“War is not the answer,” is a bumper sticker I’ve frequently posted on my car. It’s from the Friends Committee on National Legislation. Never was that slogan nor the bumper sticker more appropriate than now. In the middle of our frantic withdrawal from Afghanistan we were horrified to learn that another terrorist attack had claimed the lives of twelve United States Marines and one United States Navy Hospital Corpsman. These thirteen lives are a postscript to the war on terror which of course has not ended terrorism. War can never end terrorism. War only enriches war profiteers and there are many of those folks in our own United States who are using the tragic deaths of the Marines and Corpsman to call for another invasion of Afghanistan.
Not surprisingly the call for more war is being led by Republican members of the US Congress. These are the same folks who got us in this mess in the first place. It was a Republican president and his administration who initiated this twenty year bloodbath of travail which has only exacerbated the world’s problems. I wish we had invested the trillions of dollars we’ve blown in Afghanistan and Iraq on peaceful purposes. Imagine the goodwill we could have created for the United States and the people of those war torn countries.
This magnificent image from Thomas Mainardi was shared on Fr. James Martin’s Instagram feed. It’s one of the most powerful depictions of the Mary I have ever seen. I carry a rosary with me everyday and pray it frequently. Maybe it’s all the heartache and crisis of this year. Maybe it’s because in the middle of this pandemic we had our own Madonna born in August. A beautiful granddaughter born amidst all the tumult and chaos of this year. In all the darkness there has been incredible light
His mercy is from generation unto generations to them that fear Him.He has showed might in His arm: He has scattered the proud in the conceit of their heart.He has cast down the mighty from their seat, and has exalted the humble.He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He has sent away empty.
I’ve come to believe that white supremacy is so embedded in Eurocentric American Christianity that most folks can’t believe that Jesus and the early church were not white. That they were in fact brown and/or black. Look at the statues and paintings in most churches and museums depicting Jesus, his followers and most of the early saints. It’s highly likely that St. Augustine was at least brown. He was from North Africa. The Desert Fathers and Mother’s came out of the Egyptian and Ethiopian deserts. It wasn’t until Christianity moved to Europe and the Americas that it became a religion of conquest and subjugation of indigenous people.
I’m at St. Mary Parish in Arcade, NY for Eucharistic Adoration and I’m facing a statue of St. Joseph. I’ve come here many times but today I’m struck by the flesh tones of the statue. I grew up in this parish. I served Mass here on this altar many times and I never really appreciated that all the depictions of the of the stained glass, statues, paintings and even the crucifix are of a white person. I’m currently enrolled in a class at Houghton College. It’s “Racism and American Protestant Christianity.” One of my classmates shared on our class Moodle site that they had grown up in a segregated community and attended segregated schools. That’s when the scales fell from my eyes. I too grew up in such a community. We weren’t segregated by law but by the fact we had no non-whites in our church or our school. Our church was for white people and we didn’t even know it. We worshipped a white God. Did I ever think of God as anything other than white. No of course not. How could I?
This afternoon I returned to Mount Irenaeus for the first time in over three months. It’s been the longest absence in the past twenty plus years of my life. It was Sunday March 8, 2020 when I last walked the grounds here. That Sunday was the first time that we didn’t share a hug at the sign of peace and when we began social distancing. How quickly the pandemic progressed as quickly moved into shelter in place and then life as we knew it began to recede. Today fully three months later I was able to return to one of my favorite haunts as a I walked the Mountain Road.
Three months ago the ground was covered with snow. Today the snow is gone and I was surrounded by green grass and a forest canopy of leaves. There was a quickness in my step as I moved along the trail praying the Franciscan Crown Rosary that I had begun this morning at home in Franklinville. A deer darted out of the woods to my right as I walked this familiar trail that took me eventually to a clearing and the hermitage of La Posada.
Much has changed in three months besides the beautiful flora. We’ve lost over one hundred sixteen thousand of our fellow citizens to the ravages of Covid-19. I’ve emerged from an episode of depression in the early days of the pandemic. There was a time I had given up hope. Despair tugged at me. From early March until now there is one constant and that is the daily recitation of the Franciscan Crown Rosary. The daily rhythm of this mantric prayer sustained me and kept just enough hope in me to press on. There were times when I doubted it was doing any good and questioned my recitation. Along the way I’ve come to believe that there is power in recitation of the prayers and an effect on my world and the world around me that I’m frequently unable to fathom.
