Monday Musings from Samantha: A Time When I Thought It Mattered
"Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter." - Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
I've struggled many times in my life avoiding the "beginning of the end," as Dr. King challenges us with his powerful words. Nearly three years ago, a few weeks after the white supremacy Unite the Right Rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, I was not silent because I felt it mattered. In light of the national discussions on racism and inequality, I thought my past experience was a relevant topic for this week's Monday Musings.
Now more than ever, I am prepared to speak up and speak out on topics that matter. This all began on Saturday, August 19th, 2017, when I attended evening Catholic Mass with my husband and children at our church. At the time, our daughters attended the parish school. That evening’s homily will forever be seared in my memories. Not for it’s uplifting message encouraging parishioners to honor and act on social justice issues or equality -- tenants of the Catholic Church -- but for its hollow words and damaging message; wasting an opportunity to stand up for the least among us, the marginalized, and to refute hate.
"Now more than ever, I am prepared to speak up and speak out on topics that matter. This all began on Saturday, August 19th, 2017..."
As you may recall, prior to the rally, Virginia’s Governor declared a state of emergency in an effort to ensure the safety of its citizens during the weekend's events. The rally turned deadly when a white nationalist deliberately ran his car into a crowd protesting the Alt-Right group, killing a young woman and injuring 19 other people.
That evening, the assistant priest, who has since moved to another parish, didn’t rebuke the white supremacy group and their successful attempts to terrorize and harm others. His short reference, and only unflattering description, was calling out Antifa, a sometimes violent anti-facist group protesting the Unite the Right crowd, as “thugs.” He chose to lump the rally and its events with other sad and upsetting international stories. He failed to mention the anti-semitic and racists shouts, flags and symbols and the loss of life and gruesome injuries to fellow Americans at the hands of white supremacy. Rather, he preached that “we are no closer to deserving salvation than they are.”
He went on to condemn a fallen world, and what I interpreted as an unnecessary swipe at the marginalized populations, specifically the LGBTQ community. He pandered to a white, conservative audience, by stating that our society “is fixated on ‘equality’ and ‘individuality,’ where certain lifestyles have become normalized.” He called this fixation an ill attempt to seek love by "superficial means." He went on to say “rightful resistance to wrongs committed must not be allowed to fester into contempt for the human beings who commit those wrong.”
No, Father. We should be speaking up and we should not accept bigotry and racism as simple “wrong doings.” They are evil, oppressive and dangerous, and the group’s power to unite and incite violence led to murder. His homily was ill-conceived and disheartening. It was careless at best and dangerous at its worst.
"We should be speaking up and we should not accept bigotry and racism as simple “wrong doings.” They are evil, oppressive and dangerous and the group’s power to unite and incite violence led to murder."
As I sat in the church, I felt my face become red. I was repulsed and livid. As if it couldn’t get any worse, he ended the homily with a regrettable instance of cultural misappropriation by quoting Dr. Martin Luther King.
What follows in the Catholic tradition is the blessing and consecration of the bread and wine. It’s why we come together, as One Body, to profess our faith and share in Communion. At this point, on this particular evening, I felt sickened. I have listened to several homilies I’d rather forget, but this time my heart and my head were not prepared to receive the Eucharist. I was feeling unholy -- angry, lost and profoundly sad. I was not in a sacred spiritual or mental place.
"I was feeling unholy -- angry, lost and profoundly sad. I was not in a sacred spiritual or mental place."
After several cleansing breaths, I prayed. Then I decided to give the priest the benefit of the doubt and thought perhaps I misheard or misunderstood his message. I told myself I would reach out to him and ask for a copy of the homily. I felt a sense of peace and moved forward with participating.
On the way out of the church, a fellow parishioner who also had children at the school, asked me what I thought of the homily. She appeared concerned. I told her I was upset and that I would be asking for a copy of it. She asked for me to share it with her.
The homily was just as I remembered. I felt worse after reading it a second and third time. I decided to call the head Pastor. I explained my concerns and he told me it would be best to meet with the priest directly. The fellow parishioner was interested in meeting with him as well so I set up a time for us to visit with him.
More than a week later, we sat in the pastor's office to address our concerns. I met with the priest for more than 20 minutes by myself as the fellow parishioner was running late. I first asked the pastor to explain his overall message and he did in general terms. I told him that as a parishioner and a mother of children at the school, I thought he missed an opportunity. I explained that we as a Church have to condemn inequality, oppression and violence at all times and he didn’t.
I felt it was my duty to speak up and for him to know that although many of our parish members agreed with him over the weekend’s events, there were people like myself who did not. I explained that I would have been embarrassed if my Jewish and Black friends and colleagues had sat in our church that evening. I questioned whether he would have delivered that same homily in another part of our city with where the vast majority of the faces staring at him were not white (and wealthy). I told him I thought Dr. King would have not enjoyed his sermon.
"I questioned whether he would have delivered that same homily in another part of our city where the vast majority of the faces staring at him were not white (and wealthy)."
The fellow parishioner took issue with what we interpreted as an unnecessary reference to the LGBTQ community. She handled this topic with such care and confidence. I went on to explain that I believe the Social Teachings of the Church should guide our church and school community. His message that day failed to do that, and I let him know it.
The pastor appeared genuinely appreciative of our openness. He explained that when he writes and preaches he enjoys using a lot of language, which may have led to our “misinterpretation.” I agreed with his assessment of his overuse of words, and I encouraged him to preach to all of us in the pews -- old and young. But, I didn’t accept that as an excuse. His homily had a clear theme even if I had to to dig through his sentences to find its meaning. I implored him to use more common words and to focus on the points he is trying to make. I reminded him that “Jesus’ message was simple but it isn’t supposed to be easy.” My prayer for the meeting was that it would be an impactful moment for him, and that he would remember our concerns when called to preach on topics such as these.
In all honesty, what I did that day was not for him. It was for me. Although I left the meeting feeling vulnerable and motivated, what was most important was that I let my feelings and thoughts be known. I challenged him and spoke candidly with a priest; something I wouldn't have done just a few months prior. In instances before, I sat in the pew, rolled my eyes and accepted the disappointment. This time felt different. The need to speak up was unavoidable. I felt it in my soul.
"This time felt different. The need to speak up was unavoidable. I felt it in my soul."
So, this was not the beginning of the end for me. Instead of going on with business as usual, I used this experience to catapult my fight against racism and bigotry. To work to become anti-racist. To speak truth and honor God in all things that I do. It is what I am called to do. I am not perfect but I am listening, learning and trying.