Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
The biblical readings for this week draw our attention to two legacies.
On Monday, we hear the prophet Daniel reflecting on the legacy of sin of Israel. That legacy of sin stands in stark contrast to the courageous fidelity of Daniel. Standing between the two legacies — sin and courageous fidelity — Daniel calls on the compassion and forgiveness of God, which offers Israel hope for a way forward.
On Tuesday, we hear the prophet Isaiah frankly acknowledge the legacy of sin among the people, and exhorting them to goodness with hope in the mercy of God. Isaiah, and all the prophets, constantly called on Israel to beware the legacy of sin, and build on the legacy of fidelity.
On Wednesday, the prophet Jeremiah points out the stubborn refusal of the people to heed the voice of God. That stubborn refusal stands in stark contrast to Jeremiah’s own courageous submission to God’s message. On Thursday, Jeremiah summarizes the legacies of sin and fidelity succinctly: “Cursed is the man who trusts in human beings…Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord.”
The calendar for this week also calls our attention to two legacies.
On March 6, we observe the anniversary of the Supreme Court’s 1857 Dred Scott decision. That decision testifies to a legacy of racism in our country. Like the legacy of sin in Israel, racism is not only a reality of the past — it continues to live today. Whether we look back to the life of Venerable Augustus Tolton 100 years ago, or look around through the research of Dr. Jason Purnell in the last decade, there’s plenty of evidence that this legacy still lives in the city of St. Louis. As the prophets told ancient Israel, there’s no way forward for us unless we frankly acknowledge and come to grips with this legacy of sin.
On March 3, we observe the feast day of St. Katharine Drexel. Mother Drexel’s life testifies to a legacy of courageous fidelity to the Gospel truth of the full human dignity of African American and Native American people, and generous service to the full realization of that dignity. This is our legacy, too — and the way forward is to acknowledge and build on it.
Katharine was raised in the highest circles of East Coast social life. When her father died in the late 1800s, she and her sisters became the heirs of the Drexel fortune. This inheritance provided Katharine with an income of $1,000 a day – which, in today’s terms, would be well over $25,000 a day. She spent this fortune freely, building schools for Native and African American people. One of those schools is Xavier University in New Orleans, the only historically Black Catholic university in the nation.
The lesson of the two legacies in Scripture very much applies to the two legacies of race and culture today. If we don’t acknowledge the legacy of sin, and how it still lives in us and affects us, we can’t move forward with integrity. If we don’t acknowledge the legacy of courageous fidelity and generous service, we have no hope for moving forward. If we acknowledge and come to grips with the first, and build on the second, we can move forward as the prophets called Israel to move forward: with integrity and hope.