Homily for Chair of Peter

chair
Reliquary of the Chair of Peter in the Vatican Basilica

Papal infallibility. The Lord gave St. Peter and his successors the authority to settle disputes definitively, including disputes about the most-sacred things.

Not long ago, I had a conversation with a thoroughly charming Episcopal priest. He prefers to celebrate the Holy Eucharist facing the same direction as the people, what we call ad orientem. He also gladly celebrates same-sex weddings.

In June of 2015, the US Supreme Court found that a man has the right to marry another man, and a woman the right to marry another woman. This put the US in harmony with the supreme legal tribunals of most western-European countries.

The following fall, the Synod of Bishops, meeting in Rome, quoted a Vatican document from 2003: “homosexual unions are in no way analogous to marriage.” Pope Francis issued an Apostolic Exhortation the following spring. He did not say anything on his own authority as Successor of St. Peter on this subject. He simply quoted the Synod Fathers’ quote.

marriage_sacramentIn other words, the Successor of St. Peter has not spoken on the subject of gay marriage since 2003. I think we can safely say: in the ensuing sixteen years, the extent of the dispute has increased exponentially. Pope John Paul II intervened on the subject rather quietly, albeit directly. In 2003, few Catholics imagined that such a thing as same-sex “marriage” would ever really enter mainstream thinking in the Church. But now it’s something that a Catholic priest and an Episcopal priest discuss casually over a beer.

In fact, we know well that huge segments of the Catholic population in the western world do not understand why same-sex marriage is impossible. Nor do most people understand the harms done by maintaining the fiction of “same-sex marriage.”

Isn’t this a situation that cries out for the intervention of the Successor of St. Peter? To settle this dispute among Christians by calmly recognizing all the arguments in favor of same-sex marriage, including acknowledging the genuinely Christian basis in them–and then explaining why none of those arguments actually touch the principle according to which same-sex marriage is impossible? To explain that we love all people; that we stand on the side of people dealing with same-sex attraction; but that the sacredness of Holy Matrimony partakes of the divine fruitfulness, whereas the mutual masturbation of two men or two women falls beneath the dignity of a human being.

Seems like the world desperately needs the Successor of St. Peter to speak about this, with love and clarity.

But we have to face a hugely disorienting fact. Leaving to the side the question of whether or not Pope Francis would want to help us in this way, the fact is: He couldn’t, even if he wanted to. He does not have the requisite personal credibility to settle this dispute. Neither side of the argument would recognize him as someone who could speak with integrity on this.

May God help us. We pray at the altar today for deliverance from tempests, since we stand on the rock of St. Peter’s declaration of faith. We trust in Providence; we believe in the divine design. May the Successor of St. Peter always do the right thing. Even if maybe the right thing for him to do rhymes with ‘design.’

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The Book We Desperately Need Jon Krakauer to Write

McCarrick and James
Theodore McCarrick and James Grein

 

All the following people have something in common.

 

Mr. James Grein

former priest Gregory Littleton

former priest Robert Ciolek

confidential secretaries who worked for Bishop Edward Hughes of Metuchen, New Jersey, who died in 2013 (He succeeded McCarrick in office.)

secretaries and assistants who worked with Msgr. Michael Alliegro of the diocese of Metuchen, who died in 2009

the confidential secretary who typed then-Archbishop of New York John Card. O’Connor‘s 1999 letter to Pope John Paul II, about Theodore McCarrick (O’Connor died the following year; John Paul II died in 2005)

Stanisław Card. Dziwisz, who likely opened O’Connor’s letter, and all the secretaries who worked with him

all the lawyers, private advisors, and confidential secretaries who worked for Bishop Vincent dePaul Breen, Hughes’ successor as bishop of Metuchen, who died in 2003

Bishop Paul Bootkoski, emeritus of Metuchen, Breen’s successor

all the lawyers, private advisors, and confidential secretaries who worked with Bootkoski

John Myers, Archbishop-emeritus of Newark, NJ (McCarrick’s successor in office there)

the members of the Pittsburgh diocesan Review Board, which met in November 2004, and heard Robert Ciolek’s claims about McCarrick

the lawyers who arranged for the settlement payments to Ciolek and Littleton

Father Boniface Ramsey, former professor at the seminary at Seton Hall University in Newark

the confidential secretaries of Archbishop Gabriel Montalvo, Apostolic Nuncio to the USA, who would have opened the dossier Bishop Bootkoski sent to the nunciature on December 6, 2005 (Montalvo died in 2006)

