rail looking down the line and watching as the priest gave each child Communion. When he got to her, she looked up and said: “Is it my turn?” After receiving the host, she turned from the altar rail with hands pressed together and a huge smile on her face. I had nothing to do with that child’s experience on that day, but I have never forgotten her simple, trusting, loving faith.  “Let the children come to me and do not prevent them; for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.”

The Spirit of God dwells in you. What does that mean to each of us? I think about the people of color struggling for justice. Do they know that the Spirit of God dwells in them? Knowing it doesn’t eliminate the struggle but somehow strengthens the ability to keep going, to have hope, to know that they are not alone.

Think about the refugees and immigrants fleeing from torture, enslavement, rape, murder, starvation or war. Think of those arriving at the border of our country have hoped they would be protected and accepted. When they are turned away or locked up in a detention center, do they know that the Spirit of God dwells in them? Can they possibly imagine God’s love as they endure the suffering their situation puts on them? I suspect many of them are aware that God is with them on their journey and that may be the only thing that inspires them to keep moving, to keep trying, but what about the others who don’t know? Does our prayer help them? Does our silent walking with them give them hope?

Do the people suffering from CoVid 19, dying from CoVid 19, know that the Spirit of God dwells in them: Do the nurses, doctors, ambulance drivers, EMS workers , and family members know that they are not alone, that God is with them? Is that what gives them the strength to continue?

Perhaps the people most in need of our prayers are those who do nothing to prevent the spread of CoVid 19. The people who focus on themselves and their personal wishes, comfort and needs to the detriment of those around them are part of the problem. They just don’t seem to understand the seriousness of the situation.

Lest you think the Spirit of God is resting in these difficult times, look at the thousands of people who are so generous with time and help – who look after their neighbors, who work in food banks, who give generously to those in need, who help others in ways small and big. There are children with their little lemonade stands helping raise money for food banks. There are strangers driving by nursing homes just to greet the residents by waving and blowing their horns. There are choirs gathering in the streets or virtually to entertain people who are isolated with song and there are strangers delivering food to those have no transportation. The list goes on and on all over the world.

In the notes from her talks to the Motherhouse Community last week, S. Lynn Levo, CSJ, spoke of hope as “the refusal to accept or confirm the closed world of despair.” I can’t think of another time in my lifetime when there has been a greater need for hope and an awareness that the Spirit of God is always with us, helps to fuel hope. As we mature and perhaps grow a little more cynical, it may be difficult to maintain that simple faith and trust in God that Beth had. We may even think of it as inappropriate in an adult. It is easy to be discouraged by the political scene, the defilement of Mother Earth, systemic racism and the pandemic that have all come together in our times. But in today’s gospel Jesus says: “Come to me all you who labor and are burdened and I will give you rest.” In other words, stop and listen to the Spirit of God at work in you. Simple faith, quiet trust, gentle love will give us and others hope in a troubled world. Rejoice! The Spirit of God dwells in you.

Homily – Fr. Carlos Rodriquez – The Solemnity of St John the Baptist – 6/24/20

When John was born and named by his father, the people said at the time of his birth that he was a child touched by the finger of God.”  This happens when events in a person’s life cannot be explained or be understood by the human mind:  his mother was very old, his father became dumb after being visited by an angel, spoke again when he uttered the name of his son as John when no one in the family line is called by that name.  In the eyes of people such a person is touched by God and they wondered with awe and fear and perhaps even sorry for the child and his parents.  God was at work with the child.   He was destined to be a prophet, but as everyone also knew that to be a prophet would be a life of hardship: refusal by the people to listen, hatred for their negative sayings, and finally being killed by the people and authorities.  Jesus himself confirmed this.  The authorities have their own prophets who tell them only favorable things, things they would like to hear.  If John were with us today he would cause havoc.  He is a man of truth and tells it as it is.  Many could not afford to tell the truth and  very few have clear motivations.  Many show an entirely other persona outside of themselves  and  hide the one which they do not like or are not in control of.  Human beings live with so much cover ups.

