By Fr. Jim Smith, C.PP.S.

This weekend would have been one of parties and celebrations. In St. Henry, Ohio, where I have been in ministry the past four years, the village picnic is the weekend with or closest to the Fourth of July. Due to public health concerns with mass gatherings, most are put on hold this year. The lone claim to fame for my hometown of Pekin, Ind., is that it hosts the nation’s longest consecutive Fourth of July celebration, dating back to 1830. I never won the title of “Prince” in the elementary school portion of the pageant of the weekend. The family story, lovingly retold by my older brothers, is something like I came in second or third to last.

Labor and burden. Yoke and rest. These are themes where this weekend normally would align well. The image of the meekness of Jesus is a fitting one for many of us in the longer days of summer—extended daylight and food and drinks and conversations where we get the slim opportunity to weave life with family and friends back together, away from the busyness and hectic-ness of the rest of the year. Finding rest for ourselves is an appropriate aperture for looking at summer.

Unfortunately, 2020 has broken out of the normal rhythm. Months ago, our worst fears for COVID-19 have come to fruition or worse. More people have died from the coronavirus in the past few months than total American casualties in World War I. The economic uncertainty is beyond unprecedented, and I say that as one who graduated from college in the recession of 2009. That itself would be more than enough to handle. The added layer of the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Rayshard Brooks, and others gives reason to compare this year to 1968.

In the most recent USCCB Pastoral Letter, Open Wide Our Hearts: The Enduring Call to Love, our Church teaches:

The roots of racism have extended deeply into the soil of our society. Racism can only end if we contend with the policies and institutional barriers that perpetuate and preserve the inequality—economic and social—that we still see all around us…We call on everyone, especially all Christians and those of other faith traditions, to help repair the breach caused by racism, which damages the human family. [1]

The rest Christ promises us in the Gospel today isn’t one of escapism or ignoring the harsh reality of inequality and racism. Labor and burden. Racism is not a new burden to our country. The future will likely reveal it as a continued burden. The global pandemic of COVID-19 and its effects drives home the burden of health care for many in the world. Jesus offers us an easy yoke and a light burden in his own life and actions—extending God’s mercy to those on the outside looking in and offering our own lives outside the gates to stand in the breach to be instruments of building God’s reconciliation in the world. This weekend gives us the opportunity to reflect on who we are as a family, but not just in our backyards and barbecues, but our human family in our collective burdens and our inimitable [2] potential to repair and transform the breaches across this human family.

[1]  http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/human-life-and-dignity/racism/index.cfm

[2] Lin-Manuel Miranda added this to my vocabulary list in “Wait for It” from Hamilton – now streaming on Disney+

 

 

Fr. Jim Smith, C.PP.S., is the parochial vicar of the St. Henry cluster of parishes in and around St. Henry, Ohio.