Fr. Joe Nassal: A Passion for Justice

When George Floyd woke on Memorial Day, I doubt he was planning to be a martyr. But that is what he has become because as a victim of police brutality, the video of Mr. Floyd’s death under the knee of a white police officer has ignited protests for racial equality and justice around the world. As the life of George Floyd was being memorialized in Minneapolis on Thursday, people around the world stood or knelt in silence for 8 minutes and 46 seconds—the length of time that officer’s knee was on Mr. Floyd’s neck.

Perhaps at long last, the world has seen enough as we painfully recognize how many times in the past people have taken to the streets to protest racial injustice and inequality and yet nothing changes. The list of martyrs includes Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Freddie Gray, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and in today’s paper, Manuel Ellis, a 33-year-old Black man from Tacoma, Washington who died on March 3 after being in a chokehold by police, gasping for air as he said, “I can’t breathe.” Those words have become the refrain for people around the world as finally, we seek to breathe together for justice and equality.

What is hopeful is how many young people are not only involved in these marches and protests but in many cases are organizing them. On Wednesday in San Francisco in the Mission District, more than 10,000 people gathered to mourn the death of George Floyd and march against racism. The protest was organized by 17-year-old Simone Jacques, a high school junior who welcomed the crowd that included many young people and families with small children saying, “We’re just youth who grew up in the city. We’re just people who care and love each other, and love each other enough to take care of each other.”

This was also the case of the largest protest march in Oakland following Mr. Floyd’s murder. Last Monday afternoon and evening, 15,000 people gathered outside Oakland Tech High school to protest police brutality and institutionalized racism. The two young men who organized the event, Xavier Brown, 19, a graduate of one of Oakland’s Catholic High Schools, Bishop O’Dowd, and his childhood friend, Akil Riley, also 19, a graduate of Oakland Tech, started talking about doing something to honor the memory of Mr. Floyd but also raise the consciousness of people to the reality of racism. As young black men, they are painfully aware of this reality and are outraged at a system that continues to allow such brutality.

They began to spread the word on Instagram and other social media outlets. They stressed it would be a peaceful march. “No destruction,” they said. They also acknowledged we are still in the midst of a pandemic and encouraged protestors to wear face masks and practice social distancing. A company that distributed masks during the fire season in California donated more than 500 masks and another group that works with the homeless donated 400 bottles of hand sanitizer. When people started to gather, Brown and Riley were stunned by the size of the crowd. “We’re here for George Floyd,” Riley told them. “We’re out here to show our love.”

Power of Relationship

What was striking about their stories, is that both Brown and Riley came to their activism through family relationships. Xavier’s mother marched in Los Angeles in the wake of Rodney King’s beating by police in 1992. Akil’s grandfather, Walter, is a prominent lawyer in Oakland who when he was Akil’s age, organized lunch counter sit-ins in racially-segregated Durham, North Carolina. He also organized voter registration drives and served in a leadership position for the Congress for Racial Equality. Walter Riley has been fighting for racial equality and justice all of his life and it is clear his passion has been passed on to his son, Akil’s father, who is also an activist. On Monday, Walter Riley marched with his grandson for George Floyd as they confronted once again the sin of racism.

 The Feast of the Trinity reveals the mystery and power of relationship—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, one God, one passion, one love. Like the relationship of Walter Riley to his grandson Akil, or the mother of Xavier to her son who instilled in them this passion for life, it is a mystery not to be solved but to be lived. It is a mystery that is found in the stories of people like George Floyd who as he pleaded for his life called out to his mother before breathing his last breath. Like the paschal mystery, it is a mystery captured in the words of today’s gospel, “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.”

Paul defines this mystery of relationship found in the Trinity in today’s second reading when he gives us the greeting we often say at the beginning of Mass, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the companionship of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.” We experience the Trinity—grace, love, and companionship—in the stories of our lives. It is the grace of God we receive in Jesus that frees us to hope when the evidence around us points to despair. It is the love of God, a love both personal and passionate, that is poured out in our hearts and reflected in the faces we meet along the way. It is the companionship of God’s Spirit that moves us to come together as a people of memory and hope. These gifts of grace, love, and companionship are absolutely essential as we journey in faith, especially when we are confronted with excruciating losses.

As Paul reminds us, we are all related and all in relationship. Which is why in the wake of these last two weeks which has awakened the world once again to the sin of racism, Paul’s words strike such a powerful chord: “Mend your ways, encourage one another, live in peace, and the God of love and peace will be with you.”