The greatness of John is his humility and in understanding his role in relation to the Messiah.  He knew his duty was to introduce the Messiah.  This was His joy.  He is not to attract people to Himself but that he should lead them to the Messiah.  This ought to teach a lesson to those who aspire for a special charisma or gifts from heaven but in truth are only seeking approval and admiration.  Prophets have lots of doubt too and at times they complain of their calling.  Humility means to serve God and to serve others.  We serve God by leading others to God.  Unlike the disciples of Jesus at the beginning who wanted to sit on His right and left at His kingdom.  This is not the true Christian spirit.  We lead one another to Christ.  Formation is leading the newcomers to Christ first and foremost.  Our christian  life can only make sense if we have been led to Christ.  If not, our life is merely filled up with rituals, which our culture has enough already.   When God calls He leads the person to places where they do not want go, to think what they do not want to think, to trust another when they want to trust themselves.   John did all for the sake of the Messiah.  His joy is to see the Messiah increase and he decrease.

So this means that some one who is touched by the hand of God has a mission from God which at times is not very clear to the one touched.   As a matter of fact, it may well be that he does not know it at all.  Often times we readily apply to ourselves some christian traits by virtue of our baptism or our vocation..like we are all prophets, we are all priests, we are all healers, etc. by virtue of our baptism.  This is not the biblical sense.  In Scriptures people touched by God are instruments in the divine plan of salvation of many.  They take part in carrying out God’s  plan for all humankind.  Are there still people in our times touched by the hand of God.  Certainly!  Our God is the God of Moses, Isaac and Jacob.  He is God of the present.  Prophets are the people who speak out for the values of the gospel which our times have forgotten or refuse to heed.  One does not have to be a Christian or a Catholic for that matter to be touched by God.     Mahatma Ghandi, St. Francis of Assisi, Martin Luther King, and in our own time, George Floyd etc.  Incidentally, why is it that the death of an unknown man like Floyd could waken the consciences of peoples around the world to the injustice caused by racism.  We can combine all the beautiful treatises against racism, theologies exposing its sinfulness, articles in magazines and journals, the great preachers (I don’t know of any Catholic preacher who is world renown for his struggle against racism) and yet all these combined could not raise the level of awareness to the injustice of racism as did the death of George Floyd, previously a nobody before his death.  It is simply because the finger of God has touched him..These are people who are instruments to awaken the conscience of the world who have become complacent in the status quo.  They made an impact on society and the world –  preaching justice, liberation, detachment from material things, to share wealth,  equality and dignity of all because all are  children of God.  It really would make this reality of being touched by the finger of God cheap if we easily appropriate this calling to ourselves by virtue of being baptized.  On the contrary, we are beneficiaries of these people touched by God.  We are graced.  We need them.  They save us from our complacency.  They have  a mission from God to touch many millions to be aware once more of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  To save all from the imprisonment of sin which is the cause of inequality, injustice, racism, bigotry.  And these are deeply rooted in the hearts of men.  So before we claim greatness because of our baptism, we better rethink what it really means to be baptized.  It has to cost us.  There is no earthly comfort in it.  It brings one to live in the desert.  People avoid such a person.   And to such a person like John and our own present day people touched by God have only God to affirm them.