Pope Benedict XVI

Archbishop Georg Gänswein, personal secretary to Benedict XVI

Pope Francis

Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano (the Vatican whistleblower)

the confidential secretaries who have worked in the Roman offices of the previous and current Cardinal Prefects for the Congregation of Bishops (Giovanni Battista Re and Marc Oullet) and Cardinal Secretaries of State (Tarcisio Bertone and Pietro Parolin)

confidential secretaries, advisors, and lawyers who worked with Theodore McCarrick during his various tenures

Mr. Theodore McCarrick

 

All these people had a part in “The McCarrick Affair”–the long-term cover-up of his sexual abuses, which has left the Church in this region in a death spiral. They all likely have strained consciences over this.

Which means: We can safely imagine that many of them would talk to a skilled journalist, one without a Church-politics ax to grind. They would tell their stories to someone who could put the whole business together into a unified, fair account.

jon krakauer
Jon Krakauer

All of these people also likely know others who know things–things about which the public as yet knows nothing.

We need a straightforward narrative, sir.

The English-speaking world’s access to facts has suffered because Andrea Tornielli’s Il Giorno del Giudizio has not appeared in our language. Yes, Tornielli undertook a blatantly biased attempt to discredit Archbishop Vigano. But the book nonetheless contains a great deal of solid information.

The Vatican brass talked to Tornielli, thinking that he would put together a book defending them from Vigano’s charge that they conspired in a cover-up.

But these men have long grown accustomed to having people think as they order them to think. They completely misunderstood what they were doing. They revealed to the Italian-speaking world many previously unknown details about: The cover-up that they had in fact conducted.

Please, Mr. Krakauer! Tackle this project!

If you need a $100,000 or $150,000 book-grant to get started–perhaps to hire an Italian translator, if you don’t know the language yourself–I will find the money. No problem.

Please.

[Click here for links, if you want more background information.]

 

 

Church in Rome

Michelangelo Flood Sistine Chapel

After the Flood, when Noah’s ark rested on land again, Noah built an altar and offered a sweet-smelling sacrifice to God.

The Flood represents our baptism and salvation in Christ. Noah’s sacrifice represents our celebration of Holy Mass. The moment of peace and hope after the Flood, when God and Noah entered into a covenant of perpetual stability of life: that represents us–the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church, reconciled with God through a purification of conscience, living in communion with divine love.

I printed out the list of all the participants in the Roman meeting of Bishops’-Conference presidents, and prayed for all of them by name.

This isn’t Vatican III. The Pope has not gathered a holy synod. It’s another kind of meeting. Looks a lot more like some kind of corporate “in-service.” With ugly, painful subject matter.

st_peter_basilica_vatican_01But nonetheless we should behold and rejoice in the real beauty of the moment. The living, world-wide Church, in the person of these particular prelates, converging at the tomb of St. Peter.

The P.R. about the meeting has focused on how the “experienced” churches—USA, Ireland, the Holy See—will share all our “child protection” insights with the “undeveloped” churches.

I, for one, pray for a miracle: that something quite different would occur. Instead of a lot of feel-good bureaucratic nonsense, I pray that bishops who risk their lives daily for the Gospel, in the dangerous and poor parts of the world, might actually get a chance to talk.

And maybe raise questions like: What business does the American Church have lecturing us? You, Cardinal DiNardo, president of the USCCB, remain personally implicated in a recent sex-abuse cover-up in your own diocese, involving your own Episcopal Vicar for Spanish speakers. You have yet to explain yourself.

The American bishops have lost the confidence of their people. Why should we listen to them?

And what business does the Holy See have lecturing us? You, Holy Father, covered-up for at least one sex-abuser for years—McCarrick—and you have never acknowledged it. When will you give us the full truth about this?

That would be real “synodality” in action. The things that really need discussing–getting them out in the open. Trusting, like Noah, in the faithfulness of God.

McCarrick Verdict

McCarrick ordination.jpg
McCarrick ordaining me a priest, May 24, 2003, Basilica of the National Shrine, upper church

The pope has dismissed Theodore McCarrick from the ranks of the clergy. You might imagine, gentle reader, that I have a great deal to say.

I. Dark Night.

Speaking as one of many men McCarrick ordained, let me first say: this has broken our hearts. I imagine the same goes for all those he confirmed.

