I. That “actions speak louder than words” is a common sentiment among the saints—and non-saints. “We must speak to them with our hands before we speak to them with our lips.” Those are the words of St. Peter Claver, a 17th-century Jesuit whose feast was yesterday, whose tomb in Cartagena, Colombia Pope Francis will visit today. In Claver’s day, Cartagena was part of the Spanish kingdom, one of two ports where 10,000 slaves arrived every year from Africa to be sold in South America. Peter sought the abolition of the slave trade, and worked daily to minister to the slaves, entering the holds of the ships, bringing food and medicine, making sure that all received some measure of care. He vowed to be “the slave of the slaves.” Today, St. Peter Claver is the patron of racial justice.
Bishop George Murry, the head of the U.S. Bishops Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism, says that,
St. Peter Claver is a model for us in understanding that hard work and perseverance is required to combat the sin of racism and build community; we must begin and end this effort in prayer together, even as we seek to act in concrete ways.
It’s that last part—“to act in concrete ways”: to speak with our hands—where we typically drop the ball.
II. The vibrant Eucharistic communion that we enjoy at Ascension can unleash energy, creativity, and passion to be transformative in the world, providing the means, motivation, and grace for us to be co-creators of God’s reign of justice, by loving one’s neighbor as oneself. As today’s gospel makes clear, the Church and her members have always worked to hold themselves together for the long haul. That’s why Matthew and the disciples wrote down the words Jesus left them. Jesus wanted them to tell others that he was still and always with them. He charged them with keeping his ongoing presence alive in the community. They did this by practicing forgiveness, sacrificing when things weren’t to their liking, and putting others’ concerns before their own. When they despaired, the community helped them see the Lord again.
Such solidarity was expressed by the U.S. Bishops this week when they denounced the cancellation of the DACA program for young immigrants, calling the action “reprehensible.” I’m heartsick when I think of the young people in our parish and their families who are directly affected by this action. The bishops went on to say,
As people of faith, we say to DACA youth—regardless of your immigration status, you are children of God and welcome in the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church supports you and will advocate for you…We pledge our support to work on finding an expeditious means of protection for DACA youth.
That means we’re in this together for the long haul. I, hopefully all of us at Ascension, pledge the same support and advocacy. (At the end of Mass, we’ll mention some action steps.)
III. Pope Francis says that authentic faith is never completely personal. It always involves a deep desire to change the world, to leave the earth somehow better than we found it. If just for today, let us speak with our hands before we speak with our lips.