Franciscan Spirit Blog

Let Us Pray: Defiantly Catholic

People in Raeford, N.C., pray after viewing the body of George Floyd June 6, 2020. Demonstrations continue after a white police officer in Minnesota was caught on a bystander's video May 25 pressing his knee into the neck of George Floyd, an African American, who was later pronounced dead at a hospital.(CNS photo/Jonathan Drake, Reuters) See FLOYD-PROTESTS-HOMILIES-ROUNDUP June 8, 2020.

It is remarkable that our senses and memory are so closely linked: those smells, sounds, or tastes that transcend time and space. Every time I hear car tires screech- ing, I remember the 7-year-old me when my dad’s car was rammed from behind. I can remember the loud bang of our screen door as it closed that told me in my youth it was summertime. I remember my brother’s scream when he heard his classmate and friend Emmett Till was murdered in Mississippi. That particular memory still lingers in the ether, infinitely hovering since 1955.

Back in the day (I love saying that), my mother gathered us kids together. Not an unusual thing, but this time her serious face gave weight to what she was about to tell us. “There is a political system in South Africa that is called apartheid,” she said. “It denigrates and dehumanizes Black Africans who have lived there for thousands of years—long before it was invaded by Europeans. One of the methods they use is to require all Black Africans to carry passbooks in order to travel anywhere in the country.

“Those passbooks have a picture of the person so they can be identified,” she continued. “The pictures in those passbooks are taken with a Polaroid camera because it produces an instant picture. Polaroid is an American company. From this point on, no one in this family will buy one of their cameras. They are not to enter our home. Nor will you allow anyone to take a picture of you with one of those cameras. Do you understand me?”

We all agreed—even my father who was not used to taking orders from my mom. She knew our little effort would not change the vulgar system in a land thousands of miles away, nor would it affect the bottom line of a company such as Polaroid.

And yet she would make certain that our family would stand up for what was right. Her purpose was to instill in us her undying commitment to the sanctity of all people everywhere. She was pro-life before it was a movement or slogan.

Strength and Dignity

One could speculate where this unwavering commitment to the belief in the right of all God’s creatures to live fully and without fear came from. It might have been engen- dered by the seed of courage that blossomed when her friend Mamie Till-Mobley, the mother of Emmett Till, stood strong in her faith when the horrid murder of her son broke the hearts of our community and the world. For it was then that the world got the chance to see the strength and dignity of Black mothers.

This seed of faith was fortified when, in 1957, my mom and dad were finally able to buy a new home, which happened to be in a largely White community. She began attending Mass at our new parish and chose to defiantly sit in the front pew as a response to the priest’s statement that he did not want the newly arriving Black Catholics to attend his church. He did not know or understand the faith of my mom. He had never witnessed someone who would fight to be Catholic. I am my mother’s son.

Go in Peace

Our Church is God’s Church, and we belong to God. Church is the place we go to nurture our faith. It is where we go to be community. It is where we go to hear and listen to the word of God—to be encouraged to live a life of faith and love. When the Mass has ended, we are not to leave our faith, our love, or our kindness behind the stained glass windows. My mother understood that.

This nurturing of faith and commitment to God is what my mother understood and tried desperately to live. To her, Mass was more than a Sunday morning conversation. It was her locker room where she readied herself to enter the game: to live by the rules she learned, the nourishment she received, and to make certain her little team would be ready to be defiantly Catholic.

Let Us Pray

Within each of us a seed of faith was planted.
Our task is to nurture it with care—to give it breath and light.
It is our task to share it in every moment and every person.
In that way, dear God, it will produce a harvest untold.

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11 thoughts on “Let Us Pray: Defiantly Catholic”

  1. Arlene B. Muller

    Nowadays being “defiantly Catholic” that includes standing up for the lives & dignity of all human beings without exception must also be demonstrated in standing up for the sanctity of all human life from conception through natural death with special emphasis on the unborn, on women in crisis pregnancies to help them with all the support and resources they need to choose life before, during & after birth, pregnancy resource centers & pro-life organizations that have been subject to attacks, on our Catholic churches that are subject to attack, on our right to express our faith and live according to our faith and our Catholic Christian conscience, and to seek a just and prudent immigration policy that protects the health, safety and human dignity of citizens, legal immigrants, and the undocumented, the migrants and the refugee entering our borders & protects ALL from terrorists, human sex traffickers, drug traffickers, criminals, overcrowded conditions, COVID-19 and other diseases.

  2. This article is so important, and it seems to include love and acceptance for the LGBTQ+ community. I am currently trying to convert to Catholicism, a desire that seemed to come out of nowhere when I found myself in a life situation which is deeply traumatic and humbling beyond words. Last year I was evicted, unemployed, and without an affordable place to live my friends took me in, giving me space in their partially finished 2-car garage. My husband at the time soon became abusive and also took his anger out on my beautiful, rescued Newfoundland dog (who has also been traumatized by this event) and my friend thought it best to ask him to leave, after which he abandoned me completely, both financially and physically. I had many, many extremely dark nights when I was just broken in spirit, body and mind. A former atheist but raised Jewish, I began to pray, which soon became a comfort to me because I found myself devoid of compassion from anyone in my midst, and with the exception of a lovely parish priest, that has persisted. But I am reminded not to rely on people for compassion and comfort, and to look only to God. While my current existence is painful, it seems to have awakened the Holy Spirit, which sort of quietly snuck in during my moments of utter despair, and I am grateful for that because I never would have considered the Catholic Church as a source of respite and hope. I have been informed that I cannot begin the RCIA because of the need for an annulment which will push my mental health to the breaking point right now, so my official conversion will have to wait. I pray for everyone reading this and for my son, and for the parish priest who is counseling me, and for all people who have need.

    1. I pray for you, Sandra! I lift gratitude to God for making Himself known in your time of struggle and sorrow. And welcome, welcome, welcome sister in Christ!

  3. Deacon Art,

    Your mother sound like my kind of people! What comments have you about racist blacks in South Africa and Zimbabwe killing and terrorizing white people? Or here at home, BLM riots, arson, and plundering?

    We are all made in the image of God and I denounce all racism, but such a remarkable double standard exists!

    God bless!

  4. What an incredibly SAINTLY woman! Women of faith are called to nurture, nourish and enkindle in their very own (children) truth, compassion, justice, peace, love, joy – and the list goes on – so that through them the sparks will ignite into flames advancing a more just and peaceful world person-by-person! Micah’s quote 6:8 seems fitting: “This is what the LORD requires of you to act justly, to love tenderly and to walk humbly with your God”! And, yes, that includes being defiantly humble and humbly defiant in the face of all that belittles the image of God in others. Your Mom is an example of just that Deacon Miller!

  5. What a powerful, beautiful story! Thank you for sharing and allowing us to “know” your mother and also learn from her unwavering faith.

  6. You are certainly your mother’s son, Deacon Art; what a wise and courageous lady! Thank you for this edifying blog.

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