By Father Jeremy Tobin
I cannot count the number of times that our democracy is under attack. Institutions that exist to preserve the common values and human rights we take for granted are ridiculed. Their credibility is attacked. Facts are irrelevant. Articles about creeping fascism pop up everywhere. It is like the 1960s all over again. Our current president’s rhetoric is more than shocking. It is unacceptable.
Hate groups are demonstrating freely and openly. If anyone should take the lead in denouncing all this is the president. I am going to stop there.
Those of us who participated in the Civil Rights Movement have seen this all before. We are different now. Americans have done soul searching and developed unity in diversity. The country really has changed since 1950, dramatically so., no better region than the South. People have learned to come together, to embrace diversity , all for the betterment of all. People I have known up North most of my life fled Mississippi during the “Great Migration”, returned in the early 1980s because so much change took place here. They returned home and stayed. Yes, great change took place, and we moved a little closer to becoming the “beloved community” that Dr. King preached about.
The Church changed too. Churches desegregated. Gospel Music, became basic to predominantly African American Catholic churches. This was a major work championed by Sister Thea Bowman, FSPA, Servant of God, now on the way to sainthood., and others like Father Clarence Rivers etc. The Second Vatican Council made possible so many things, enculturation in the liturgy being one of them. The influx of Latino Catholics further promoted this. The Church was looking a lot more like small “c” catholic.
Across the country in many ways people are growing to not only accept, but like diversity. The political experience of these past two years is jarring, not the values we embraced.
The last 50 years saw a promotion of social justice in new and powerful ways. Catholic Social Justice Teaching is well known. Our Catholic Charities has it on hand out cards to make it very clear. Times have changed,
So has the reaction. The country is more divided than ever. Hate groups have multiplied. Students find nooses in their lockers. The KKK holds marches. Neo-Nazi groups stage torchlight marches reminiscent of a past era. Now the worst killing of Jews in the nation’s history took place in Pittsburgh. What could slow down the positive movement of social change is the appointment of federal judges by this administration.
Those of us who dedicated our lives to implement the Second Vatican Council, to promote social justice and human rights say there is no going back..
November 1 we celebrated the Feast of All Saints. The Gospel reading was from Matthew, the eight Beatitudes. Each of them are directed to the weak not the powerful. The “crowds” who hung on Jesus’ words were the poor and marginalized. Pope Francis tells us that’s the direction to go. Lift up those who are persecuted. Reach out to those who are discriminated. The psalms we pray daily are the cries of those who have no voice. Psalm 34, the “Lord hears the cry of the poor,” Mary’s Canticle, we sing at Vespers daily says, “The Lord fills the starving, and lets the rich go hungry.”
Catholic social teaching is not just words. It is action to push back against hate. The New Testament teaches the primacy of love. Only love can melt hate and endure. These times we live in will change. The old ways are really gone. Young people today have new fire to bring positive change. They are diverse. They are literate of the issues. They will make real the hope we old folks have for a new world.
(Father Jeremy Tobin, O.Praem, lives at the Priory of St. Moses the Black, Jackson.)