Catherine of Genoa vs. Absalom Jones

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%.

To make it to the Faithful Four, Catherine took down Catherine of Bologna, Isidora the Simple, and Albert the Great, while Absalom bested Henriette Delille, Marianne Cope, and Catherine Booth.

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.

--David Hansen

Absalom Jones

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.

--Miriam McKenney

Catherine of Genoa vs. Absalom Jones

  • Absalom Jones (62%, 3,999 Votes)
  • Catherine of Genoa (38%, 2,429 Votes)

Total Voters: 6,428

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108 comments on “Catherine of Genoa vs. Absalom Jones”

  1. It looks like the SEC of Lent Madness won't need to worry about traveling to Genoa to put the Lent Madness Golden Halo upon the incorruptible head of Saint Catherine, who already has a golden throne and centuries of perfect Mass attendance.

    1. Miss Jan, that was Catherine of Bologna. So many Catherines, so many Italian cities. Only one Golden Halo (per year), only one vote (per pilgrim).

  2. In honor of all the heroic, selfless health care workers who for so long have gone without recognition, my vote goes to Catherine.

  3. Fabulous advocacy for Catherine! (All of the final four write-ups have been terrific, and all four saints worthy.)

    I'm going with Absalom, however, because of him pushing America to be better, pushing the Church to accept him and others of color (and when they didn't, walking out and starting his own church), staying in the fight for justice, and helping the race that looked down on his own race of people during the Yellow Fever epidemic. "Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving
    your neighbor as yourself?"

  4. It is with great relief that I note that neither of today's contenders was mummified. Neither is either blogger, each still on his or her game. Sprightly, lively write-ups both. I do want to quibble that a historical life expectancy of 31 does not make one "old" at 35, tottering at the edge of the grave; it only means that all around one, infants were dying like flies. If one could survive childhood, one had a fair chance of living to a ripe old age--if one also survived the plague. Life expectancy during the Roman Empire was 27, but there were plenty of old desert fathers. Still, I don't want that quibble to detract from my larger admiration for David Hansen's eloquent, inspired support for his saints. Well done, DH. I did vote for Absalom Jones today; I'm finding myself turning to the home team here in these late innings. Tomorrow we enter Canterbury, and I don't want it to end. (Should the metaphor be cricket or stickball?) What a great ride it's been, potholes, fractious fractions, and all. And so much work remains to be done to bring in the kingdom; Absalom is a good model for that. Let this last one more day.

    1. Well, there is that Shakespearean sonnet that begins,

      “When forty winters shall besiege thy brow
      And dig deep trenches in thy beauty’s field,
      Thy youth’s proud livery, so gazed on now,
      Will be a tattered weed, of small worth held.”

      That suggests to me that people tended to age faster in Shakespeare’s day.

      1. Methinks the whole point of a carpe diem poem is to convince the recipient that she (or he) is aging rapidly and soon will be undesirable and therefore must immediately yield to the importunate demands of the speaker. (And as the children say, be sure to end that sentence with "In bed.") I'm reading James Baldwin's Another Country right now, and in the New York City of the late 1950's the characters are all in their thirties and perceive themselves as rapidly aging, with lines in their faces and necks and chubb thickening around their waists. Of course no one exercises except for sex, and they all drink like fish, aquariums' worth of whiskey/gin/tequila/scotch/vodka every day, and smoke like chimneys, lighting a new cigarette every paragraph. Part of their sense of premature aging is their anomie brought on by botched love and the lies they tell themselves. And of course there's some racial anxiety underpinning the whole thing because . . . it's the US. But I would say that aging is relative and while we are as dust, we are most fully alive when we are engaged in our missions; the bud is precursor to the blown flower, which yields back up the bud. But of course, that's the cycle of life behind a carpe diem poem. Stay forever young, Davis.

        1. My plan in high school was to commit suicide at 40 (I was not really serious, or very serious, anyway), so I wouldn't face the indignities of growing old. Now that I'm 68, I find the indignities bearable and life very much worth living and rewarding. It depends on your perspective, I guess.

        2. Ah, now I understand about life expectancy figures—infant mortality skewed things. How sad!

  5. I have had 9 surgeries in the past 28 months and will have another one tomorrow. I have spent so much time in hospitals and am so grateful to all the doctors and nurses who have taken such good care of me, just as Catherine did so many centuries ago. So I voted for Catherine as she was such a good role model for caretakers today.

