Written on: June 15, 2020
Originally published in the Bucks County Courier and the Intelligencer, From a Faith Perspective- Sunday June 14
When I was a child, transferred with my family from Philadelphia to a small town in the mountains of North Carolina, I didn’t ask “Why?” when I learned that African American children had their own school, “the colored school.” And when, looking down the hill from the American Legion hut where we few Catholic families had Mass on Sundays, I was told, “That’s Colored Town,” I didn’t object.
Now that I’m 75 and slightly less ignorant than in those days, I am, like many of you, ashamed of my easy acceptance of “the way things are” and how those ways have entitled me to a privileged status I never earned, never even acknowledged most of my life.
This Friday, June 19th, my religious community of Catholic Sisters, the Grey Nuns of the Sacred Heart, will celebrate a day we call the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. The feast focuses on how we, as followers of Jesus, strive to imitate Him, to put on His characteristics, His teaching, His way of including those who are usually excluded, His choosing to forgive rather than condemn, His questioning of a status quo that oppresses certain others. We have a hymn the refrain of which is: “Deep within us, shared among us, may we ever keep the mind and heart of Jesus Christ”. That is what the feast day is all about — the heart of Jesus, His goodness, His prayer, His love.
There is an interesting convergence of celebrations and commemorations this year on Friday, since June 19th is also “Juneteenth.” One hundred and fifty-five years ago, June 19, 1865, two years after the Emancipation Proclamation, Union soldiers announced in Galveston, Texas, that slavery was ended. That date became an annual Juneteenth celebration for many years, as popular a holiday as Independence Day. Even this year, in the midst of Covid-19, there will be a virtual celebration of Juneteenth in Philadelphia.
Today, 155 years since Galveston got the news, we are still getting second chances to be the nation we claim to be, a country where all people really do matter. Personally, I find it very uncomfortable to learn more and more of our country’s treatment of “people of color” between the first Juneteenth and today. Reconstruction, “Black laws,” Jim Crow, lynchings, mass incarceration, voter suppression, separate and unequal, and in our generation – beatings and killings by police never held responsible for their actions. Many of us are only now being awakened from our ignorance and our lethargy to realize how we have benefited from the color of our skin while others suffered from the color of theirs. We are often still oblivious of how people of every color are harmed by the lies we have unconsciously or consciously absorbed which claim the superiority of one group of people and the inferiority of the other.
How extraordinarily fitting it is that this feast which focuses on the unconditional love of God manifest in Jesus, on the heart of Jesus, falls this year on Juneteenth. Right at a time in the history of our nation when we desperately need to develop or recover dispositions of the heart such as kindness, forgiveness, justice, mercy, goodness, inclusive love, and integrity – along comes this feast.
With the peaceful protesters, with the wounded and the hopeless, with the aggrieved and the desperate, and yes, even with the enraged, the violent, the thieves, God somehow stays, inspiring us by the Holy One’s own fidelity to re-discover our own humanity by gazing at this symbol of God’s unconditional love – the heart of the Son, the Savior – heartbroken at the sight of our inhumanity. We have a long, painful past to acknowledge, but also a shared faith in what we can become. For Christians, keeping the “mind and heart of Jesus Christ” means that that we must do all that we can (and no less than all we can) to acknowledge racism, challenge its many dimensions, recognize our own biases, and help mend the broken human race.
Sister Eileen White, GNSH is currently a member of the Leadership Council of the Grey Nuns of the Sacred Heart. She is one of a rotation of interfaith writers who share their thoughts in From a Faith Perspective in the Bucks County Courier and the Intelligencer.
Featured Photo Bruce Hong/Unsplash