Safe Start Health Check
Written by Natasha Martin, Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion
October 17, 2019
Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion Natasha Martin (right) gave the homily at Seattle University's Mass of the Holy Spirit on Oct. 3. Here are her remarks.
We come together as a community to mark the beginning of the academic year.
To invite the spirit of God to accompany us along this year’s journey;
To bless and guide our new and returning students, as well as faculty, staff and other leaders on campus;
To ask God’s blessing that the Holy Spirit will find its way into the mind, body, and spirit of each of us.
If you are sitting there a bit surprised by my presence up here, that makes two of us! I come with a humble and willing heart and I ask for your grace in being a vessel for today.
As I was thinking about the significance of this day, I had a moment of levity with my husband this morning as I prepared to leave the house. Lamenting over what to wear, I said, “Should I not wear pants in the pulpit?” “Would that be too irreverent?” He turned to me and said, “Oh, yes, pants in the pulpit; that never happens!” So, any feelings of self-consciousness about my presence here today as a lay woman, quickly subsided!
I am holding the gravity of the moment and surrender to the will of the Spirit. In my discernment about today, I remembered that I have had some powerful models of women in relationship with the Church. As a student at Xavier University of Louisiana, I have sat as you are sitting, our students, participating in sacred ritual like this each year.
Xavier University of Louisiana, the nation’s only historically Black and Catholic university, was founded in 1925 by Katherine Drexel, a Philadelphia socialite and heiress who founded the order, Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, and devoted her life to the education of African Americans and Native Americans. Canonized a Roman Catholic Saint in 2000 by Pope John Paul II, Katherine Drexel’s devotion and leadership offers inspiration for my presence today.
Another is Sister Thea Bowman, a trailblazing African American sister, who was the first black religious sister in her all white congregation and an inspiration to thousands through her words and songs. A noted teacher and scholar, Sr. Bowman was a founding member of Xavier University’s Institute for Black Catholics. She elevated the African American voice in the Catholic Church in numerous ways including advocating to produce an African American Catholic hymnal and assisting in founding the National Black Sisters Conference to provide community and support for African American women in Catholic religious institutes. She embraced her identity as a black woman and a Catholic, and worked tirelessly to bridge divides between races. Sr. Bowman also is being recommended for sainthood with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops advancing her cause.
Now, I am not in the least bit suggesting that I am in their league, of course, but I offer this testimony to say that I stand before you on the shoulders of women who have led within the Catholic Church. I call their spirits forward.
The title of my message that I wish to share today is:
These Times Call for Furious Love! ©
Acclaimed writer and poet Alice Walker wrote a book of poetry titled Hard Times Require Furious Dancing. In the spirit of the Gospel of Mark and the Readings today, I offer that our furious dancing requires us to LOVE. HARD. NOW!
Our Readings remind us of the promise that lies ahead in receiving the gifts of the Spirit including wisdom, understanding, knowledge, strength.
Our Readings also provide guidance on our responsibility as receivers of these gifts:
The Readings, along with the Gospel, point toward the transformative power of Love when it is lived out with interdependent fervor.
In today’s Gospel, we encounter Jesus at a time when he is being tested. In fact, he is pressed hard by various groups comprised of lawyers, scribes, and teachers. They ask Jesus to sum up the essence of the Divine Laws. In his responses, Jesus does not bat an eye; he sort of goes “old school on them;” offering an “oldie, but goodie” so to speak. He harkens back to the Hebrew scriptures contained in Deuteronomy & Leviticus.
We learn further in this Gospel that, impressed with the conviction of his responses, one of the scribes approaches with genuine curiosity and asks – “Which of the commandments is the most important?” “Which is the first of all the commandments?”
Jesus answers: “The first is this: “You shall love the Lord our God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.” He continues: “The second is this: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” And ends with: “There is no other commandment greater than these.” (emphasis added)
So, notice what Jesus does in his response:
You should BOTH
Love God and Love Thy Neighbor as Thyself
He flips the script! Inextricably linking the commandment to Love God with the commandment to Love one’s neighbor as thyself.
