Category: Personal Reflections

Personal Reflections: Hagiography of Privilege

I teach 4th grade CCD. During snack time, the leaders take turns presenting a saint we think the children might find interesting and inspiring. This year, we have a black student in the class. I’ve made a conscious effort to talk about saints from around the world – not just Europe.

For All Saints’ Day last year I asked my students to present a saint of their choice. I had printed out short biographies of at least 20 saints with accompanying coloring pages. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a black saint who was not a victim of discrimination, abuse, and/or slavery. White children can find saints who lived heroic lives and were perhaps persecuted for their faiths, but not many European saints were persecuted by their fellow Christians for being human.

St. Martin de Porres was persecuted by members of his own order (the Dominicans) for being biracial. In Peru, descendants of Africans and Indians were not allowed to be members of religious orders. Martin performed menial tasks for the brothers, but he was never allowed to be a Dominican. Worse still, Martin had internalized the racism. When the monastery was in debt, he offered to be sold into slavery. Priests mocked him for his race. The Catholic Church venerates Martin de Porres as a saint, but the Church has never owned up to its complicity in his persecution. I encounter white privilege when I choose saints for my students. White students are taught that Christians face persecution when they stand up for their faith. But what does St. Martin’s life teach black children? His life teaches, instead, that black Christians become saints when they overcome the racism they face in their own Church. They are saints when they find ways to survive (barely) in a Church that doesn’t accept them.

The Gospel of Discomfort: Welcoming the Stranger

In the Scriptures, God cares a lot about the widow, the refugee, the orphan, and the immigrant.

“You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Deuteronomy 10:19).

When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God (Leviticus 19:33-34).

When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me’ (Matthew 25:31-40).

I do not know ancient Greek or Hebrew. I cannot read the Scriptures in the original languages. But I am aware of how radical the teachings in the Old and New Testaments are. When I reflect on passages such as the ones above, I am reminded that God calls us to be uncomfortable to make our neighbors comfortable. The Mosaic Law ordered the Jews to cancel all debts and free their slaves every seven years. Scholars say that these teachings weren’t always followed. I’m not surprised! I’m sure many Jews found the teachings impractical. Wouldn’t freeing slaves and canceling debts destroy the economy? And in the New Testament, we come across a lot of really hard teachings that sound unreasonable. If I turn the other cheek, have I not allowed myself to be trampled on? But try as I might, I am not convinced that the Bible is always exaggerating.

On the issue of immigration, the Scriptures are clear. We are called to welcome the stranger. We Christians may decide to disregard the teaching because it’s “impractical”, but then let’s not pretend we are acting in conformity to the Gospel. We are certainly not! Although I usually don’t observe it, I am not convinced that God’s Word is impractical. The foolishness of the cross lead to the victory of the resurrection. Because of Christ’s total self-giving, we are given new life.

#Iamastranger

Hello everyone! I am posting a selfie today (even though I generally hate having my picture taken) for a good cause. Two Franciscan friars started a hashtag campaign to fight Trump’s anti-immigration, anti-refugee, anti-Muslim policy. I encourage all of you to do it, especially if you are Christian. We need to remind the world that Jesus was a refugee, and that rejecting the stranger is not Christian.

Take a picture of yourself holding the #Iamastranger sign, then post it on social media. I handwrote mine, but you can print one out here: https://pax-bonum.com/2017/01/26/iamastranger-campaign/

selfie

Thanks!