Today while I walked along this trail in the woods I thought of the words of Thomas Merton. “My Lord God I do not see the road ahead.” Along the road there has been the deadly pestilence that has not come near me. Globally there have been the ugly horror of racism and and a reaction to it that seems to be bringing change. Just yesterday the United States Supreme Court ruled that LGBTQ Americans can not be discriminated against on the basis of their sexual orientation. That’s a huge win for many folks. In the midst of this pandemic there has been light and hope. For that I’m grateful.
I was up early this morning and following a shower I dressed and went for a walk. I carry the rosary while I walk and begin each day saying at least one complete Franciscan Crown Rosary. Today I prayed for peace and healing for our torn land. I prayed for our president and other leaders. I prayed for those protesting and those suppressing the protesters. Our country is fractured and it has been for a long time. The problem didn’t begin with the election of Donald Trump nor with Barack Obama. Maybe it began in 1619 when the first Africans were brought to our shores to work on plantations. Maybe it began before then when these men and women were sold into slavery.
Lately the popular refrain is “the killing of Mr. Floyd is terrible but what about the looting.” Most folks can understand the brutality of the murder of Mr. Floyd but they see a disconnect with the looting, arson and other carnage. Some of my social media friends lump the looters and arsonists in with the peaceful protesters. There is ample evidence that the two are not related.
How will this end? Is this the end of the United States? In the past few days there have been disturbing scenes of unidentified riot police in our nation’s capitol. Photos of National Guardsmen standing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. This is in response to Americans exercising their first amendment rights.
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
First Amendment United States Constitution
Today an eight foot high fence is being erected around the White House. This has never happened before. Not even during the Civil War. The root of the problem lies with fear and ignorance. How can we end the fear and ignorance which spawned the racism and authoritarianism? I’ll keep praying.
This has been an apocalyptic day in an apocalyptic time. We have had nearly a week of looting and rioting following the murder of an innocent black man by police in Minneapolis. The country and world are enduring a pandemic and now we are beset by civil strife the likes of which we have not seen in over fifty years. We are descending into chaos and perhaps worse. Tonight our president threatened to send the military into states that did not meet his ultimatum to end the uprising. It’s all bound to fail as only love can conquer hate but our president is not a man who loves anyone. I pray for him everyday. He’s out of his depth. Worse yet we need real leadership at this time in our history and in the world as we grapple with the Covid-19 pandemic.
People are hurting and sending in the troops is not going to allay their fears nor will it end the strife. It will likely cause the pandemic to worsen. Recently I read that Michael Joncas had released a new hymn in the midst of this chaos. It’s called ‘Shelter Me.’ It’s going to be a classic and maybe it will bring peace to our strife torn country and world. The enemies of peace and freedom seem to be winning tonight.
There’s been a lot of pushback on social distancing and mask wearing. Many consider theses measures as umbrage. It isn’t always a pleasant experience. It is an annoyance to have to wear a face covering. When I was a little boy my Mom would say, “offer it up.” In other words doing thing that were not pleasant were in fact a call to holiness. I have begun to look at mask wearing differently since remembering my Mother’s missive.
Many times in life we’re called to endure situations that are irksome, worrisome and annoying. This is just one more of those instances. When we think of holiness it’s sometimes confused with piety and perhaps going to church on your day of worship. However, there are myriad opportunities to be holy or called to holiness. For some it may be a stoplight, for others it might be waiting in that line in the grocery store. In this pandemic standing six feet apart, wearing a mask and washing our hands frequently can be calls to holiness too.
The more I try to avoid suffering the more I suffer. I need to learn to embrace the suffering and embrace the mask that I am called to wear. The mask is my penance, my cross and my redemption.
This beautiful chapel was my favorite place at the Franciscan Sanctuary of La Verna. The beautiful statue of the blessed mother really captured my attention and imagination. The building was the Chapel of Santa Maria degli Angeli (Mary in Heaven), built in 1216 by St. Francis himself.
Since the lockdown began I’ve been prayer walking daily. As I walk I pray and each day those prayers include the rosary. I prefer the Franciscan Crown Rosary. The last decade of the Franciscan Crown is the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. There’s always been something about Mary because I was born on a Marian feast day. My favorite hymn is Ave Maria. Ave Maria Gratia Plena Dominus Tecum. Protect us this day.