Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Fr. Pete Iorio
February 9, 2020 – 8:30AM
Including the renewal of vows for Sr. Yvette Gillan and Sr. Lakshmie Napagoda

Audio Recording

It is Black history month and yesterday the church remembered a black saint. Josephine Bakhita who was born around 1869 in western Sudan. She was kidnapped and made to be a slave. Throughout her youth, she was abused by many of her owners. Eventually, she was taken in by an Italian family and returned with them to Italy. She was inspired by their Catholic faith and became Catholic. She then went on to become a religious sister. Much later, a young student once asked Bakhita: “What would you do, if you were to meet your captors?” Without hesitation she responded: “If I were to meet those who kidnapped me, and even those who tortured me, I would kneel and kiss their hands. For, if these things had not happened, I would not have been a Christian and a religious today”

Pope JP II canonized her in 2000. She is a patron saint for all people who endure human trafficking.

Through all her trauma, she forgot the name her parents had given her. The name Bakhita means lucky one in her language since she survived. It was given to her by one of her slave owners. Josephine is the Christian name she took in baptism.

Thanks to an Italian family who let their light shine, Josephine was inspired to become Catholic and dedicate her life to Christ.
Jesus said that we are to be salt and light…in small ways by our actions to let his love have an effect in the world. All of us can be inspired to let our lights work for racial justice.

Just over a year ago, in 2018, the US bishops wrote a second pastoral letter against racism. The first was in 1979. Open Wide Our Hearts – the enduring call to love was written to address the topic of racism, once again, after witnessing the deterioration of the public discourse, and episodes of violence and animosity with racial and xenophobic overtones, that have re-emerged in American society in the last few years.

Two excellent movies came out last year that I highly recommend. I warn you that they are difficult to watch because of humans inflicting violence and hatred on other humans. Both movies are based on true stories. Harriet about Harriet Tubman ran the Underground Railroad had her mission to free slaves and was inspired by her faith in God. The second movie is called Just Mercy. Just Mercy took place in Alabama, part of the Bible belt in the late 1980s.

It is a story of Brian Stevenson an African American from Delaware who got a law degree from Harvard. His mission was to help those people on death row get proper legal assistance. What he encountered was white political power that was very corrupt and racist. In one case, evidence from a black man’s family was not allowed to be presented in court even though it clearly exonerated the man from the charge of murder. Mr. Stevenson and his collaborators continued to let their lights shine.

In the first reading, Isaiah is writing at a time after the exile in Babylon. He is speaking about the righteousness that people need to have, and these are what we would call in Catholic language corporal works of mercy. If you remove from your midst oppression, false accusation and malicious speech; if you bestow your bread on the hungry and satisfy the afflicted; then light shall rise for you in the darkness. It is the part of the book of the prophet Isaiah that describes the suffering servant. As I look at his story, I see Brian Stevenson was truly a suffering servant as he continued his mission to help people who were oppressed.

Our bishops declared that: Racism arises when—either consciously or unconsciously—a person holds that his or her own race or ethnicity is superior, and therefore judges persons of other races or ethnicities as inferior and unworthy of equal regard. When this conviction or attitude leads individuals or groups to exclude, ridicule, mistreat, or unjustly discriminate against persons on the basis of their race or ethnicity, it is sinful. Racist acts are sinful because they violate justice. They reveal a failure to acknowledge the human dignity of the persons offended, to recognize them as the neighbors Christ calls us to love (Mt 22:39).

Just as a little salt can change the flavor of food so a little bit of love in action by living our faith helps others. The good actions let others see our good deeds and glorify God. This is humility, not glorifying ourselves for we are merely servants called to let God’s love and power work through us.