Who will face Benedict the Moor for the 2021 Golden Halo? That's the question of the day as Catherine of Genoa faces Absalom Jones to determine the final matchup of our little saintly contest.
Yesterday, Benedict advanced to the Championship Round by rolling past Ives of Kermartin 69% to 31%.
If you missed the final in-season episode of Monday Madness, be sure to catch it here. And then, go vote!
Catherine of Genoa
One of my great joys in the last year has been discovering previously unknown, to me, stories which resonate with my own faith and life. Catherine of Genoa has been at the forefront of that list of stories.
Catherine was easy for her contemporaries to write her off. At first she was too young to be taken seriously. And then she was a woman writing about her experiences of God. She was trained neither as a priest nor as an academic. She was at one point in her life too wealthy to be taken seriously – and at another too poor.
Yet through Catherine’s powerful experiences of God and her gift for translating those experiences to the written word, she gave to the world an offering that could not be ignored. Through her hands-on ministry to the sick and dying she made clear that her powerful words offered a glimpse of a faith that makes a real difference in the daily lives of those in need.
Catherine of Genoa’s life causes me to reflect on myself. How many witnesses to God’s world-changing love have I overlooked?
Catherine’s words invite me to look honestly at my pride. Have I made myself too big, or have I “hidden myself” in the heart and love of God?
And Catherine’s actions cause me to look at my daily living. Does my experience of God’s love drive me into action, into the love of my neighbor?
Mystical and theological insight. Beautiful service to her neighbor. There is much to admire in Catherine.
As I turn over another year on the calendar, I am especially inspired by Catherine’s ability to re-invent herself – the gracefulness of her discovering a second act to her life. It was only after her unhappy years of marriage, after the overturning of her financial well-being, that Catherine discovered her joyful and fulfilling calling to work in the hospital.
It was at the ripe old age of 31, in the middle of a pandemic, that Catherine began work in the hospital. For perspective, the average life expectancy at the time was about 35 years. She then spent the next 31 years working in the hospital as a nurse, administrator, spiritual guide, and comforter.
How many of us are in need of reinvention? How many are looking for that second (or third) act in our lives?
Catherine reminds us that the greatest work is not always the work of youth. That the physical, emotional, and spiritual wisdom of age can bring with it an opportunity to make a lasting difference in our communities and the world.
This Lent I pray that – like Catherine – I may be set ablaze by the fire of Divine Love. That I may discover deeper connection to God, deeper purpose in my life, and deeper love of my neighbor.
Someone said in the comments that while she understood Absalom Jones’s importance, she cast her vote for someone who had a national impact. That made me ponder: What does Absalom Jones have to do with you?
My Episcopal priest dad, Wilson Willard, proclaims: “Despite being both enslaved and discriminated against by Christians, Jones saw through and beyond their distorted witness. He labored valiantly for the Christian ideals of universal equality, liberty, and justice for all. Recognizing the catholicity professed but in practice denied by The Episcopal Church, he became the foremost pioneer of its still-evolving movement toward full inclusion for all people. He is the best example for our country and our church as we continue the struggle for racial justice and reconciliation.”
Boom! Dad was part of the founding of our diocese’s Union of Black Episcopalians chapter, where we celebrated our 35th annual Absalom Jones Symposium and Worship this year: The Impact of Racial Inequities to Environmental Justice in America.
Byron Rushing says: “Overcoming 38 years of enslavement by Episcopal slave owners, Jones and Richard Allen organized freed and enslaved Africans in Philadelphia to establish a congregation and lead those Black Christians in sacrificial acts of service to all Philadelphians, especially during the devastating 1793 yellow fever epidemic.”
“I’m deeply impressed by his faithfulness to God despite the failings of the Church,” says Natalee Hill. “He was hurt by the Church several times and yet stayed faithful to God, finding a way into leadership in a church. As a leader, he then held power and pressure of example to pave the way for so many others.” This is what I mean by global impact. He is a model of what it’s like to face adversity and keep working selflessly.
Victoria Hoppes added, “Hearing his story and learning about his legacy has taught me about a whole section of church history that I may not otherwise have learned.” Spencer Pugh agrees: “Absalom Jones’ story is so tied up with the story of the United States - especially the history we aren’t taught and discover later in life.” The black church blesses us all. And we all have a lot more to learn.
Miguel Escobar remembers Absalom Jones “for his friendship and connection to Richard Allen, founder of AME churches. Jones is representative of our longstanding connection to the African Methodist Episcopal Church.” Absalom Jones and Richard Allen worked together to better God’s people. My daughters would call this “friendship goals.”
Absalom Jones shows us what it looks like to be a Christian, a community organizer, a faith leader, and a friend. That’s what Absalom Jones has to do with you: he shows you how to follow Jesus, no matter what.
Catherine of Genoa vs. Absalom Jones
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