by Fr. Keith Branson, C.PP.S.
As many of you know, I’ve been living at Our Lady of Mercy Country Home for about a year and a half now. It’s a wonderful place, and I am very blessed they have let me make my home with them. One benefit has been during this time of closing down, I am shut in with a lot of people whom I can visit with regularly, which keeps me from spending too much time staring at the walls or the television set. I am a big introvert, but not so much that I’d be happy as a hermit on in a cave on a distant mountaintop.
My housemates are holding up all right, but the strain tells. Although we’re all happy to finally be able to celebrate Mass together here at the home’s chapel, we’re still going to be in the last wave of reopening. One thing the home is doing here is setting up video gatherings for residents who aren’t tech-savvy. It doesn’t matter who mobile they are, or how much they are in command of their wits, talking with loved ones on FaceTime or Zoom is the light of their day. Most of the rooms I go into have cards and letters from loved ones posted as well, and the residents will tell me about their correspondents with pride. The folks who aren’t in touch with loved ones have a tougher time.
Our problems always diminish when we can reach out, as Gaspar and his followers did. If we are concerned with what to do during this time, let me recommend getting in touch with the elders however you can. Just the emotions of being in contact can be the best medicine ever for all of us. The exact words don’t matter at times, just the sound of the voice and the tone of love is enough even if our loved one won’t remember what we’ve said or who we are.
by Fr. Joe Uecker, C.PP.S.
I read in AmericaMedia.org an article about the U.S. Bishops statement on George Floyd. The article is found at https://www.americamagazine.org/politics-society/2020/05/30/bishops-sickened-floyds-death-say-racism-real-and-present-danger. I wrote a note to Bishop Michael Sis of San Angelo, the diocese in which I serve, encouraging him to talk with his presbyteral council about the events of the past week. Even though we do not have many African American members in the Diocese of San Angelo, or maybe I should say “Because we do not have…” I think this situation requires attention. In the past, I have recommended a couple of books on racism because I think that there is latent, unconscious, unintentional racism beneath the surface which still raises its head at times.
I grew up in Ft. Wayne, Indiana beginning in 1941. At that time the African Americans “had their section” on the south side. I lived on the northwest side. I lived in that and with that until I became conscious of what was going on and that it wasn’t right – the 60s. I went to a Catholic school and high school seminary and I don’t recall ever talking about racism and justice. I don’t fault anyone except the whole system and that goes way back centuries. But the fact is that it has had its effect on me. And I suspect that the same is true for all of us to a greater or lesser degree. When I read the book Waking Up White by Debbie Irving, it was an eye-opener. I talked with my neighbor who is African American and asked her if that stuff was true. She just smiled and nodded her head as if to say: You mean you’re just finding this out? Rev. Jim Wallis of Sojourners has some excellent books on the subject also.
But many ethnic groups experience racism. Having been in Hispanic parishes for so many years, I’ve heard stories about our diocese and what our people have experienced—in the Church and in society. I had a brief encounter yesterday with another resident of our complex, a man about my age. He started it off by saying he was glad he was old. His reasoning was that with the black people burning down the country, he would be gone soon and wouldn’t have to worry about that anymore. When I responded with Martin Luther King Jr’s saying that “Violence is anger unheard,” he made a comment about how bad President Obama had been. I could sense that racism was alive and well. And I pray often that God would root out whatever remains of racism in me.
I told Bishop Sis that I think this issue should be addressed by the Presbyteral Council. If asked, would the international priests say they had ever experienced racism in the San Angelo Diocese? My guess is that an honest answer would be “Yes.” I think that if left under the rock, things will simmer and we will be less, much less than we could be. I know it’s one of those subjects that no one wants to touch with a 10-foot pole, but with the violence going on, I think it is a wake-up call.
In my homily preparation for Pentecost, I came across one person who compared this time of pandemic as being in a cocoon, a time of transformation, such that we have a golden opportunity to come out of this transformed, changed into more of what God knows we can become, individually and as a Church.
I don’t know how to go about such a dialog. But I think that any attempt, while possibly being met with skepticism by African Americans and Hispanics, and resentment by Anglos, would be a step in the right direction. Since this is such a touchy subject, it would probably mean less than honest answers at first. But then a baby doesn’t do it right the first time when taking steps, but eventually makes it. Just our willingness to ask some questions might bear great fruit.
Bishop Sis responded to my note by thanking me and sharing that he was going to an interracial prayer service that evening in San Angelo.
Dear 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.
by Gabino Zavala, Justice and Peace Director
As 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.
from Gabino Zavala, Justice and Peace Director
Today our Jewish sisters and brothers begin the celebration of Passover as we prepare to celebrate Holy Thursday. Due to the exceptional challenges brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic, this Triduum will be like no other experience of Holy Week in our lifetime. As we shelter in place and practice physical distancing, we reconsider our spiritual practices and continue to find creative ways to reflect, pray and make these days holy as we continue to be church.
I am attaching some appropriate prayers for you that might help you celebrate these holiest days.