Homily – Fr. Anton – Feast of the Sacred Heart – June 19, 2020

The Gospel: Matt  11:25-30
At that time Jesus exclaimed:
“I give praise to you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth,
for although you have hidden these things
from the wise and the learned
you have revealed them to little ones.
Yes, Father, such has been your gracious will.
All things have been handed over to me by my Father.
No one knows the Son except the Father,
and no one knows the Father except the Son
and anyone to whom the Son wishes to reveal him.
“Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened,
and I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you and learn from me,
for I am meek and humble of heart;
and you will find rest for yourselves.
For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.”
After the Gospel:
“The Lord set his heart on you, and chose you,”  Moses told the people in the first reading. 
God took the initiative,  reached  out, in the beginning of a love story which continues in  one of our most widely-practiced Catholic devotions, The Sacred Heart of Jesus.
How many of our churches … our homes … have a statue or picture of Jesus, his wounded hands pointing at his wounded  heart – aflame with love for you!  
It began as the Crusaders returned from the Holy Land,  giving rise to the Stations of the Cross, and devotions in honor of the Five Wounds of Jesus.
Saint Bernard famously preached that the piercing of Christ’s side revealed his mercy and the love of his heart for us, which  echoed in his Commentary on the Song of Songs.
St Francis of Assisi asked: “Who is there who would not love this wounded heart?
    Who would not love in return   Him, who loves us so much?”
St Lutgarde, a Cistercian mystic of Belgium, experienced a vision of the pierced Heart of the Savior.
St Mechtilde and St Gertrude the Great  recorded visions, where Jesus bid:  love Him, and  honor his Sacred Heart in the Blessed Sacrament.
They all laid the foundation for the first feast of the Sacred Heart, celebrated in the Seminary of Rennes, France,  August 1670.
   A feast of the boundless, long-suffering love of the heart of Christ for all humanity.
Tragically, however,  where there’s Love,   there’s often Love Unreturned.
Think of all the novels and films  driven by plots of unrequited love,    love given out but never returned,   stories of people longing to be loved back, but it may never come:
one-sided romances, where one person lives in a hope that love will be reciprocated,     but it’ll never come true,  
or marriages that grow cold and distant,
or families where unloving parents or rebellious children turn against each other,
all of them so painful    because  so much love has been heavily invested in a particular person,  who either  cannot or will not return that love.
Just as it is in real life:  No one has the power to make another love them.
Which is also the flip side of the Feast of the Sacred Heart.
“Who  wouldn’t love in return, this wounded heart who loves us so much?” St Francis asked.
That’s the risk.  Christ knowingly took it.
A risk, because the almighty King of the Universe has no power to make us love Him in return.
                                       
Someone asked Jesus, as he passed through a village on his  way to Jerusalem:
“Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?”
Just the thought probably broke his heart,  His merciful heart which longed that everyone take advantage  of the gifts  of his love and  mercy.
He was pained that such gifts might not be willingly accepted.
Instead of  answering directly,  He said:
“Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many will try to enter and will not be able to.”
                                       
You wonder how many of Jesus’  prayers were  made with a quivering voice or through teary eyes as he realized that all his redemptive work …
becoming human … his Passion and suffering … dying on the cross  …could be in vain.
In the Temple,  Jesus once lamented:
“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones God’s messengers!
How often I have wanted to gather your children together as a hen protects her chicks beneath her wings, but you wouldn’t let me.”
Closer to His Last Supper, Jesus  actually wept over Jerusalem, wept over their defiant ignorance:
“If only you had known the things that make for your peace!
The day will come when your enemies will surround you,
hem you in on every side, tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you,
not leaving  one stone upon another, because you did not know the time of your visitation.”
                           
Whether God is offering love,  or humans are offering love,
it is  not always  received …   Love  can never be forced!
Yet Jesus never gave up on saving anyone.
On the Cross,  as  the Romans were putting him to death,
as His own people were mocking Him… 
      his heart was moved with a pity that  comes from genuine love,
he prayed for their forgiveness.
When others would have cried out for vengeance,  Jesus cried out for mercy.
That’s the glory of God …  his  unending love and his unfailing mercy.
Mercy means giving someone better than they deserve – 
    Isn’t  that how God has dealt with us all along:
          He’s always  given  us better   than  we deserve.
St. Paul said: The wages of sin is death,  that’s what we’ve earned,
but God’s mercy means
He’s offered us a second chance, new beginnings,
He’s  more than fair with us.
Francis Thompson, the poet, rightly described  God as The Hound of Heaven, always pursuing us,  never giving up.            
He’s also  the God who goes in front of us,
sometimes turning  around to see if we’re following,
if we’re holding up our side of the bargain.
Of all Feasts, today should be the day we specially return His love.

Bernardo Olivera, CNS Rome 2019: Fidelity – Perseverance

FIDELITY – PERSEVERANCE

In Monastic Life

(Guidelines for reflection)

(Bernardo Olivera, CNS Rome 2019)

 

– A Divine Attribute

If we are faithless, he remains faithful – for he cannot deny himself” (2 Tim 2:13)

– He has chosen us before we ever chose Him.