Notwithstanding the order of priority, we see that both are put forward as interconnected; interrelated. So, just like that! Jesus frames our interdependence with simplicity and definitiveness.
Conjoined in this way – Love God Fully and Love Your Neighbor as Yourself – is said to have had Revolutionary Impact!
According to my study, apparently this was the first time that Jesus had pronounced these commandments as a “package deal” in this way. Thus, we gain clarity in the Gospel of what God wants us to do.
This is a poignant lesson for our current moment, a time when we need to reclaim humaneness, decency and dignity. We need a revolution of our values!
It is important to note that we are in a time of great social unrest; from suffocation of our planet to the snuffing out of human life through violence, neglect, and inequality.
What dominates our consciousness are the ways that we are divided and separated by
The scars on society cover very deep wounds; thus, healing and reconciliation are needed.
I submit to you that what we are seeing are manifestations of fear. Therefore, we must:
LOVE. HARD. NOW! Furiously Love with interdependent fervor in order to counter our hardened culture.
In 1967, just a couple months before his death, Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave a sermon on Peace. In this particular sermon, Dr. King denounces indifference and divisiveness – “We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality.” “Tied into a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly . . . affects all indirectly. We are made to live together because of the interrelated structure of reality.”
“All of our struggles are really one struggle - for the soul of humanity.” (emphasis added)
What Reverend Dr. King recognizes here is our interconnectedness. Thus, I say to you, despite our differences – racially/ethnically, religiously; ideologically, politically – our ability to truly foster God’s love lies in our willingness to embrace the other.
We are called to love others because God first loved us. And, he did so without prerequisites. Why then do we place prerequisites on our affinity towards others? We amplify differences that so often are derived from accidents of birth – that is, if you are born free from the shackles of poverty, racism, sexism, xenophobia, ableism, and other marginalizing conditions.
Whatever our circumstances, God sees us as whole persons.
In order to love furiously in this way, we must believe in what Reverend. Dr. King expressed more than 50 years ago – “believe in the sacredness of human personality,” and if we do so “we won’t exploit people, we won’t trample over people with the iron foot of oppression, we won’t kill anybody.” I would add, neither physically or spiritually.
You may be sitting there and pondering -- Is the command to Love somehow incongruent with the desire to fight injustice?
The Gospel tells us No!
Our Reading from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah states “We shall judge the poor with justice; and treat the vulnerable with care and fairness.” (emphasis added)
Reverend Dr. King with those marching and advocating for civil and human rights also knew that there was no dichotomy. In fact, Dr. King stated in this same sermon in 1967 that “[w]e must never let up in our determination to remove every vestige of segregation and discrimination from our nation, but we shall not in the process relinquish our privilege to love.”
In our efforts to lean into the “network of mutuality” as described by Dr. King, we must ask ourselves some important questions:
Racism and sexism are such affronts, for example.
In 2001, the Committee on African American Catholics issued a compilation of articles by bishops to promote reflection, dialogue, and action on racism. These letters addressed racism against not only African Americans, but also Latinx, Indigenous Peoples and Asian Americans. Consistent with social teachings, these bishop-penned materials reflected that racism is sin because “it blots out the image of God and divides the human family.” Since racism is sin and part of the American landscape, it is contrary to the Gospel. Thus, we must constantly work to root it out and diminish its impact upon individuals and the Church.
This greatest commandment --To Love God Fully and to Love Your Neighbor as Yourself -- is the hardest of all. Being open to the Spirit is about not limiting God to your own preconceived notions or your ideas of the future. Therefore, through this commandment, we can reclaim our human potential and in a manner that can have the revolutionary impact it had during the time of this telling.
The Readings help us to recognize the complexity of loving hard.
