Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time – November 6, 2022
We are ready to die rather than transgress the laws of our ancestors. 2 Maccabees 7:2
How appropriate for such a time as this- the text is taken from the 1st Reading of this Sunday’s Liturgy. The Maccabees were a group of Jewish rebel warriors. They fought to restore the Jewish religion and spirituality and cultural practices of their people in the presence of occupying and oppressive governance. They stood for what they perceived as their spiritual and cultural rights in the face of marginalization and assimilation. The idea of tossing away their spiritual and cultural existence to adopt a way of life of another- was not acceptable to them.
Even at the threat of death- they could not and would not adopt a way of life that was not in keeping with the laws and cultural mores and spiritual practices passed down to them from their God by way of their ancestors. Customs that some were willing to cast aside for the sake of fitting in, and for economic and social class advancement and political gain and power. They rejected the Hellenizing (taking on a Greek style of life) in place of their Jewishness. The Maccabees resisted these norms of change that were detrimental to the stability of the Jewish faith traditions and the holy covenant and their community. Gentrification, Assimilation, and Embodied Racism are terms of today that may give some insight into the experiences of then and now.
As I reflect on this context I think of the ancestors. The Holy Cloud of Witnesses spoken of in Hebrews 12 continued to run the race even through the obstacles that were placed on their journey. "Throwing off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles" (Heb. 12:1). I think of our Black Catholic Ancestors who ran the race against immeasurable odds. November is National Black Catholic History Month. It is a time for reflection of All Saints Day, All Souls Day, and the Feast Day of St. Martin de Porres, the only Black saint canonized from the Americas. It is during this month of November that I reflect quite deeply on the spirit of contemplative prayer. I think of the work and the toil, and the travail of the Black Catholic Ancestors of my home parish the Church of Christ the King in Jersey City, New Jersey within the Archdiocese of Newark. November is also the Solemnity of the Christ the King on the Church Liturgical calendar. It is the last Sunday before our Advent Season begins. It is the last Sunday of Ordinary Time- setting us up for the encounter with Christ as King who enters humanity as the Incarnate God for the salvation of all souls- saints and sinners alike!
My home parish the Church of Christ the King is a historical event, formed by the hands and the voices of the Black Catholic ancestors and elders of Jersey City. Black Catholic Lay women and their families would not be denied their place to worship in the faith of their choosing and within the spiritual context of the covenant relationship bestowed on them at Baptism. The sin of racism that so easily entangles- caused many a Black Catholic to leave the Catholic faith and to seek solace within other Christian faith traditions. Yet like the spiritual warriors that they were the faith community of Black Catholics in 1930 New Jersey- would not allow anything or anyone to separate them from the Real Presence of Jesus that they found in the Eucharistic Celebration.
They offered up their hands of service and their tongues- voicing justice against the impediment of racism within the various Catholic sanctuaries that turned them away or disrespected their human dignity and Black bodies and denied the sanctity of their Black Catholic Lives. They would not allow anyone to transgress against the laws and rights that were granted to them via Baptism and the faith passed onto them from their ancestors. Many of them had put their lives on the line in facing racism in the Deep South. These ancestors even in the midst of so much suffering still professed a joy that was full because of being able to be in the presence of the Lord’s Glory and to hope in the promise. They built their own church brick by brick!
But I in Justice shall behold your face on waking, I shall be content in your presence. 2 Maccabees 7:15. It is this Blessed Assurance that allowed the ancestors- even in the presence of persecution and the threat of death to hold firm to their faith, and proclaim, as did the Psalmist, “Lord when your glory appears, my joy will be full” (Ps. 17:1). The witness of my parish ancestors and founders, (who included my great grandparents Daniel and Carrie Livingstone) were steadfast in their steps on the path of the Lord- their feet and their faith did not falter in forming an Apostolate for the evangelization of Black Catholics.
It is in this very steadfast faith, that our six Black Catholics of African-American Ancestry are on the road to sainthood, as their causes are being examined for canonization! I can hear the voices of Pierre Toussaint, Mother Elizabeth Lange, Mother Henriette Delille, Father Augustus Tolton, Sister Thea Bowman, and the Lay Franciscan former enslaved Catholic Convert, Julia Greeley all saying, “…my brothers and sisters, pray for us, so that the word of the Lord may speed forward and be glorified” (2 Thessalonians 3:1).
All of the grace and faith and commitment to the spirituality of the faith is such that, we the heirs of this great witness and sacrifice of those who have gone before us. Let it not be in vain. We must keep our eyes on the prize. We must stay centered in the ways of God and not the methods and means of the worldly. The Gospel provides us the insight that we are to not stay tied down by the things or entrapments of the world or things that are ephemeral - in danger of speedy disappearance. These ways can be deadly. The sin of racism can traumatize us and cause us to lose faith or give up our faith. Our lives as centered in Christ and the mission provides us the spirit of courage that endows us to live in God! So just like our Great Cloud of Witnesses, let us pick up our droopy knees and weak hands and not be deterred by this sin of racism. Let us fight the good fight of being radically Catholic because our Black Catholic Lives Matter so that we too will be able to sing, When the saints go marching in, I want to be in their numbers, when the saints go marching in!
Dr. Valerie D. Lewis-Mosley- Pastoral Theologian and Lay Associate of the Order of Preachers- Caldwell Dominicans. Member of the Black Catholic Theological Symposium and Ladies Auxiliary of the Knights of St. Peter Claver – Bishop Joseph Francis Court # 297. Advisory Board Member of the Archdiocese of Newark- African American- African Caribbean Apostolate (Office of Black Catholic Ministry). Adjunct Professor of Theology – Caldwell University and Xavier University- Institute for Black Catholic Studies. Delaplane Scholar Aquinas Institute of Theology-St. Louis.