In 2013 when I graduated from Xavier University, I moved back to Louisville and hungrily searched for a faith community. I tried my childhood parish, but was met with a man who preferred a Vatican I understanding of liturgy. I tried the church down the street in the Highlands and found myself surrounded in a white-washed sea of privilege. My Jesuit education inspired me to understand faith in such a manner that required action. Finally, I found St. Williams. A small, simply, Catholic church located on the corner of 13th street—several blocks past the point my parents raised me to never cross. Walking past the large oak doors, I was greeted by a diversity of sights and sounds I had not yet seen in a Louisville parish. There were men and women of all ages, races, and genders. Broken into quadrants, the rows face the center alter. Like a monastic choir the congregation can see the faces of those they worship together. In this place, searching for a seat in the back to remain unseen is impossible, as the community can easily notice who newly arrives. On my first visit I was greeted with what was obviously the final preparations for a Baptism. “Great,” I thought, “this is going to take forever!”
As the ritual continued, I began to notice something different about this place. The language was different. The term “Lord” was rarely used. Rather than “Father,” the gendered word was replaced with “Creator” or something more inclusive. Following the reading of the Gospel, rather than breaking into a Homily, the priest invited a member of the community to help “break open the word,” a member who happened to be female. Glancing around to see if this “scandal” was noticed, no one in the community seemed to react, this must a normal occurrence. Her homily was no different from any other I had heard before, the occasional awkward joke, personal stories woven in to illuminate a point, and some thoughtful researched exegesis. While nothing she said was remarkably profound, I remember my eyes tearing up about mid-way through her story. I had never seen this before. I had never seen a women speaking from that podium, with that authority. With tears streaming down my face, I realized just how much I had missed throughout my life. How have I never heard a woman’s take on scripture? Why was that so taboo? How had I not heard a female’s take on Baptism? These were of course questions raised in my undergraduate Theology classes, but there were merely theological questions. Like the apostles to the blind man, I failed to see the truth of the situation. Those tears that ran down my face that Sunday morning, was the mud washing away from my eyes allowing me to finally see.
As Brian Bantum writes in the Death of Race, “Jesus walks into the structures of gender, class, nation, and empire… he is the activity of God in these social systems, rejecting their dehumanizing work” (Bantum, pg. 85). As a man in a patriarchal society, Jesus had the authority to speak truth to power. Like the women in the all white boardroom who asks, “Why does our company look like this?”, she and him, not only use their power to speak to those change makes, but also take the risk of losing their job and life (Bantum, pg. 123). The Gospels and life of Jesus call us to precisely take those risks. Jesus stood on the margins and revealed God’s self to those who felt excluded. With Jesus no longer alive and present to this world, our task, as his followers, is to stand with those who have been excluded for loving someone of the same gender, to support our planet that burns beneath our feet, to work in a Church that excludes so many and question why their presence in not valued here.
Like Jesus sitting beneath the sweltering heat of the sun, we thirst for the wellspring of life to learn from those oppressed people in our society. Imagine how our Church might grow if it allowed women to simply speak at more homilies. Imagine how the truth would be revealed if more school like Brebeuf Jesuit High School refused to fire their LGBTQ+ employees. Imagine how our nation might grow if more people of color sat in board rooms. Imagine how our country would be if a women had become president.
For too long we have walked past “the blind” and simply spoken amongst ourselves without taking the proper step towards engaging the individual. Our task is to bind the mud against our face, and be reborn to see a new world.
Bantum, B. (2016). The Death of Race: Building a New Christianity in a Racial World. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.