The Company We Keep

 Our readings for this Trinity Sunday underscore how the model for the relationship revealed in the Trinity is rooted in our creation story, renewed and refreshed in the incarnation, mended, forgiven and redeemed in the life, suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Throughout the history of our ancestors in faith and our own faith story, there are times when we need to cling to the reality that God keeps company with us. That is what Moses experienced when he returns to the holy mountain and God gave Moses “tablets of stone” reflecting the covenant of love God desired to have with the people.

Written by God’s hand, our God who is “merciful and gracious, slow to anger and rich in kindness and fidelity,” this covenant means that God is with us always, especially in times like we are experiencing now with the sharp sting of loss and death—an ongoing pandemic claiming hundreds of thousands of lives; an economic crisis that leaves millions of people without employment; and the deaths of George Floyd and so many others who died because of oppression and injustice.

The prayer of Moses becomes our prayer this week. As Moses bowed down to the ground to ask God a favor, “O Lord, do come along in our company,” so we come together wherever we are, whether it is in the church or on the street, in a cathedral or at city hall, praying at a house of worship or protesting outside the White House, to experience once again how the mystery of this relationship is revealed. Yes, God does keep company with us and God is revealed in the faces of each other, in bread and wine, in a sign of peace, and the promise of eternal life.

We honor the truth revealed in the Trinity by acknowledged that it is through the people who have taught us and shared faith with us that we discover how the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the companionship of the Holy Spirit are living, breathing realities that are found in those whose company we keep along the way. People like Simone Jacques, Akil Riley and Xavier Brown, their parents, and grandparents who instilled within them the courage and the fire to be peacemakers and justice seekers in a world that continues to cry out for racial equality and justice, for truth and transparency, for hope and healing.




Message from Fr. Garry Richmeier, C.PP.S.

Kansas City Provincial Director Fr. Garry Richmeier, C.PP.S. took some time this week to reflect on the events of this past week, the pandemic, and relationship. If the video does not appear in your browser, copy and paste the link into your address bar:

Province Director’s Letter to the Province on Our Work To End Hate

KC Province LogoDear brothers and sisters in Christ,

After the resurrection, Jesus appeared to his disciples who were locked away out of fear. These were people who had lost hope and were probably feeling powerless in the face of the systemic violence they had witnessed, perpetrated by their religious leaders and the Roman occupiers. But Jesus tells them “Peace be with you. As God has sent me, so I send you.” Amid the fear and hopelessness, Jesus tells them that they will be empowered by the Spirit to make peace a reality – that same peace which Jesus proclaimed through word and deed.

Once again, we have witnessed the brutal killing of a person of color at the hands of the police. I can’t help feeling a sense of hopelessness in the face of the violence and disregard for life which in our society extends beyond just this one senseless act. I want to say to whoever will listen “Not again!” Or “Haven’t we learned anything from past incidents like this!” Or “Is prejudice and violence just an inescapable part of our nature as human beings?” Like the disciples, I sometimes want to lock myself away and give up believing anything can be different. Maybe many of us feel this way.

If so, then this is exactly the time to allow the words of Jesus to break through the locked doors of our hopelessness and fear and speak to us of the possibility of New Life. Jesus didn’t tell the disciples that they could eradicate all violence, war, and killing. Even Jesus could not do that. He did tell them that they could be peace in the world through their words and actions. That, he said, was possible, and was in fact their mission. As Jesus sent the disciples out to do this work, so he sends us out.

We cannot give up on being peace in our world. This work is far too important. One thing that can give us the strength to keep going is a realistic sense of what we can do, of what is possible. I may not be able to heal race relations in the whole city, but I can treat each person I meet with respect and compassion. I may not be able to make a whole organization change and not be racially biased. But I may be able to publicly highlight institutional prejudice when it happens and express how it violates the gospel message. Focusing on what we can accomplish helps us continue the work.

Another thing that helps us not give up is to do the work together. There is strength in numbers. This strength is not only the power to get something accomplished, but to give us as individuals strength of heart, soul, mind, and Spirit so we don’t weaken and give up.

Ultimately what keeps us going is our faith. It is our faith in the words of Jesus when he says, “As God has sent me, so I send you.” We need to trust that Jesus has given us what we need to do the same work that Jesus did, and which he still does through the workings of the Spirit. With that faith, we realize that it is not just us fighting a hopeless battle against violence, hate, and prejudice. With that faith, we know that it is the Spirit of Jesus working through us to bring peace to whomever our words, actions, and lives touch. That is important work.

Peace in the blood of Christ,

Fr. Garry Richmeier, C.PP.S.

