I’m fairly active on social media. One of my favorite hashtags recently has been “know better, do better.”
Something I’ve learned in recent months is how much I just don’t know - about US history… about African American history… about Church history… about how we came to be where we are right now as a nation? How did we come to be in the age we are today? It is extremely important to consider. If we don’t know the answer, we cannot move forward.
St. Paul exhorts us not to be conformed to this age. Wise words for us today. For what do we see in this age? We are in the midst of a global pandemic - needlessly 100s of thousands have died preventable deaths, public health has become politicized, we see an uncovering of white nationalism - notice, not necessarily a rise, but an uncovering and perhaps a mainstreaming, systemic racism is still with us and the environment is in need of healing. This is the age in which we find ourselves. This is the age to which we cannot be conformed. We have to allow for a renewal of our minds… learning, growing, unlearning, challenging assumptions, revealing hidden biases…
Learning is important. But it can’t stop there. Know better. Do better
Once we know, we have an obligation. Once our eyes are opened to the reality around us, we cannot then close them and not see. Once we’ve heard the cry of the poor, marginalized and the oppressed, we cannot unhear their voices or stop listening.
Not many of us like to rock the boat. We’re often unsure. Afraid of saying or doing the wrong thing. When faced with the same doubts, St. Julie Billiart encouraged her sisters - “Better mistakes than paralysis.” This is good advice. We can see that paralysis is not a valid option at this point. We must act. But never without prayer and discernment. Not only will this enable us to know what to do, it will give us the strength to continue on when we are faced with obstacles, ridicule and push back.
For those will come. There will be struggle.
In 1857 in a speech marking the 23rd anniversary of the emancipation of the West Indies, Frederick Douglass asserted:
“The whole history of the progress of human liberty shows that all concessions yet made to her august claims have been born of earnest struggle…. If there is no struggle there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet deprecate agitation are [men] who want crops without plowing up the ground; they want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters….”
Progress cannot be realized without struggle. The Peters in our lives may say, “Heaven forbid!” And to that we should say, “Get behind me Satan. You are an obstacle to me.” Sometimes we even have to say that to ourselves - “Get behind me Satan. You are an obstacle to me.”
At times, in the midst of difficulty and struggle, we might say to ourselves, “Maybe I need to stop doing this. I’m tired. Tired of the ridicule. Tired of having to explain why I’m doing this. Just tired of the struggle.” But if it is the Spirit of God - the spirit of justice and peace and mercy - that is acting within us, it will weigh on us and become like a fire burning within.
In her book Redeeming Conflict, Ann Garrido wrote: “... when something matters to you, when something is important to you, it will damage both the relationship and your own sense of personal integrity not to at least bring it up. That impulse in our gut that propels us to speak… is an important voice to listen to. It needs to be guided by prudence, but also nurtured with compassion. It is a seed that the Holy Spirit has planted. It deserves water. It requires discernment. And it will come to fruition in time.”
Like our friend Jeremiah. Poor Jeremiah, reluctant prophet, didn’t seem to know what he was getting himself into. Perhaps his youth kept him from foreseeing that his challenging words would bring him derision. He didn’t seem to understand that people wouldn’t be open to his words - his invitation to repentance, change, growth. He wanted to quit. To stop speaking these words that caused so much trouble for him. But he couldn’t. And like Jeremiah, neither can we.
Because it’s not about us. Our Gospel today tells us that to be disciples we must deny ourselves, pick up our cross and follow Jesus. To deny ourselves means we stop making ourselves the center of our lives. And to put Jesus and his mission in this world at the center.
Jesus came in order to set the oppressed free, to proclaim liberty to captives, to offer sight to the blind, to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord. This. This is our call. But we can’t expect the path to be easy. It wasn’t easy for Jeremiah, for Isaiah, or Amos, the apostles, the martyrs, saints, Martin Luther King Jr, Medgar Evers, Rev. James Reeb, Claudette Colvin, and countless others.
“Do not conform yourself to this age, but be transformed by the renewal of your minds that you might know what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect.”
Let us challenge ourselves to keep learning and growing, allowing God to transform us by the renewal of our minds, so we might act with courage in spite of the obstacles and struggles to bring about a time acceptable to the Lord.
Sr. Nicole Trahan, FMI
Sr. Nicole Trahan, FMI
Sr. Nicole Trahan, FMI, a native of Orange, Texas, is a member of the Daughters of Mary Immaculate (Marianists) and currently lives in Dayton, Ohio. Sr. Nicole serves her congregation as a member of the provincial leadership team, vocations director and director of the pre-novitiate program. She is also a part-time campus minister at Chaminade Julienne Catholic High School.
With masters degrees in Catholic School Leadership and Pastoral Ministry, Sr. Nicole has a background in teaching theology/religion on the secondary level, collegiate and secondary campus ministry, retreat design and leadership, and spiritual accompaniment. She has a passion for faith formation and leadership development, especially of young people. This passion is equally matched by her dedication to seeking justice.
Sr. Nicole is currently completing her doctorate in education at Gonzaga University through which she is studying equity and inclusion of students of color in mixed-raced Catholic schools. She is also a regular contributor to National Catholic Reporter’s Global Sisters Report and enjoys writing on various topics.
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