Henriette Delille (1813-1862) was born in New Orleans where she lived her entire life. For the love of Jesus and responding to the Gospel’s mandate, she was determined to help those in need. Henriette was also a person who suffered as she made her way through life, and she bore many crosses. She was compassionate, forgiving, and merciful. She believed in justice and was not afraid to do what was right in the eyes of God. Her obituary read that she dedicated “herself totally to God without reservation to the instruction of the ignorant and principally to the slave.”
Thea Bowman (1937-1990) grew up in Mississippi and became Catholic as a child inspired by her teachers, the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration. During her short lifetime, many people considered her a religious sister undeniably close to God and who lovingly invited others to encounter the presence of God in their lives. She is acclaimed as a “holy woman” in the hearts of those who knew and loved her and continue to seek her intercession for guidance and healing.
These three are among several Black Catholic heroes currently on the road to official sainthood. These three, among many other Black heroes, Catholic or not, would certainly resonate with our readings today. Our readings are about remaining faithful amidst hopelessness, despair, and darkness.
They are about relationship, and recognizing that the journey through life is hard, and while God offers no explanation, really, for why we suffer, still God yearns to connect.
They are about discovering that healing and reconciling are still possible even though Jesus has moved on to another town.
The first reading comes from the Book of Job. The story of Job is familiar. Job is put to the test to see if an upright and innocent man will remain faithful even if God takes from him all the evidence of God’s goodness — all his riches and children. This Old Testament book explores what happens when bad things happen to good people.
Job loses everything: his oxen, sheep, camels, servants, and children. Not unlike our Black ancestors who were cast into slavery. How can anyone suffer such losses . . . for no reason whatsoever? His friends come to talk and search out his blame. Job holds to the truth of his own experience; he is blameless. The story fractures the equation: prosperity equals God’s blessing; misery equals God’s punishment for sin. . . . Our Black heroes got this, and yet remained faithful to God.
In today’s reading, Job vividly describes his suffering. His lament goes on and on, and he presses to know why these things have happened to him. God is silent for many pages, until finally God responds with a question, “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?” Meaning, who are you to fully know me and understand me? . . . Our Black heroes got this, and yet remained faithful to God.
The fascinating aspect of the Book of Job is that we might think it would end with an image of how suffering and pain allow us to gain something. But God doesn’t do that. God doesn’t give any clear explanation of why there is suffering. . . . Our Black heroes got this, and yet remained faithful to God.
The challenge of the Job story is to enter into a kind of relationship that isn’t based on anything except for the fact that we have chosen it. Our challenge is to be in love with God on that level — not on the level for what we can get. Job doesn’t really understand what’s going on at the time. That’s called faith. . . . Our Black heroes got this.
Ask yourself: When have events in your life taken you beyond what friends can help you understand and into the mystery you must live?
Let’s turn to the Gospel story.
When all of the people seemingly need him the most, he goes away to pray. The disciples seek him out and say, “Look, everybody needs you. Everybody wants your healing.” Jesus responds, “Hmmm, let’s go to another place and preach.”
Jesus knows that his gift has already been given to them. That this healing power, is something they possess as they listen to his message and begin to share it among themselves. The healing is done. That’s why the preaching is primary. It’s putting the message into hearts so they will be able to give it to others. That’s where healing lies. Our Black heroes got this. Do we?
When darkness surrounds you. When you suffer. When you feel that Jesus has up and left, there is comfort found in the words of our opening prayer today, “God is close, connected, and engaged with our lives. God knows every single thing that is going on. God pays attention to every one of our tears, every one of our joys, every one of our concerns.” Our Black heroes got this. Do we?