– Meaning of the Words

– Faithfulness or fidelity: love that perseveres through time, as though time were eternal.

– Amen. Amen. Amen!

– Question and Answer

– Why do some faithful persons persevere and others do not?  A mystery!

– Fidelity is not easy. We need to accept God’s gift, but correspond to the grace we

receive.

– The Difference between Monks and Nuns

– In many countries and throughout the ages, the “instability” of men seems to be one of the cultural reasons for their lack of perseverance when facing difficulties.

– Nuns seem to be more faithful and persevering than monks.

– Causes of the Problem

– The absolute and definitive nature of the monastic vocation requires a personal transformation.

– Monastic conversatio, when it is lived well, is the way to this transformation.

– When primacy of place is given to “umbilical” fascination (egoism), fidelity is impossible!

– Present-day western culture thinks that it is “natural” to change our opinion and commitments.

– Factors that Help

A sense of belonging: feeling oneself identified with monastic life in our particular tradition.

– It is a process of giving oneself to a community that lives a charism and knows how to

accept it.

Creativity: the faithful person does not just “stick it out,” but “re-creates” himself.

– It is important to be flexible and to adapt, to bend without breaking oneself.

Motivation: which means wanting to catch fire and being oriented accordingly.

– Superiors should continually nourish and channel such motivation.

Clarity concerning the end in view, namely the hope and experience of happiness.

– Cenobitic happiness is achieved by giving oneself to the community, to each person and

to the Lord.

Above all: communal and personal relationship with Jesus Christ by a life of prayer.

– To be faithful one has to have faith and always return to one’s first and most

meaningful love

– I believe and trust Him who called me. That is why I stay here with Him.

Other important factors:

  • The example of persevering old-timers.
  • A solid monastic formation during the first years.
  • Learning the art of discernment, so as to choose willingly and wisely.
  • Personal self-appropriation of the Cistercian charism.
  • Spiritual accompaniment for a long period of time.
  • A communal core of persevering vocations.
  • A clear and strong community spirit:
  • The abbot’s teaching on the Gospel, the Rule and the Constitutions.
  • Reciprocal and welcoming love between younger members and older ones.
  • Generational groups and mutual support.
  • Study groups.

Limits

– Since fidelity is a mystery, to be faithful can require, in certain exceptional cases, a change of the road one is following, so as to keep following.

– Sometimes the cause of infidelity or lack of perseverance is, for different reasons, in the community. There can be an incapacity to welcome others, a lack of motivation, a “liquid” monastic life, little ability to discern or to accompany a process of discernment, a twisted view of human nature, superiors who lack flexibility or who are unable to promote and accept originalities and differences….

 

Bernardo – October, 2019

 

Homily, Fr. Seamus -The Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ – Corpus Christi (A) June 14, 2020

READINGS: Dt 8:2-3, 14b-16a + Ps147:12-15, 19-20 + 1 Cor 10:16-17 + Jn 6:51-5

  We are the Church of Unity “One Bread, one Body.” (1 Cor. 10:17)

SYNOPSIS OF READINGS:

“The cup we share, is it not the blood of Christ?

And the bread we break, is it not his Body?

Just as God fed the Israelites with manna from heaven,

so too do we feed on the best of wheat,

the bread of angels, food for our pilgrim journey.” (Ordo)

 

Moses instructed his people to remember how their God worked great wonders for them, brought them together, led them through the desert, fed them with bread from heaven, freed them from slavery, and guided them through vast and dangerous lands.

So it is that we who call ourselves a “new Israel” might recall the great wonders God has worked for us. Look at our community: We are from Peru and Nigeria, from the Philippines and Rwanda, from Viet Nam and Canada, and so many different cities throughout these United States. We are in our 30’s, 40’s, 50’s, 60’s,70’s,80’s, and 90’s. What brought us together? What has been our journey? What has led us through the desert of our individual lives, deserts that were so often of our own making, the results of our poor choices? How long were we enslaved? … addicted? Who nourished us along the way, gave us direction and “manna” for the journey? Who liberated us? These are all questions concerning our unity … our history, our sustenance, our common faith and, yes, our vocation.