Most of us never thought, as he lay his hands on our heads to consecrate us, that a day like this would come. We never imagined any such thing. We believed in God, and in His Christ. We believed in the mission for which we had been chosen–the mission of divine love for which then-bishop McCarrick consecrated us, by the laying on of hands.

McCarrick consecrated us as a successor of Christ’s Apostles. We received our consecration with faith. We cherish the grace of this consecration as the great prize of our pilgrim lives. For such a day as this to come–when the successor of St. Peter has expelled our father in God from the sacred ministry… Well, this is a trial of faith. It is a gut punch. I know none of us would this wish on anyone.

Same goes for all those who worked closely with McCarrick–worked with him to further the cause of Christ, trusting him and believing in him. My memories of 2001-2006 abound with countless such good, earnest people. May God comfort us all.

McCarrick paten chalice

II. Crime and Punishment

McCarrick stands accused of crimes of the gravest kind, and he has never publicly denied the accusations, at least not in any meaningful way. Fact is, if they weren’t true, he owed us a vehement public denial a long time ago.

The crimes:

Desecrating the confessional with the sexual abuse of a minor. Sexually corrupting seminarians and young priests under his fatherly care. Victimizing helpless souls.

These victimized souls have this right: Never to have to endure seeing this priest ascend the altar again. Never to have to see this cruel manipulator stand in the place of the gentle and true Jesus.

Holy Mother Church owes McCarrick’s victims this sentence–his permanent expulsion from the sanctuary. She owes that to all the victims of priestly sexual abuse. May God help all victims find a way to believe in the Holy Mass again.

 

McCarrick concelebration
As the senior deacon to be ordained, I got to stand as principle concelebrant.

III. The tribunal of justice

We need to remember two things about the presiding judge, and the appellate judge, in McCarrick’s defrocking case.

i. The presiding judge of the case, Luis Card. Ladaria Ferrer, recently evaded a subpoena in a sex-abuse cover-up case, by taking advantage of technicalities in international law. That would seem to render him unsuitable to sit in judgment on a sex-abuse case.

ii. Archbishop Viganò accused the appellate judge in this case–the sitting Roman pontiff–of personal involvement in covering-up McCarrick’s crimes. The pope has never answered these charges; he has never denied that he participated in covering-up for McCarrick.

So if the reigning pope had any real integrity as an honest judge, he would have recused himself altogether from the McCarrick case. He would have acknowledged that he had no business sitting in judgment under such circumstances, and he would have appointed a different judge to substitute for him–someone with no personal connection to the matter at hand.

Now, assuming that McCarrick intended to dispute the accusations against him–which his lawyer had repeatedly said that he did intend to do–the verdict has come much more quickly than it reasonably should have.

We know something about Mr. James Grein’s testimony, since James has spoken openly about it to multiple journalists. I see no reason to doubt the accuracy of James’ accusations. It seems fairly clear that McCarrick is guilty of the charges that James has leveled.

But, by the same token, James has said plenty of opaque, unintelligible things. The statement he made today, inspiring in its courage and faith, also contains generalized charges that cannot be verified.

James Grein speaking in Baltimore
Mr. James Grein

Also, the Vatican’s statement today refers to other accusations. About which we know little or nothing. Did McCarrick have adequate time to respond to all the charges?

In other words: This judicial process manifestly lacks integrity. Lacks it profoundly.

If it were an honest and fair trial, then why not release all the documents? (With names of victims blacked-out, if they so choose.) After all, buzzwords like “transparency” flow forth from our prelates’ lips like water these days. Here is a perfect opportunity! Show the world the Church’s true openness by publishing the entire contents of the McCarrick trial record, for the world to read and learn from.

Why not do that? At this point, nothing whatsoever remains of Thedore McCarrick’s privacy. He lost the right to the protection of his privacy when he assumed the bishop’s throne anyway.

No, the only reasonable explanation for the near-total opacity of the Holy See’s announcement of the verdict is this: If the trial record were published, it would not withstand the scrutiny of honest judges and lawyers.

Actually, questions immediately arise, even with respect to the paltry public revelation that the Vatican has made:

In addition to his crimes against James (and perhaps another minor), McCarrick stands convicted of sins against the Sixth Commandment with adults. According to what legal criteria was he found guilty of this crime? What makes a sin against the Sixth Commandment between a priest and an adult a crime?

Perhaps the beginning of the answer lies here: The Vatican announcement continues “with the aggravating factor of abuse of power.” How did the court establish the presence of this aggravating factor? What criteria determine whether or not this factor is present, in any given case?