    1. Grace Church in Martinez, California will also be praying for you at Morning Prayer tomorrow. Hang in there.

  6. Bless you, Ren. St. John the Evangelist in Hingham, Massachusetts, will remember you at Morning Prayer tomorrow.

  7. I was so struck today when it dawned on me that the men who enslaved Absalom Jones were also, nominally "Christian", and that -- far from turning his back on the faith of his tormentors -- he looked beyond the temporal, broken practice of those men to the truth that lay beyond. He had an enormous impact on the body of Christ. Regardless of denomination, Americans owe the black church a huge debt for keeping the actual flame of Christian love alive on these shores. We still have much to learn.

  8. It is because of the faith of people like Absalom Jones and Richard Allen that Howard Thurman would write, “By some amazing but vastly creative spiritual insight the slave undertook the redemption of a religion that the master had profaned in his midst.”

  9. The bloggers were excellent this year. David Hansen's beautiful piece on Catherine almost made me vote for her, but I chose Absalom Jones. He is relevant right now for many reasons. The kitsch this year was better than ever! That car was even better than the St. Stephen Rock Candy of several years ago. Plus, we got a delicious-sounding Easter recipe from Davis Dassori. Thanks to the SEC and everyone involved in Lent Madness for making Lent educational and fun again this year.

  10. One of the things I see in Absalom is that when the "church" as organized and run by fallible human beings failed him, he was able to see beyond to the true church as the body of Christ and hold his faith in that.

  11. The freemasonry connection yesterday turned me right against Absalom Jones, worthy as he was otherwise. So Catherine gets my vote.

  12. I agree that all four of the finalists this year are "worthy" of the Golden Halo. I voted for Absalom Jones today, perhaps somewhat chauvinistically, because his ministry was in the United States, where we so much need good examples.

    1. Speaking of Chauvin, I note there is a trial going on in Minneapolis right now. St. Yves, pray for justice in the US.

      1. Amen. I am keeping my eye on this and going for justice. I fear for what will happen if it is not granted.

  13. As a 57-year old woman, metamorphosising a this time, after a challenging 34 year marriage and death, I am voting for Catherine. I was voting for Absalom but the author's words inspired me to change my mind. Onward to a God-filled sceond act...Amen!

  14. Once again we are confronted with a six of one/half a dozen of the other kind of choice. Quite frankly, I believe that any one of the final four would wear the Golden Halo well. All things considered, I vote for Absalom Jones today. Thank you for another Lenten Journey with the Saints. I'm already looking forward to next year!

  15. Wonderful write-up for Catherine by D. Hansen but today's vote FOR Absalom Jones as a vote AGAINST the "distorted witness" he worked to overcome....a problem ongoing. Thanks to M. McKenney for bringing forward her father's cogent and eminently quotable assessment.

  16. Kate Cabot: "Philadelphian freedman" -- dangit!
    Now somebody MUST write a parody of Elton John's "Philadelphia Freedom" in honor of Absalom Jones!
    ...But it can't be me; this PA priest has liturgies and homilies and Covid-era parish logistics galore this week.

      1. Yes, I do believe Michael could! All I could do was wink and nod at the idea but I am very glad you caught it!

  17. Having known that Absalom Jones would probably take the contest this year, I am happy, but have still voted for the underdogs pitted against him, as they were also worthy. An interesting contest this year. Thank you to the Lent Madness writers—you are inspired!

  18. I voted for Absalom Jones as I admired him in past years and felt this year was 'his'. He is especially relevant in todays times and especially today as the trial in Minneapolis opened and my heart broke as I heard the testimony . That said, St Catherine was a new saint to me and am so glad to have learned about her. As a nurse who has a number of acts and is anticipating another stage of life, she will be the saint I think about. Hope to be rooting for her next year!
    As others have said, thanks to both the writers today- you were amazing!

  19. Every year I cringe when folks say they're voting for "the underdog". But today, it was really hard to have Catherine described as an "underdog".

  20. It was a difficult choice . Both candidates were indeed worthy of the golden halo.
    I voted for Absalom Jones because he continued to follow Christ when others would have fallen to the wayside. His reward was our country's reward in providing a reason for Black Americans to remain or become Christians.

  21. Nearly 40 years ago I had the privilege of serving as interim rector of a Black parish in New England which acknowledged Absalom Jones as an inspiration for its founding (and claimed Theodore Holly as an early Rector). My initial concerns about going there as a white priest were quickly put to rest by a congregation by a Congregation that was clearly being part of the whole church -- no plagues while I was there but in other ways matching Absalom's reaction to the Yellow Fever. So yes, I gladly voted for him all the way. BTW, a special memory is of one older lady who told me, "We all love you, Fr. Bill, because you preach fast.

    1. Greetings, my friend. James Theodore Holly was St. Luke's Church, New Haven, Connecticut, from 1856 until 1861, During that time he made his first exploratory trip tHaiti.