Peace & Justice Director Statement on Death of George Floyd

by Gabino Zavala, Justice and Peace Director

KC Province LogoAs a nation, we are dealing with parallel plagues. We are still living with the COVID-19 pandemic which has taken the lives of over 100,000 people while George Floyd lost his life at the hands of Minneapolis Police officers while pleading with them that he could not breathe, the death of yet another person of color. George Floyd did not deserve to die because he was black. His death was senseless and brutal. We have a long history of racial injustice boiling over. We need to acknowledge the deeper and ongoing reality of racism toward people of color. We are all connected. What happens to one affects us all.

The protests that we are seeing in our cities reflect the justified anger and frustration of many. How much humiliation, inequality, and indignity can someone take merely because of their race or the color of their skin? As a nation, we support peaceful demonstrations calling attention to injustices. In this case, the injustice is the sin of racism. Though we understand that anger can escalate into violence, we cannot condone it. Violence that damages and destroys the property of innocent shopkeepers and business owners, causing death and injury to peaceful participants and to law enforcement persons is not acceptable.

In a talk given at Stanford University in 1967 titled “The Other America,” Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “A riot is the language of the unheard.” Are we still not hearing? Do we not listen?

This past weekend we celebrated the Feast of Pentecost. Let us pray and work toward a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Let us pray for a desire to rid ourselves of the harm caused by racism and prejudice. Let us pray that the Spirit of truth touch all of us. Let us pray that our broken criminal justice and law enforcement systems be changed. Let us continue to pray for racial justice.

At Home With the Word: Pentecost

by Fr. Timothy Armbruster, C.PP.S., Provincial Councilor

My first assignment was with Fr. Mike Volkmer at St. Francis Xavier Parish in St. Joe. Upon arriving there, I discovered a bottle of champagne in the fridge. When I inquired about it, I was told it was a gift from a parishioner some months ago. I was also warned not to move it for fear it would pop its cork. For many months that bottle remained right there in the fridge. That first year as Easter rolled around, I had the brilliant idea to someway, somehow use that bottle of champagne in one of my homilies. I thought about it and decided what better time than for Pentecost. What better way to demonstrate the Spirit being set free with gusto and flair and a bit of the bubbly? I remember carrying that bottle of champagne into the church and setting it near the altar. I didn’t realize how many people knew the story of that bottle of champagne in the fridge. When I was asked where I got it from and told them, they all perked up and with eyes wide open said, “Be careful! That cork could pop at any time and make a sticky mess everywhere!” I wasn’t too concerned because I knew I wasn’t going to actually pop the cork, but boy, were people’s eyes glued to me the whole time as I danced around the altar with that bottle in the air afraid it would POP! on its own.

Veni Sancte Spiritus, Come Holy Spirit

The words we sing remind us of the gift of the Holy Spirit that touches not only our hearts but deep in our souls. The gift that ignites our hearts and minds just as it did the disciples to give them courage and strength. The wind of the Spirit blows where it will and stirs the hearts and minds of all who believe.

Spirit Wind, Breath of God, breathe new life into the world.*

We celebrate Pentecost and welcome the gift of the Holy Spirit to breathe new life into the world. We need fresh air and a renewed spirit. A spirit to awaken us once again and move us out into the world. Several weeks ago, on NPR, an announcer encountered an older couple in Rome who were out for a walk. He asked them if they were being rebels going against the Stay at Home order. The woman simply replied that no, they were not being rebels, but if she and her husband didn’t get out of the house every 2 or 3 days for a 30-minute walk that they would be so crippled up that they would never be able to move again. For our sanity and health, we gotta get out and get some fresh air. Then we can go back home and hunker down for a few more days.

Veni Sancte Spiritus, Come Holy Spirit

We begin the ritual of reopening the churches and getting back to life as we once knew it. The story is told of a family some 30 years from now. The grandchildren asking grandparents about the pandemic of 2020. Grandchildren asking how difficult and challenging these times were. The grandparents agreeing and remembering the shortage of toilet paper and other supplies. Yes, it was a challenging time. The grandkids shared they remembered it differently. They remembered a time of having picnics on the front yard and mom and dad not having to race off to work but spending more time at home. The story ended with asking what will we remember from these days?

Come, Holy Spirit, and breathe on us the gift of new life. In many ways, we need a breath of fresh air to renew us from within to bring us to life once again. Many people are out and about, and others are still keeping their distance at home. May we soon all feel safe once again to move about and gather together.

May the gift of the Holy Spirit set our hearts on fire once again.

*Spirit Wind, Psalm 104; Scott Soper, GIA Publications

stained glass window of a dove as the Holy Spirirt
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