Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Why can't we rejoice?

I have been mulling over this post since the election more than two months ago, and I'm sure I'll regret having written it once the uber-right send me their never-kind comments.

But, as I sit watching the festivities of today's inauguration of our first African-American President, I want to rejoice. And yet, I know from many of the emails and comments that I have heard from Catholics since the election, there is a certain set out there who clearly wants us to be in mourning.
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But, today, I refuse. I can't tell you how exciting it is to watch this historic moment as someone never-before thought possible in our nation's rough-and-tumble racial history will stand up and before the nation and world take the oath of office.
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This is a moment that every Catholic, every American should watch with great rejoicing.
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The great Booker T. Washington, remembered a day in 1865, when he was just a boy of 9 years-old: "As the great day drew nearer, there was more singing in the slave quarters than usual. It was bolder, had more ring, and lasted later into the night. Most of the verses of the plantation songs had some reference to freedom.... Some man who seemed to be a stranger (a United States officer, I presume) made a little speech and then read a rather long paper—the Emancipation Proclamation, I think. After the reading we were told that we were all free, and could go when and where we pleased. My mother, who was standing by my side, leaned over and kissed her children, while tears of joy ran down her cheeks. She explained to us what it all meant, that this was the day for which she had been so long praying, but fearing that she would never live to see."
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He of course, was speaking of the freedom of an entire people who had been held captive in the chains and the bonds of slavery. That memory is a bit more distant for us, but not too distant today. His words can be ours. "My mother, who was standing by my side, leaned over and kissed her children, while tears of joy ran down her cheeks." How many times have we seen and will we continue to see that very image replayed today? And how can we as Catholics allow our hearts to be so hardened that we cannot rejoice in this great moment?
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How many people can echo those words "that this was the day for which she had been so long praying, but fearing that she would never live to see."
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One of the most touching scenes that I have seen over and again since November 4 are the African-American parents who, again with tears streaming from their eyes, say a version of this statement: "For the first time in my life, I can truly tell my children that they can be anything they want to be."
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There is a great section on http://www.boston.com/ where they asked clergy throughout the Boston area to share their homilies if they were preaching on the inauguration. (You can read them here: http://www.boston.com/news/local/articles_of_faith/inauguration_se/.)
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One of the sermons said, "On Tuesday of this week, an event will take place of truly historic significance when President-elect Barack Obama is sworn in as the 44th President of the United States. It is both ironic and prophetic that this event should be taking place one day after we, as a nation, will have paid tribute to the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King. Ironic: because the election of a black person to the presidency was probably inconceivable to most people even 10 years ago! Prophetic: because the election of Barack Obama represents the turning of a page in our nation’s history that has needed to be turned for a very long time."
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And another, "What can we say – and pray – about the inaugural of our new president, Barack Obama, a message that can come from all of us with jubilation, regardless of whom we voted for? The answer is easy—and wonderful: what is happening is a tremendous rollback of our national sin of racial prejudice. How many tears, how much pain, how many lives have been lost to bring about this moment when we affirm what is best in America!"
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I was thinking about this idea and realized that I don't think I could preach on the inauguration in my parish. A few months ago, I wrote an article in our parish bulletin highlighting the US Bishop's document, Faithful Citizenship, and even that got such a reaction of anger. All a certain set of people wanted to hear was that Obama is the Devil. That, to them, is the Catholic position.
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But, I can't help but hear the echo of the words of Martin Luther King, Jr. who we commemorated yesterday, "I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character."
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My friends, that day has arrived, and we should, indeed we must rejoice.
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Barack Obama is not the Devil. He is also not the Messiah. He is just a man, but a man making history. As Catholics we can find great agreement with his policies on health care, poverty, immigration, the environment, and more. Let us work together for great progress in these areas.
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We have severe disagreement on his free and seemingly limitless policy towards access to abortion. For this we must pray unceasingly; we must be active and work for change and pray for life. In fact, in the wonder of the beauty of the freedoms our nation offers, in two days a million people will march in the same place that today they celebrate as the annual March for Life takes place.
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But, all of that is for tomorrow. Today, please, today, as the world watches, as we do something that has never before been done in the Western world, let us rejoice at the great stride toward the end of racism that our nation and our world celebrates today.
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In the great words of Martin Luther King, Jr:
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And so let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania. Let freedom ring from the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado. Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California.
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But not only that: Let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia. Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee. Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi. From every mountainside, let freedom ring.
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And when this happens, when we allow freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual: Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!
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May God bless America today and every day!

4 comments:

  1. All Catholics should be excited! He may not agree with all the teachings of the Church, but I am sure Obama will lead this country in the right direction nonetheless.

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  2. Hey Fr. Tom,

    I for one am so glad you made your feelings known on your blog, so well said, good for you.

    YES, it is a great and exciting time in American history. How incredible is it to see a black President sitting there in the oval office?!! I have to tell you that I liked this man from the first time I heard him speak. There are issues yes, but like you said, we can only pray that he makes the right decisions.

    I hope this will be one of many positive emails to offset any negative ones that you might be getting.

    Have a great day!

    Anna

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  3. I am impressed by President Obama's character and integrity. I think these will be the main factors affecting his leadership. Because of his obvious Christian beliefs and his strong convictions of caring for each other, I am convinced that with continued dialogue with Catholic groups and our prayers, he will eventually change his mind on the issues we now disgree about. This is a great time for America!

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  4. Thank you for writing this article. We should not be made afraid or uncomfortable for rejoicing.
    Obama has brought hope. Looking out at the sea of humanity at the inaugeration and witnessing the joy of
    familyhood. Strangers were not strangers. Since 911, I have not seen that kind of love for our fellow human. I am so glad it did not take a tradgedy to create that kind of unity.

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