Fall Down, and Use the Grace of God to Get Back Up Again

November 14, 2019

By Sister Cora Marie Billings

*Adapted from a piece that appeared in the November/December 2019 issue of ¡Viva! Mercy.

Sister Cora Marie at 8th grade graduation
Sister Cora Marie at 8th grade graduation

In the 1940s, as I walked alone the nine blocks to my Catholic elementary school, which was predominantly Irish with only about 14 African-American students, I invoked the intercession of then-Blessed Martin de Porres.

You might ask why Martin? Even at the age of seven, as a child growing up in Philadelphia, I was impacted by someone who looked like me.

As in many situations where I am either the first or the only, Martin is an inspiration to me.

Sister Cora Marie with cousins at Gwynedd-Mercy University
Sister Cora Marie with cousins at Gwynedd-Mercy University

At times in his life as a Dominican Brother, he humbly transcended the systemic racism he faced. He was rejected by his own father for the dark complexion he inherited from his mother—a freed woman from Panama. Historians suggest that he felt unworthy to become a religious brother, so he became a lay helper.

His extraordinary spirituality, generosity and care led his community to ask him to make a full profession. I often wonder why his canonization took so long, when during his lifetime there were instances of bi-location and miracles.

Sister Cora Marie returning from the 1st Meeting of the National Black Sisters Conference
Sister Cora Marie returning from the 1st Meeting of the National Black Sisters Conference

He died in 1639 but was not canonized until 1962. There are still people today who have difficulty believing that any good, much less “sainthood,” can come from a black person.

On July 24, 1990, the National Black Catholic Clergy Caucus established November as Black Catholic History Month. November was chosen because St. Martin de Porres’ feast day is November 3, St. Augustine of Hippo’s birthday is November 13 and we begin the month by celebrating All Saints and All Souls, among other reasons.

The month serves as an invitation to recall the rich history of black Catholics and their contributions to the church.

This month and every day, I’m grateful for Martin de Porres. I’m also grateful for the other six black persons on the road to sainthood: Mother Mary Lange, Father Augustus Tolton, Mother Henriette Delille, Julia Greeley, Pierre Toussaint and Sister Thea Bowman.

Sister Cora Marie being installed as Pastoral Coordinator at St. Elizabeth Church in Richmond, VA
Sister Cora Marie being installed as Pastoral Coordinator at St. Elizabeth Church in Richmond, VA

(Read about them in Sister Cora Marie’s ¡Viva! Mercy piece here.)

Singer Donnie McClurkin composed a contemporary Gospel hymn titled, “We Fall Down.” Over and over it reminds us that a “saint is just a sinner who fell down … and got up.”

This helps to encourage me in my daily journey to eternity. These six inspirational figures help me to know that I, too, can be a saint.

As I end this reflection, I’m giving you a challenge for the month of November. My mother used to tell me that if I didn’t learn something new each day, it was worthless. Please make each day worthwhile.

As we continue on our own journey to sainthood, let us research the lives of those who have gone before us. We are fortunate to have role models. We—as they—are “just sinners who fell down” and continually use the graces of God to get up.

Sister Cora Marie Billings has been a teacher, campus minister, pastoral coordinator of St. Elizabeth Church (Richmond, Virginia), director of the Office for Black Catholics (Richmond) and deputy director of the Human Rights Council of Virginia. She has been a human rights advocate since 1968 and at present lives in Richmond.

Watch Sister Cora Marie offer a short reflection for Black Catholic History Month:

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  1. Sr. Claudette Schiratti, RSM

    Thank you, Cora, for your reflection.

  2. Beverly Palumbo

    Thanks Cora, good job as always. God bless.

  3. Anne connolly

    Gracias Cora. Each day I will try to learn something new also!
    United with you…

  4. Anne connolly

    Gracias, Cora. Each day I will also try to learn something new. United with you…

  5. Regina Ward

    Thanks, Cora.

    Thanks for continuously calling us to make Mercy real everyday by embracing everyone as our brother and sister! Happy to be on the Mercy journey with you!!

  6. Suzanne Gallagher

    Thank you, Cora Marie, for your witness and for your encouragement as we journey – We fall down and we get up!

  7. Fran Repka

    Thank you, Cora, for your inspiring reflection to make Mercy real.
    See you soon.

  8. Diane Clyne

    Amen!! You bring hope and challenge to all of us. Thank you. See you soon!

  9. Renee Yann

    Your gentle, strong and steady witness is a gift to us all, dear Cora. Thank you!

  10. Sr.Cathleen Cahill

    Thank you, Cora Marie. Yes, I will try with you to make Mercy real.
    Peace and God’s blessings, Cathleen Cahill

  11. Patricia Cook

    Dear Cora:

    Thanks for making Mercy real for me in this reflection….
    I am very grateful and send blessings.

    Patty Cook, RSM

  12. Diane Matje

    Thank you Cora. You are such an amazing inspiration!

    Diane Matje I

  13. Letty de los Santos rsm

    Thank you so much for sharing with us your
    Heart warming reflection of your life’s journey.
    I am deeply touched and learned ftom it.

  14. Carol Mucha

    Thank you once again dear Cora. I always love hearing from you and the wisdom you share. I miss seeing you and talking with you. and with this reflection I continue to learn.

  15. Karen Scheer

    I am grateful for your words and your life which has modeled for me – Mercy – ever widening welcome of all.

  16. Carole Temming

    Thank you Cora for the great reflection. I will try to learn something new every day.

  17. Eileen Pazmino

    Cora, thank you for your sharing. It truly moved me in many ways. Blessings to you. Look forward to seeing you at our Alliance Gathering in May.

  18. Eileen Pazmino

    Gracias, Cora, you truly inspire me with your words. Blessings to you. Look forward to seeing you in May.

  19. Louise Simin

    Dear Cora, Thank you for the beautiful reflection. I will strive to learn something new each day.

  20. Msgr Benz

    Great job Cora as always

  21. Ruth Mulligan

    Thank you, dear Cora! Your sharing was inspiring and informative.

    I pray with you that all those you mentioned will be recognized for their saintly lives.

  22. Bonita Smith

    Cora, Blessings on you for your heartfelt sharing. I saw your blog and thanks to you see it as a grace from God calling me forward to continuing growth and prayer with our Mercy Concerns. Blessings and Peace.

  23. patricia mulderick

    Thank you, Cora…. you continue to teach me and inspire me as you have since my first days in Mercy! Blessings on all you do…again, thank you for your faithful witness…

  24. Kathy Schiro

    Cora, you were sent to us for a reason and your gentle imparting of wisdom is treasured by many (especially me). We are better people because of your beautiful light.

  25. Yvonne dawson

    Very proud of you and everything you have done. You are surely
    A child of God. May God continue to bless you.

  26. Cora Salazar

    We all have to thank God for.you, Cora for your integrity, perseverance and patience. More power through God’s grace. The other cora

  27. Maureen Walsh

    I remember you well from the West Philadelphia Ministerium. I thank God for your life and all your “kingdom” work through the years.
    I’m happy to see the names of Dave Benz and also Diane Matje, RSM.

  28. Jessica Langerman

    Sister Cora Marie,

    I can’t thank you enough for this post. After 7 years of environmental activism in which I was often “the first or the only” to lobby legislators and other powerful people, I gave up. I fell down after the 10,000th time and have not yet found the strength to get back on my feet. I am now going to read about St. I am so grateful to you.

  29. Mary C Rocks

    I am so grateful to be one of your friends!!!!