In today’s readings we are given an invitation to become a part of God’s reigning of justice. An upside down, turn your world around, reigning of justice. Where the lowly are raised up, the blind see, the hungry are fed, and the imprisoned are set free, the psalmist proclaims. Where God chooses the foolish of the world to shame the wise and chooses the weak of the world to shame the strong, Paul tells us. Seek justice, seek humility, the prophet Zephaniah exhorts us. Seek humility that no human being might boast before God. Seek humility, for we are in Christ Jesus, the wisdom of God. Seek humility, the very ground and birth of our being from God's fierce and tender love, a radical love that does justice, a justice that we are called to work for with others, especially learning from those on the margins.
When I hear Jesus inviting us to see ourselves as part of God’s upside-down reigning of justice, I think about my time as a Jesuit volunteer in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Before arriving, I had read about poverty and oppressive systems, but it’s difficult to describe what happens to your heart when people you’ve only read about are now your friends, neighbors and students. When the people of global statistics are kids showing up at your gate gleefully calling out your new Swahili nickname “Beti! Beti!” ... And your neighbors are inviting you, “Karibu (Welcome),” and gesturing to you to “Kula,” (Eat), Beti, and just like that you’re sharing a meal. When global health and HIV/AIDS are no longer numbers but a teacher whose hand you held as he was dying. When your high school principal years later becomes one of the many Jesuit martyrs, giving his very life for the community he served. When your heart breaks open in tears and joys over and over again.
I hear Jesus saying “blessed” to my Tanzanian friends, neighbors, and students. You are blessed. I love you. I am with you. I’m inviting you to my reign of love and justice. You are blessed when you cook ugali and invite others to your meals over and over again. You are blessed when you carry water from the pump. For your hunger and thirst will be satisfied. You are blessed when you study by kerosene lamp and put your head down on your desk the next morning because there was not enough for breakfast. For your education is ufunguo wa maisha, (the key of life). You are blessed when you prepare the food for the mbsiba (the funeral), where mourning is loud and visceral. You are blessed. I love you. I am with you. You are a part of my reign of love and justice.
When I hear Jesus inviting us to see ourselves as part of God’s upside-down reigning of justice, I think about the university students and the community partners I serve with here in Philadelphia, now twenty years later. I hear Jesus saying “blessed” to my students. Not hashtag blessed. But deeply, authentically blessed. You are blessed when you march for racial justice on campus and in our city. You are blessed when you feel overwhelmed by anxiety and your classes and you find it hard to leave your room. You are blessed when you are changing your major, trying to figure out what you’re doing with “your one wild and precious life” (Mary Oliver, The Summer Day). You are blessed. I love you. I am with you. You are a part of my reign of love and justice.
I hear Jesus saying “blessed” to our community service partners. You are blessed when you mourn with those who have lost loved ones to gun violence. You are blessed when you pour countless hours into trauma informed education, tutoring, and mentoring. You are blessed when you are hungry and when you are able to eat in a loving, dignified space. You are blessed when you show up, marching in the streets and the ballot boxes for a more just society. You are blessed. I love you. I am with you. You are a part of my reign of love and justice.
Consider your calling, Paul says. Can we show up for this upside-down reigning of God? Can we place ourselves in spaces where we are not trying to be first, best, or boasting before God and others? Can we place ourselves instead in marginal spaces, place ourselves in humility before the sacredness of one another, to become people of authentic encounter, kinship, and relationship?
Consider your calling. God is calling us as my Tanzanian neighbors did to me, “Karibu” (Welcome). Welcome to your calling. Welcome to your calling that is blessedness, that is humility, that is fierce and passionate love, that is encounter, kinship, and relationship, that is collaborative and creative restructuring of our societies. So that the oppressed are set free, the lowly are lifted up, the mourning are comforted, and the hungry are not hungry in the first place. So that we may celebrate and join together in the Eucharistic banquet where no one is outside of God’s overflowing, abundant, and compassionate love. For this, let us rejoice and be glad!
Beth Ford McNamee
Beth Ford McNamee
Beth Ford McNamee is Associate Director of Saint Joseph's University (SJU) Campus Ministry, where she oversees local community service, social justice programs, student leadership formation, and a Campus Ministry Associate program. She is a triple graduate of SJU (B.S., Psychology; M.S., Psychology; Ed.D., Higher Education Leadership). She served as a Jesuit Volunteer in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania with Loyola High School, ‘00-‘02, and completed a Masters in Pastoral Studies at Washington Theological Union, ‘06. Her dissertation research (’22) explored influences of Ignatian formation for higher education social justice leadership. She is an alum of the Ignatian Colleagues Program (through the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities) and the Contemplative Leaders in Action Program (through the Office of Ignatian Spirituality). She served for four years as the Philadelphia Regional Director for the Contemplative Leaders in Action program. She has taught SJU courses in theology, community organizing, and qualitative research. She is interested in: lay leadership in higher education and the Catholic Church, engaging students in faith-based community service, organizing, and advocacy, spiritual direction, and many other topics, initiatives, and programs. She and her spouse Jeremy are busy enjoying life with their 8-year-old son.
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