The celebration of diversity sounds throughout the world these days. But what keeps us together as a community? What is the cohesion and unity that gives flesh and blood to our faith? If there is nothing that unifies us, what is the point of diversity? Our solidarity in faith is greater than all our differences. Our body is Jesus Christ. Our self-identity, our source of unity is not Asia or Africa, not South America or North America, not introvert nor extrovert, not liberal or conservative, Democrat , Republican or Socialist. It certainly is not our age. Our age is exactly what God wants it to be. Our source of unity is the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.

When we celebrate Corpus Christi, the Body and Blood of Christ, we celebrate the marriage of God and us. This union first took place in the Trinity’s great act of love for us which we call the Incarnation; it is reenacted in our daily celebration of the Eucharist, whereby God in Christ is made one with our very flesh, the living sign that God is with us and for us now and always.“I am the living bread come down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread shall live forever; the bread that I give is my flesh for the life of the world.” For Christians there can be no life, if their life is not in Christ.

Where Matthew, Mark and Luke have Jesus holding up bread and wine at the Last Supper, John has Jesus holding up a basin and towel. In placing the washing of the feet where the other Evangelists put the words of institution, John is reminding us that loving service to one another is central to the meaning of the Eucharist, that the Eucharist is not a private act of devotion, meant to square our debts with God, but a call to move from worship to loving outreach to others, especially the poor. And there are so many ways that we can be “poor.”

To take the Eucharist seriously, then, is to wash the feet of the Body of Christ, the feet of the Christ we see in others. This is not always easy. We often live in distrust of one another. Sadly, too, we frequently demonize each other, seeing danger where there is only difference. What we fail to realize is that these differences are really only our outer garments, things that in the end are accidental to our real selves… of who we really are.

In his account of the Last Supper, when John is describing Jesus washing the feet of his disciples, (in a carefully worded passage), John uses these words: “Jesus, knowing that the Father had put everything into his hands, and that he had come from God and was returning to God, got up from the table, took off his outer garments and, taking a towel wrapped it around his waist; he then poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel he was wearing.” (Jn 13:2-5)

When John describes Jesus as taking off his outer garment,” he’s telling us that it doesn’t matter where we’re from, it doesn’t matter how old we are, it doesn’t matter how we vote. These are merely our outer garments. We must not let them define us. So we ask: What is Jesus’ inner garment? It’s the same as ours. As John poetically describes it, Jesus’ inner garment was precisely his knowledge that he had come from God, was going back to God, and that therefore all things were possible for him, including his washing the feet of someone whom he already knew had betrayed him. No revenge. Simply love. ____________________________END___________________________________

SOURCES: John Kavanaugh, SJ, The Word Embodied.

Ronald Rolheiser, OMI, Our Greatest Act of Fidelity – Meditations on the Eucharist.

___________________________________________________________________

Homily, Fr. Michael Casagram – Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity – June 7, 2020

+SOLEMNITY OF THE MOST HOLY TRINITY                                      7 June, 2020

We are a lot like fish in the water, immersed each day in the life of the Trinity but hardly think about it. As I began to reflect on this mystery I became aware of how many times each day we immerse ourselves into Trinitarian life by the doxologies we use throughout the Divine Office. At least forty-four times each day, we pray: “Praise the Father, Son and Holy Spirit both now and forever, the God who is, who was and is to come at the end of the ages” or similar words. Like Moses in our first reading, we are “bowed down to the ground in worship as the Lord passes before us too saying: “The Lord, the Lord, a merciful and gracious God, slow to anger and rich in kindness.”

God has been revealed to all of us and I’m sure the only reason we are gathered here this morning because we have tasted the mercy and graciousness of God. Each of us has been baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit in living water. From the first moment of our Christian lives, God’s loving presence has been at work in us. Whether we were aware of it or not “the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit” have flooded our lives. These words of St Paul, as you know, are one of the optional greetings at the beginning of the Eucharist each day. None of us was worthy of so marvelous a gift as Baptism, so freely given when most of us were still being held in our mother’s arms.

