The power and obligation to raise our voices.
“Our God is with us as we witness the policeman’s knee on George Floyd’s neck as he pleads, ‘I can’t breathe’”. So writes Fr Frank Brennan SJ in his homily from last Sunday, Trinity Sunday. In this edited version, Fr Frank says we should thank God for gracing us “with the power and obligation to raise our voices about the imperative of a just peace in a fragmented and violent world.”
Unlike the Jews and Muslims, the followers of the other Abrahamic faiths, we Christians imagine and put our faith in a God who is eternally in communion, in love – loving and being loved.
Our God is not just completely ‘other’. Our God is also one of us. Our God is not only with us. Our God is in us. Our God is Father, Son and Spirit. Our God is Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier. Our God is Creator, Liberator, and Sustainer.
Our God is not just the conductor of creation and life. Our God is the whole symphony of creation and life. Our God brings everything and everybody into relationship, into love. Our God is not standing outside creation and history as judge. Our God is immersed in creation and history, as participant, in communion with us through all the joys and hopes, griefs and anxieties of the past, present and future.
Our God is with us as we witness the policeman’s knee on George Floyd’s neck as he pleads, ‘I can’t breathe’.
Our God is with us as we witness the US president brandishing a bible in front of a boarded up church.
Our God is with us as the local bishop of that church proclaims, ‘Let me be clear, the president just used a Bible, the most sacred text of the Judeo-Christian tradition, and one of the churches of my diocese, without permission, as a backdrop for a message antithetical to the teachings of Jesus … We align ourselves with those seeking justice for the death of George Floyd and countless others … We hold the teachings of our sacred texts to be so, so grounding to our lives and everything we do, and it is about love of neighbor and sacrificial love and justice.’
Our God is with us as the local Catholic bishop confronts the US President’s decision to go ahead the next day visiting the shrine of Pope John Paul II at a planned event proclaiming freedom of religion for all.
Washington Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory said: ‘I find it baffling and reprehensible that any Catholic facility would allow itself to be so egregiously misused and manipulated in a fashion that violates our religious principles, which call us to defend the rights of all people even those with whom we might disagree.’
This led to a statement by 456 Catholic theologians for police reform and racial justice. They wrote: ‘As Eric Garner’s dying words “I can’t breathe” are chanted in the streets, and as people of faith, we hear the echo of Jesus’ breathing on his disciples, telling them, “Peace be with you.”
His spirit-filled breath gives his disciples, then and now, the power and obligation to raise our voices about the imperative of a just peace in a fragmented and violent world.
In January 2015 I attended the US Society of Christian Ethics Conference in Chicago where one of the key authors of that statement, Fr Bryan N. Massingale, who describes himself as ‘a black man, a Catholic priest, and a professor of moral theology at a leading university in the United States’ spoke passionately, challenging the largely white audience of moral theologians.
Today, Massingale has published an article in the London Tablet saying, ‘To understand what is happening in the United States, I would ask you not to fixate on the videos of burning buildings, broken windows, and engulfed police cars.
‘Listen instead to the grief, the anger, and the lament that too often goes unheard and unheeded. Hear the fury of being told too often and in too many ways, “You don’t belong”.
‘And stand in solidarity with those of us who continue the slow, frustrating, painful, and even dangerous work of trying to make this country the beacon of justice that it professes to be.’
The learned Fr Massingale from Fordham University commenced this week’s article with one simple vignette: ‘I arrive at a suburban parish whose members are overwhelmingly white to celebrate Mass for a fellow priest who had suddenly taken sick.
‘I ask the usher to direct me to the sacristy. He hesitates and asks, with suspicion, “Why do you want to know?” I explain the situation to him, thinking my visible Roman collar is already a complete explanation of why I am here.
‘He interrogates me. “You’re a priest? Who sent you?” After explaining yet again who I am and why I am here, he responds, “Well, why didn’t he send us a real priest?”’
When confused and troubled about what to make of race relations in the USA, I, like many of you, often turn to Martin Luther King.
In a speech at Stanford University on 14 April 1967 entitled The Other America, he said that ‘in the final analysis, a riot is the language of the unheard’.
Here is a fuller expression of what he said and meant: ‘Many in moments of anger, many in moments of deep bitterness engage in riots.
‘Let me say as I’ve always said, and I will always continue to say, that riots are socially destructive and self-defeating. …
‘But at the same time, it is as necessary for me to be as vigorous in condemning the conditions which cause persons to feel that they must engage in riotous activities as it is for me to condemn riots.
‘I think America must see that riots do not develop out of thin air. Certain conditions continue to exist in our society which must be condemned as vigorously as we condemn riots.
‘[O]ur nation’s summers of riots are caused by our nation’s winters of delay. And as long as America postpones justice, we stand in the position of having these recurrences of violence and riots over and over again.
‘Social justice and progress are the absolute guarantors of riot prevention.’
This Trinity Sunday, let’s thank God that our God, who is a mystery and always will be, is with us and is within us – creating, liberating and sustaining us, here in Australia as in the United States, gracing us with ‘the power and obligation to raise our voices about the imperative of a just peace in a fragmented and violent world’.
- This is an edited homily by Fr Frank Brennan at Newman College, University of Melbourne, on Sunday June 7. To read the entire homily go here.