By Sister Victoria Incrivaglia
It is mid-July 2020, and there is unrest. There is unrest everywhere.
More than 14.8 million people worldwide have been infected with COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, and more than 615,000 have died. Within the United States, medical officials are reporting record high numbers of coronavirus cases every day, with nearly 3 million now infected.
Daily news reports show demonstrations and protests locally, nationally and globally over the practices of injustice and systemic racism. In the United States, we see signs that read:
No justice, no peace Mercy for Justice Black Lives Matter Enough is Enough I can’t breathe Am I next?
The second reading for the Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time was from Romans 6:34, 8–11. In it is one line that stopped me: “Are you unaware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?”
I invite you to be with that message: We were baptized into his (Jesus’) death. How do I live/practice that belief? How do we as Sisters of Mercy live/practice that belief?
Our realities today are filled with conflicts, chaos and confusion. It seems we are on a global journey of facing our realities and coming to terms with injustices that have existed for centuries. These realities are laden with deeper realities.
For instance, Abraham Lincoln, the 16th American president, though so well revered for the Emancipation Proclamation, also ordered the execution of 38 Native Americans by hanging on December 26, 1862. The sentences of 265 others were commuted. This was the result of the 1862 Dakota War, also known as the Sioux Uprising of 1862. The uprising by the Native Americans was over the loss of their homeland (as promised to them in so many treaties) and lack of access to food.
In the Treaty of 1868, the United States government promised the Sioux the territory that included the Black Hills of South Dakota in perpetuity. This perpetuity lasted until the 1870s, when gold was found in the mountains, at which point the federal government forced the Sioux to relinquish the Black Hills. In the book Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, author Dee Brown explains that the “battle” was actually a massacre in which hundreds of unarmed Sioux women, children and men were shot and killed by American troops. Brown concludes that the government’s actions were part of a continuing effort to destroy the culture, religion and way of life of Native American peoples.
On July 3, the day before American Independence Day, President Donald Trump convened a celebration at Mount Rushmore, in South Dakota. That state’s Governor, Kristi Noem, reportedly said: “We won’t be social distancing. We’re asking them to come, be ready to celebrate, to enjoy the freedoms and the liberties that we have in this country and to talk about our history and what it brought us today with an opportunity to raise our kids in the greatest country in the world.”
The development of Mount Rushmore is a story of struggle and desecration. The Black Hills are sacred to the Lakota Sioux. Nick Tilsen, a member of the Oglala Lakota tribe and the president of a local activist organization called NDN Collective, stated: “It’s an injustice to actively steal indigenous people’s land then carve the white faces of the conquerors who committed genocide.”
Recently, in St. Louis, Missouri, where I live, a group initiated a petition to remove the statue of St. Louis, King of France (Louis IX), from Forest Park. Groups of people gathered around the statue to either support its presence or to endorse its removal. As with Abraham Lincoln and so many other public figures who lived imperfect lives, this is not a simple conversation. In William Chester Jordan’s book Louis IX and the Challenges of the Crusade: A study in Rulership, we learn that although Louis IX was known to serve and feed the poor, he also enacted destructive rulings against Jews and Muslims.
In these protests happening worldwide, what we see and hear are opposing sides taking to the streets to make their beliefs visible. Sadly, we witness that there are others who do not want them to do so, and so the environment of intolerance, clashes, riots and deaths continues.
As Mary proclaims in the Magnificat, there comes a point when we understand that life is not the same and we cannot continue living with practices and values that do not reflect the integral practices of the Gospel. We cannot continue being on the same journey.
The Magnificat moment opens our heart to know that we must engage in a new direction. When we were baptized into the death of Christ, everything changed, and we will never be the same. What is your Magnificat experience and how has it changed the journey in your life?
All of us, on both sides, are the daughters and sons of the same Creator. As Christians, we are called to faith and action. We recognize that imperfection exists within us all. We also recognize that we can no longer live in silence to the practices of racism, white supremacy, clericalism, white privilege … you name the practices that need to change.
We were baptized into Jesus’ death and our name is Mercy.