Today’s feast invites us into a higher or deeper consciousness. This comes through clear as St John reminds us that “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.” Jesus came not to condemn the world but to save it, to make us all sharers in God’s own divine life. St Julian of Norwich goes so far as to say that we exist within the Godhead where, to use her own words “we are enclosed in the Father, we are enclosed in the Son and we are enclosed in the Holy Spirit.” St John of the Cross tells us that God absorbs us into Himself and there “in the heart of the Trinity, God loves the soul within himself. (Spiritual Canticle,32:6)

We will never get our heads around the mystery of the Trinity however much we may try. What matters is to allow ourselves to be immersed in it, to reflect the Trinitarian life in all that we think, do or say each day. One of our early Cistercian fathers, Bl. Willian of St Thierry, saw our memory, intellect and will as the very image of the Trinity continually at work in each of our lives. To use these gifts in a loving way allows God’s image and likeness in us to become fully alive.

Never has this been more urgent than in our own day with the pandemic, and all that is going on in relation to racism that has such deep roots in the history of this country. Sharing in the life of the Trinity enables our human relationships to flower for the good of all. Through it, we gain respect for all of God’s children.

If I may return finally to the idea of our being immersed in God like a fish in water, Catharine of Siena tells us “God is closer to us than water is to fish,” (Dialogue 2).  And isn’t this what the Eucharist is designed to manifest. For here is made present Christ’s supreme act of love in giving his life up for us, and through it he gives us his very Body and Blood as our food and drink. Thus we share in God’s own inner life, reason to be filled with thanksgiving.

 

Ex. 34:4b-6, 8-9; 2 Cor. 13:11-13; John 3:16-18

In the Face of Racism – Fr. Michael Casagram

The following is the text of a presentation given by Fr. Michael Casagram of the Abbey of Gethsemani to the Lay Cistercians of Gethsemani via Zoom conference on June 4, 2020:-

In the Face of Racism – Fr. Michael Casagram – June 4, 2020    (PDF)

+IN THE FACE OF RACISM:  What is our response to be in view of what’s happening with the death of George Floyd?

Fr. Michael Casagram
June 4, 2020

Let me admit that I find myself deeply challenged by this presentation. I feel that it touches on an experience that is close to many of us. If one has watched the video of George Floyd being trapped against a car and under the weight of four police officers and one of them with his knee on Floyd’s neck, one cannot help but be awfully disturbed. How could anyone do such a thing in the name of law and order, especially when this man is begging for life, crying out again and again,  “I cannot breath.”

What is going on here and what frightens me is that I see them taking out on this helpless man their pent-up feelings, venting a hatred for this black man who represents the dark side of their own lives. I realize I am taking all of you who are listening to me in a new direction but I feel this is of profound importance for every Christian life. Much of the monastic life is a matter of coming to know yourself with all your weaknesses and failings so as to come to know the power of God and live by the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

We all have our shadow side and it is so easy to project this on to others. One of the great benefits of community life is that through living together we come to see those unredeemed parts of ourselves, those areas of our lives we don’t want to see or to own. It is much easier to project them onto someone else so as to criticize them and hold them responsible for all the difficulties in your life. A clear instance of this is the tendency to blame the Chinese for the outbreak of the virus and for all that is happening. The result of this is a lot of Asians are suffering dislike and rejection when they have done nothing whatever to cause the spread of the virus.

There is a tendency in all of us to find a shadow figure for this kind of projection and I suspect this is why black people all too easily become the target of our rejection or dislike. They easily come to represent everything we dislike about ourselves and we think to be wrong about the society in which we live. What we dislike most about our lives gets projected onto them. This is a subtle psychological and spiritual tendency in all of us that is real important to see and own.

Dealing with Racism involves being able to withdraw our projections, to see all our brothers and sisters as persons as children of God, worthy of our love and respect. A huge amount of freedom comes when we are able to enter into this perspective which to me means putting on Christ, allowing the love of God to inform all our relationships. We had a wonderful reading called Human Fulfillment as the gift of the Spirit by Fr Louis Bouyer at Vigils this morning. He talks about how the Holy Spirit sets us free from the prison of individuality, breaks down all the barriers.

