The Thirty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time- November 5, 2023
The greatest among you must be your servant. Mt 23:11-12
The month of November is always a special spiritual time. It is a time sacred and set aside for the remembrance of the lives of the holy and sainted. It is for such a time as this, that we reflect on the ancestors of our faith, our families, and the witness of our Black Catholic holy cloud of witnesses.
It is in this theological reflection upon this sacred time, that I recall the legacy and the spiritual contributions of so many who have gone before us. Their lives and contributions have left an indelible mark on my own ministry and spirituality and witness and social justice advocacy.
I think of the legacy of who they set as their foundation and exulted and emulated and loved. Their foundation was the “Livingstone - Jesus,” the stone that had been rejected yet became the cornerstone. These ancestors and holy cloud of witnesses such as the “Venerables” Pierre Toussaint, Henriette Delille, Augustus Tolton, Mary Elizabeth Lange, and “Servants of God” Sr. Thea Bowman and Julia Greeley (the Sacred Six), all humbled themselves before God and others. Now, the legacy of their life is such that God has exalted them for their service and witness. Although the whole Church waits for the official canonization, in the eyes of God, they have kept the faith and served with distinction in the mission of the Church - evangelization.
Evangelization- “Carrying the message that help is on the way and that help is Jesus.” I give credit for this quote to Evangelist (Master Catechist Extraordinaire) Theresa Wilson Favors. Living a life of service is what it means to be on the first step of holiness. Care for the least or the marginalized or the disenfranchised in the world. The Master Teacher Jesus provides this direction in his own mission statement in Luke 4:14-19 and again in Matthew 25:31-46.
The Sacred Six join the ranks of St. Martin de Porres, O.P. Patron saint of social justice (Feast Day November 3rd) and St. Josephine Bakhita (an enslaved Sudanese woman and a catechist). They were all considered the least and were rejected and became exalted and honored and whose faith led others to Christ. Reflecting on the lives of these women and men- we see that even in the midst of great suffering and trauma and travail, the response of today’s Psalm 131 seemed to be their contemplative refrain- “In you Lord, I have found my peace.”
They did not break faith, they did not turn aside from the way, and they did not cause many to falter by their instruction or way of life. Although they suffered and were persecuted because of racism, they did not let that deter them. They continued to teach and preach with the courage to love. Even in the midst of the threat of living daily in the shadow of death by those who hated them, they continued to let their feet be guided into the way of peace.
Their lives are emulated in the words from 1 Thessalonians 2:7b-9, 13. “With such affection for you we were determined to share with you not the only the gospel of God, but our very selves as well…” They were called in love and sent to serve.
Each of the lives of the Sacred Six and that of St. Martin de Porres and St. Josephine Bakhita has influenced my own life in some way. The core central element- is to be an advocate for others. It is an advocacy of seeking healing in mind-body spirit. The healing impacts the relationship between peoples, between classes, religions and races and moving toward a spirit of peace through the truth. A holy boldness and courage to speak truth is what we are mandated to do by the Scripture.
An AKOMA spirit was central and core to the mission of the Sacred Six. A spirit of love and willingness to see the good in another, even in the face of great adversity. They sought to love through the trauma and not hate. They sought to serve through the atrocities, not seeking retribution or revenge. They sought to center their sufferings in the greatest of all Suffering Servants- Jesus. It is this agape spirit of loving another, being able to see the humanity in them even when the actions, words and deeds are against humanity. This type of love is an AKOMA spirit, it is the love manifested in the forgiveness offered from the Cross on Calvary.
AKOMA is an aphorism- symbolized by a heart. It comes from the Adinkra of the AKAN people of Ghana. It translates as being patient, loving and developing a tolerance for endurance and consistency to faithfulness, having a spirit for redemptive goodwill. It provides for the spiritual practice of forgiveness and turns away from a spirit of revenge and retribution. It is the instruction given to us as a Christian people who follow Jesus in loving one’s enemy.
The Sacred Six and the ancestors are holy because they mastered the lesson of love and service, understanding its redemptive power. It allowed for the transformation of those who were against them. They did not repay hate for hate. They understood that only love of humanity could cure humanity's attacks against humanity.
This world at this moment could learn a lesson from not only these Sacred Six, but also the ancestors as a whole of the Civil Rights movement. The practice of Non-Violent Resistance as a response to the horrific violence, suffering, bombings and attempts of annihilation of a people. The ancestors so to speak knew and understood that an eye for an eye response would only leave everyone sightless, without a method or manner to search for authentic peace.
The ancestors understood that to stand in awe and reverence of God’s Name YWHW they must uphold the covenant of life and peace- without partiality. (Malachi 2:4-6).
I reflect in closing with the excerpt taken from the Pastoral Letter Brothers and Sisters to Us (November 1979). The excerpt quotes St. Pope John Paul II.
“Our spirit is set in one direction, the only direction for our intellect, will and heart- is toward Christ our Redeemer, toward Christ our Redeemer of humanity, It is in Christ then that the Church finds the central cause for its commitment to justice, and to the struggle for human rights and dignity of all persons,”
Author: Dr. Valerie D. Lewis-Mosley, RN, OPA, is a pastoral theologian. She is a Social Justice Advocate and Healer who uses Catholic Social Teaching to engage the need for healing and restorative justice from the sin of racism. She is an Adjunct Professor of Theology at Caldwell University and at Xavier University of - Institute for Black Catholic Studies. She is a Lay Associate Order of Preachers of the Caldwell Dominicans. Her Dominican and Jesuit roots influence her spirituality toward justice. She is a published author with a recent contribution, Preaching Racial Justice by Orbis Books. She is also a contributing preacher to CatholicWomenPreach.org and a member of the Black Catholic Theological Symposium. She lectures and preaches extensively on Healing Mind, Body, and Spirit through the AKOMA Healing Ministry.