Greetings - I’m coming to you from my home in Durham North Carolina, where it’s hot! The heat dome that’s sitting over most of the lower 48 is hovering over us and we’re well into the days of summer when the car seatbelts burn to the touch.
This heat matches the fire of my anger.
There is so much to be angry about these days.
Fr. Bryan Massingale, SJ in a recent interview with Commonweal reminds us, “What St. Thomas of Aquinas says is beautiful: anger is the passion that moves the will to justice”.
So maybe this anger doesn’t have to just burn me up. Because there is so much I’m hot about.
I’m hot about the fact that Breonna Taylor’s killers are still at-large. And that between the time of this recording and your hearing, the odds are disturbingly high that another black life will be taken at the hands of law enforcement, with immunity.
I’m hot about some of our own U.S. bishops and their lawyers. Those that are charged with being our shepherds. Are they protecting the flock? Feeding their hungry sheep? Or conspiring with the state for the legal right to slay their own sheep?
I’m hot that women who are incarcerated in the state of North Carolina have been living on constant lock-down since March -- 23-hours on their bed -- with one hour a day to make a call, visit with a chaplain or a social worker, take a shower, go to the canteen to buy a snack, head to the dayroom for a brief break, get fresh air. 1 hour a day. Staff at the facility are having to bring their own hand sanitizer and cleaning supplies, and the women’s masks are fit for men’s sized faces.
I’m hot about the incessant polarization of a pandemic that leaves each of us faced with impossible decisions each day: each of us having to navigate risk, costs, our health and safety, the health of others -- weighing our sanity, our jobs, the well-being of our children.
No wonder my blood boils over into tears.
So when I go to meet Jesus today -- when I ask him what he has for me, for you, for us --
I see a Jesus who also is hot with anger.
“When Jesus heard of the death of John the Baptist, he withdrew in a boat to a deserted place by himself.”
Jesus hears the news of his beloved cousin, the one who prepared a way in the desert, the one who proclaimed that a new kingdom was a hand, who predicted the Holy Spirit and fire of Jesus’ ministry.
The one who also sat in prison, who sent his disciples to ask Jesus: are you the one who is to come?
Who Jesus responded as he sent word back to John: “tell him, tell him the lame walk, the blind are made to see, the deaf can hear, and the poor have good news proclaimed to them.”
John the Baptist: the one who could see Jesus’ call more clearly than most -- and who paid the ultimate price for his queer prophetic ministry.
“When Jesus heard of the death of John the Baptist, he withdrew in a boat to a deserted place by himself.” - Matthew 14:13.
Friends, as Jesus withdrew I imagine him praying with anger and deep grief. Crying out to God his father: LORD, why do your rulers lack wisdom and live by fear, seeing the kingdom we’ve brought only through power-hungry eyes, wedded to violence and force, against this word of love and peace that we seek to proclaim.
What if today some of the good news for us is that our anger and our grief is something Jesus shares with us, might even have put in us -- so that we feel what he feels when he looks out and sees the world, in its state today. Because if Jesus is with us in our anger, if we worship a Jesus who grieves, He can show us what to do with it.
Anger and grief can render me numb and hard, cold and mean. It can turn me inward, onto myself and make me resentful of others. When people come asking me for things -- I can often respond with resentment, annoyance, frustration, exhaustion.
But Jesus shows us another path in today’s Gospel. Jesus tells us it’s okay to need to withdraw to the boat and rage, cry your hot tears -- but then -- see what he does -- he turns back. He tells us: remember how much you love this world. Look at the people you love, the people who draw near to you.
He turns and he sees the crowds who have gathered. He sees and is moved with great compassion.
Jesus withdraws but does not leave us alone, he turns back. He shows us the way to turn back. To not ever be cut off. He shows us what to do with our anger at John’s beheading.
Jesus wants us to know that what St. Paul tells us is truth: Nothing can cut us off, nothing can separate us from the love he has for us -- not the white powers and principalities, not the homophobic legal briefings, not the misogyny that denies women’s ability to image Christ, not state-sanctioned killings and federal executions.
Jesus returns and tells us to grieve, but then to return, to cure, to share what we have.
To trust that it will be enough when we bless it and offer it to God to give the increase.
These few loaves and couple of fish. This Bible and wonky wi-fi connection. Our baptism and the Word of God. What else do we think we need to do his work of curing sickness? Of feeding the thousands?
We’re invited today with all our grief, whatever it is we carry, to sing out Isaiah’s song of radical invitation to all who thirst and all who hunger.
Come without paying and without cost
Come -- Catholic women, anguishing in your calling and longing to find full recognition in your church.
Come -- queer Catholics persecuted, discriminated against, living in fear.
Come - black Americans, black Catholics, constantly in peril by the sword of white supremacy.
Come -- those who are suicidal, filled with anxiety, suffering from depression and battling addiction.
Come - all who are sick.
Come if you are lonely and tired and weighed down with grief.
He beckons us:
Come and sit on the grass. Rest here.
You will eat well with me. Listen that you may have life.
I will renew you with the everlasting covenant.
Come turn that hot anger into fuel that sustains your love of creation and the people of God entrusted to your care.
Come and be changed, be renewed, be fed -- by the same one who promises that no creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus, but that in him we conquer overwhelmingly.
Casey Stanton, M.Div., is the Minister of Social Action and Discipleship at Immaculate Conception Parish in Durham, North Carolina. She holds a BA from the University of Notre Dame, and a Masters of Divinity from Duke Divinity School where she graduated with a certificate in prison studies. Casey spent a decade working in the field of faith-based and labor organizing where she witnessed the power of collective action to bend decision makers towards justice. She hopes to be part of nudging the church towards a more radical embodiment of inclusive leadership, hospitality, social action, and mutual care. A Boston native, Casey is proud to make a home in Durham with her partner Felipe, and their two children, Micaela and Teddy. She loves reading poetry out loud and seeing her favorite band, Hardworker, perform live. You can find her occasionally blogging at Women in Theology.
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