We must accept that human experience often gets in the way. As the Reading of the Letter of Saint Paul to the Ephesians implored, in order to Love our neighbor as we Love ourselves, we must remove those human characteristics that get in the way of building relationships and seeing the image of God in others. For the scripture reflects that “[a]ll bitterness, fury, anger, shouting, and reviling must be removed from you, along with all malice. And be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving one another as God has forgiven you in Christ.”
While Love is the antidote to fear and it is what this most important commandment requires, it is critical to note that inclusive Love is not sentimental or about coddling; it does not mean to hold back on the difficult conversations; it requires authenticity and truth telling. For example, committing ourselves to telling the truth about our history, racism and the other ills of society that separate us one from another.
We recognize here that this commandment is one of Reciprocity – “it reaches beyond ourselves and commands us to want the same for others.”
When we see our neighbor treated unjustly, how will we respond?
If we would not accept unfair treatment toward ourselves, shouldn’t we decline to accept unfair treatment of others?
So, you see, we are bound together.
To Love God fully means to be in relationship with others. You cannot fulfill your Love to God by yourself. The only way to love God is by loving your neighbor.
Thus, loving God fully with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength is not a solitary activity. It is not passive. Additionally, it is not merely tolerant; for tolerance involves a lack of proximity; the kind of co-existence that is not the same as being in relationship with one another. To tolerate someone, you do not have to risk much at all. That is not the kind of Love that the Spirit requires of us. While it is altruistic to love your neighbor, that alone is not enough. Similarly, loving God in isolation is insufficient. It can be haughty and filled with self-absorption.
The order of this commandment is important as well. Loving God fully means, first, building an individual relationship with the Spirit of God; the search for meaning; connecting to the sacred inside through reflection, prayer, and discernment in order to learn who you are. It is a kind of spiritual self-care to do one’s own internal soul work.
Because when we can see ourselves as whole persons with our flaws, strengths, wounds, mistakes, transgressions; and feelings; then we can hold ourselves with greater compassion and love.
When we hold ourselves with such self-regard (accepting our own imperfection), then we can see the fullness of others, which grows our capacity to love our neighbor with due regard.
To our students, the grit and grind of life and this academic year are inevitable. As you balance classes and immerse yourselves in campus life, fight the temptation to wall yourselves off from rekindling a heart for others. Foster an openness to the Spirit. Do not sequester your soul.
God’s Love is an inclusive force! Remember that some acts of inclusion can also be acts of exclusion.
Step out of your comfort zones to love your neighbor; not just your tribe, your family or core community because that is the easy love! Be open because you just might receive the gift from God of an unexpected friendship or an aha moment.
Students, we pray that you will be filled with hope and curiosity as you lean into learning and growing this academic year. May you find wholeness by confronting the brokenness in society and within yourselves. We pray that you find respite here at Seattle University in the middle of this global city with our beautiful art, hidden gardens, Chapel of St. Ignatius and other spaces across campus where you can experience a sense of belonging and be a part of beloved community. This is precisely what it means to be educated in the Jesuit tradition.
To my faculty and staff colleagues, I invite you, as well, to reflect on your roles in this reciprocal relationship that we are called to embrace in the Gospel of Mark. Pope Francis has said that our role as educators is to “collaborate in the growth process of humanity: through our professionalism and the consistent witness of our lives to help young people become active builders of a more fraternal and peaceful world.”
I invite you all to embrace God’s commandment “to love him with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength and to love your neighbor as yourself.”
Look up and see the eyes of another;
Extend a hand, not a fist;
Offer a smile not a scowl;
And in doing so, may you demonstrate the kind of love for yourself and for others that becomes a part of the furious dance to Love. Hard. Now!
May your spirit be renewed again and again in the days, weeks, and months ahead. May you be enveloped in God’s love; that the gifts of the Spirit will free us all to be more welcoming, fair, and caring toward one another. Through our interdependence, may we experience the transformative power of God’s everlasting Love.
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