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Deacon Joseph F. Curtis, Jr

Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time

"If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, even life itself, he cannot be my disciple" (Lk. 14:25-33).

We read in scripture about the large crowds following Jesus. I've always wondered how many in those crowds actually become one of Jesus' disciples. In today's narrative, Jesus is telling those following him what it takes to be one of his disciples. He is saying your heart must be stayed on me, not on earthly advantages, but heavenly rewards.

"If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, even life itself, he cannot be my disciple (Luke 14:26).

Being asked to hate our family members and even ourselves coming from our loving Savior. I've learned that the Hebrew meaning of the word "hate," in this sense, means to prefer less and not to despise someone. Jesus is showing just how serious it is being one of his disciples. In meditating on this scripture, I realize that I have been reading about someone who lived his life as a disciple of Christ.

That person is the Venerable Fr. Augustus Tolton. I am a Tolton Ambassador – DC, blessed to promote the Cause for the Canonization of the Venerable Father Augustus Tolton (1854-1897). I want to paint a picture on the screen of your inner vision of the life of Augustus Tolton.

Fr. Tolton is recognized as the first African-American priest born in America. Augustus was born enslaved to a white Catholic family in Missouri. This African- American boy overcame many racial barriers to answer God's call to a priestly vocation. I have been studying Fr. Tolton's life, and I believe what Fr. Tolton did externally shows just what he felt internally. He was a man who believed that he was created to glorify God through his deeds.

To escape slavery in Missouri, his mother took Augustus, his sister, and his brother across the Mississippi River to Quincy, Illinois. At the age of fourteen, Augustus took classes in the log-cabin Lincoln School for three months when the tobacco company where he and his mother worked was closed for the winter. Even though he could not read or write a priest, Fr. Peter McGirr, was astounded that this young man may have a vocation to the priesthood. Augustus attended Mass regularly and served in the church. Several priests tutored Augustus to prepare him to enter a seminary. At that time, 1870, there were eighteen seminaries in America, and none of them would take in a black candidate. After many tries by both bishops and priests, he was finally accepted into a seminary in Rome, Italy.

Fr. Augustus Tolton was ordained in Rome on April 24, 1886, and was told that he would be sent to his hometown of Quincy, Illinois. This was unexpected because the seminaries in Rome were training men of color to be missionaries in Africa. After not finding racial discrimination in Rome, Fr. Tolton found it different in the United States.

On July 18, 1886, Fr. Tolton celebrated Mass at St. Boniface Church in Quincy and became its pastor. This is the same church where he often served Mass but was removed from its school because of racist taunts from children and racist threats from their parents. When Fr. Tolton preached, both black and white parishioners filled the church.

Fr. Tolton literally hit the ground running. In the book written by Joyce Duriga, "The Church is the True Liberator," she wrote that Fr. Tolton said two Masses on Sunday and also offered daily Mass. On weekday afternoons and evenings, he taught the faith to those wanting to be baptized. He made himself available for counseling and home visits to the sick and aged. He also took time to work on his homilies and recruited students for the school.

That is just a small picture of Fr. Tolton's ministry. His successful hard work with the people of Quincy made many ministers, both Catholic and protestant, very upset. His bishop then assigned him to pastor a church in Chicago, where he continued his active ministry until he eventually died on a Chicago street from exhaustion.

The Venerable Fr. Augustus Tolton is truly a disciple that the Lord speaks of in today's scripture. Sisters and brothers, who we are is a gift from God and who we make of ourselves is a gift to God…Amen.

Author: Deacon Joseph F. Curtis, Jr. is a retired Permanent Deacon in the Archdiocese of

Washington. He is the son of Deacon Joseph F. Curtis, Sr. who was ordained in 1971 in the first diaconate class in the Archdiocese.

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