 

Let me move from here to some things Merton or Fr Louis has written that may be helpful for our discussion. I have passed on a reference to an article by Alex Mikulich called Thomas Merton’s “Letters to a While Liberal.” These letters form the basis for Merton’s book called Seeds of Destruction written back in 1963. Alex points out that “by ‘white liberal,’ Merton does not mean partisan progressives. Rather, he means any white person, especially Christians, who claim good intentions toward all people, including African Americans.” Alex goes on to say that “Monastic communities (and I read also Lay Cistercians associate with these communities) are fully implicated in the sinfulness of the world… and must bear witness to baptismal conversion into God’s love in the midst of worldly egoism and injustice.” Reading between the lines I would see Floyd’s death as a clear instance of “worldly egoism and injustice.”

We are all implicated in the social injustice of our society, all contemplatives whether monastic or lay and all of us have things to do that we may be free of these shackles so as to become living witnesses of a new society. We can have Civil Rights legislation but Merton brings out the fact that “changes in law cannot change minds, hearts, or the source of violence in society.” Along with Dr. Martin Luther King, Merton sees a triple evil we are caught in, namely racism, militarism and consumerism which has the great danger of putting profits before people.

What Merton saw and what Pope Francis has called us to be mindful of again and again is as Alex writes, “to resist violence, the contemplative must identify with people who are in any way oppressed or demonize by society. As long as white people clench the status quo and ‘persist in clinging its present condition and to its own image of itself as the only acceptable reality, ‘then there is no room for real change and ‘inevitably there will be violence.’” He goes on to point out that “if society is going to fully respect African Americans as human beings, not as a projection of the fears or ideals of white people, ‘then that society is going to be radically changed.’ Merton sees that racial justice will demand major sacrifices on behalf of white people, including loss of relative economic advantage.”

This will only happen if two conditions are met, namely 1) A complete reform of the social system which permits and breeds such injustices, 2) This reform must be carried out under the inspiration of the Negro whose providential time has arrived, and who has received from God enough light, ardor, and spiritual strength to free the white man in freeing himself from the white man.“ They must be allowed to thrive as human being is all this is going to happen.

Let me draw on one last paragraph from Alex’s article: “Merton calls whites to practice ‘Christ’s kingdom of humility’ by turning our full attention to people of color in the fullness of their humanity, as they are—not as whites imagine, fear, or   project them to be. ..[This] means that whites must learn from African Americans about the ways that we whites are imprisoned both in a false idealization of ourselves as racially innocent and to a false demonization of African Americans. Merton invites white Americans to see ourselves as African Americans have seen and experienced us through history. When whites see ourselves as African Americans do, then we may see where Jesus stands.”

If we stand where Jesus stands then we will be doing all that we can to deal with Racism in this country. Let me end these reflections of Merton on this note for I think it is here that each of us can do a great deal to improve the conflict going on all around us. We must enter into the Christ consciousness of Blacks if we want to end the sad climate we are faced with today.

There are many opportunities for all of us to bring an end to injustice in our world if we are attentive. We have only to take a close look at our own encounters with persons of Black or Asian background and review our interaction with them. There are occasions when we can support persons working for racial justice and at least indicating to them our verbal support.

Our daily lives have many encounters and if we become more and more aware of our attitude toward those around us we have many occasions to allow our hearts to be purified of unchristian feelings and judgments of others. If we will but make every effort to be inclusive and open to others there are all kinds of kindness and understanding we can show them, making them a loved part of the human family. Often enough as most of us know from human experience, what is needed is simply someone willing to hear and sympathize with our human pain. Often enough this is all that is necessary for the person to find their way through the isolation and rejection they have experienced.

It seems to be this is all about God consciousness, letting ourselves be a loving support that allows others to become fully human and enabled to use the gifts with which they have been endowed. Healthy and abiding relationships are formed and we become true messengers of the gospel for our day and time. We will realize our own full potential as children of God, persons who are carriers of grace to all around us. It is for this that we have been destined as Christians.