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In the late 60’s, I was a camp counselor. I remember having a group of young Girl Scouts out in canoes on a very sunny day. Back in the day, sun protection was a brimmed hat and a t-shirt. So after a few hours, as the sun rose high, I asked some of the campers to please put their shirts on over their swim suits. One of the campers, Rita, called out “Hey, we get sunburned too, you know.” The girls had quickly identified that I had called out names of only the white campers. I still remember what lake we were on, how many canoes of campers I had, and how shocked I was, at me. I was concerned about protecting just some of my campers. Why had I assumed that dark skin was impervious to sun burn? That was over 50 years ago. Sadly, I still make assumptions and judgments. I’m still learning.
As a global community, we have been learning for a number of months now, how to manage the pandemic of COVID-19. The learning curve has been steep and much of our leadership has been strong and smart. We have stayed home, we have experienced the locked doors of businesses and our beloved Basilica, and we have worn masks and stopped hugging. It has been a huge effort; a lot to endure, but we were making it.
Then suddenly, on May 25, the pandemic for many was all but forgotten as we reeled in anguish and sorrow over the murder of George Floyd, another other tragic, needless death. Our inboxes filled with messages, responses from schools, businesses, news organizations, and churches--giving counsel, offering support, stating positions, and grieving.
The Pandemic of COVID-19 was surpassed by the Pandemic of Racial Injustice. Similar to the multiple changes COVID-19 demanded, a myriad of changes are demanded in response to racial injustice.
I need to change. I learned to decrease my exposure to COVID-19 and I must learn to increase my exposure to racial injustice.
This is an unprecedented or at least a very uncommon period in our history, a time that is for some, creating extra responsibilities with new methods and technologies, and for others an agonizing wait for unemployment checks, a frantic search for an open pharmacy or grocery, all while working to maintain a hopeful place of refuge for children and family, in all, an overwhelming task. We are busy, we are uncertain, we are grieving. Additionally, we are hopeful, we are praying, we are working, we are protesting.
So much has changed for so many of us in so many ways in a rather short time, due to the COVID-19 pandemic and so much must change for so many of us in so many ways in what has been an agonizingly long time due to the pandemic of racial injustice.
I hope that soon I will again be playing with and listening to and rubbing sunscreen onto the little arms and shoulders of my grandchildren. I hope also I always remember that there are many other children requiring understanding and protection.
By Cathy Edwards
Walking through a museum earlier this year, this painting of the Visitation stopped me in my tracks. It was the look on Mary’s face: despondent, doubtful, and full of dread. She seems overcome with anxiety. Elizabeth looks at Mary with compassion and embraces her in consolation. This was a revelation—I’d always thought of the Visitation as a happy event.
The painting also contrasts with the Biblical account. In Luke’s Annunciation, Mary accepts God’s call with joy. When she meets Elizabeth, Mary sings the Magnificat, praising God for finding her worthy. There are no allusions to any real-life complications she might face.
But this painting suggests that Mary’s situation was difficult.
Betrothed but not yet married, she was pregnant. Imagine her trying to explain this to Joseph—her story about the Holy Spirit would have been hard to believe. What did she tell her family and friends? We can imagine her being the object of gossip. Worse yet, according to Mosaic law, she could face a punishment of death by stoning.
How did Mary navigate these troubles? I suspect she did it with the help of the Holy Spirit. I think part of Luke’s message is that the presence of the Holy Spirit strengthened her with the necessary courage and patience to accomplish what she was asked to do. It also helped that Joseph, her soon-to-be husband, was a saint.
It happens that Pentecost was May 31 this year—also the feast day of the Visitation. On Pentecost, we celebrate the sending of the Holy Spirit to the disciples. Perhaps one lesson we can take from Mary’s Visitation is that with the help of the Holy Spirit, we too can face life’s challenges and maybe even inspire others by our example. The Spirit empowers us to do more than we’re normally capable of. This presence of the Spirit is more likely to happen when we are, like Mary, full of grace.
The Visitation, 1640-1650
By Antonio de Pereda
Parish Finance Committee
The Basilica of Saint Mary