Also: Considering the fact that many bishops and three popes have known for decades that McCarrick broke the Sixth Commandment with adults who were not really free to resist him, why didn’t anyone try and convict him of this crime long ago?

These immediate questions, and many more like them, will receive no answer anytime soon. Because: these days dangerous, dishonest mafiosi run the one, true Church of Jesus Christ. McCarrick’s sentence does not mean a new beginning. Quite the contrary. The mafiosi have simply passed private judgment on one of their own, because it suited their craven purposes at this particular moment.

McCarrick peace.jpg
May God have mercy on us all. May He heal the wounded. May His justice be done.

Racial Harmony in Christ

Virginia State Capitol

Woe to you who laugh now, for you will grieve and weep. Blessed are you who are now weeping, for your will laugh. (Luke 6:25, 21)

God made one human race. We all descend from one original mother and father, Adam and Eve. Because our First Parents fell from grace, we inherit human flesh in a state of sin. So we find ourselves estranged from each other, broken down into clans and tribes and races. [Spanish]

God united us again by sending His Son, the new Adam. Christ can and does overcome all the divisions that separate one people and nation from another, by reminding us of the true unity of all mankind, which we find inside ourselves. He died to reconcile every human soul with our Creator. By His light, we can see other people for who they truly are—brothers and sisters, children of the one heavenly Father, with whom we share the destiny of eternal life.

During the eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth centuries, other ideas wrought havoc with our sense of human fraternity. A lot of people lost sight of the unity of the human race. People here on this very land of Virginia trafficked in human slavery, justifying themselves with the idea that having white skin made you superior to dark-skinned people.

This way of thinking extended well into the last century. Governors, judges, even U.S. presidents, took it for granted. And now, suddenly we Virginians have to face again an excruciatingly ugly and painful aspect of this history. A phenomenon that plagued our state, and much of the country, for over a century. White men masquerading as black men, in order to mock and demean the entire race.

To Kill a Mockingbird Jem Scout DillNow, I for one am not exactly shocked, when it comes to the governor himself. After all, he had just gotten through defending the idea of snuffing out the life of a child at the point of birth. We already knew that the governor hardly has a “moral compass.”

But I want to explain what stuns and hurts me so much. I imagine that it has stunned and hurt a lot of us, especially those among us who remember the 1970’s, those of us who remember what the Civil Rights Movement accomplished.

Everyone read To Kill a Mockingbird? Do you remember the scene in the courthouse, when the children had snuck in, to watch the conclusion of the trial? Little Dill begins to realize that the judge and jury will not give Tom justice, simply because Tom is black.

Dill is just an eight-year-old boy. He doesn’t understand any of it well enough to express his insight in words. He just starts crying. The reality of racism confronts his idealistic and innocent mind for the first time. All he can do is cry.

In the 1970’s, thanks to the heroic courage of many people who gave their lives for it, we found ourselves there, as a country. We looked at the crushing racism that ran through our whole history. We looked at it pretty squarely and honestly. And we wept.

Not just blacks. Not just whites. We wept together. Dr. King had said what we needed to hear, in order for us to regret it all, together.

He was a churchman. He was a preacher. He shone the light of Christ’s truth. We have a common destiny, the one human family. Racial injustice harms the souls of the privileged while it crushes the un-privileged. We have to chase the dream together: sons and daughters of former slaves, and sons and daughters of former slave owners, sitting down together at the table of brotherhood.

So many things about blackface offend. But maybe one thing, above all: the smallness of it. The petty mockery, from behind a mask.

We can be bigger than that. We can communicate as equals, without pretenses. We can live together with true mutual respect.

But I think that we face truly grave danger right now. Without the grace of Jesus Christ, the human race stands united in only one thing. Sin.

We’re not born knowing how to communicate, and build trust, and expand our own souls by sharing the experiences of others. We have to learn how to do that—learn how to do it, from Jesus Christ. We need His grace, His peace, His strength. His love. He loved His enemies. He prayed for the cruel, Jew-hating Roman racists who crucified Him.

Without the love of Jesus Christ, this state, and probably this whole country, will only descend further into the chaos of mutual recrimination.

But He is with us. We can learn from Him. We can have a table of brotherhood. We do have one. We gather around it every time we celebrate Holy Mass.

The Virginia state house may be in a meltdown. The federal government may be in a meltdown. The holy Roman Catholic Church may be in a meltdown.

But we have hope. With Jesus, and with each other. The dream of a unified human race lives, right under the roof of every parish church.

Original Sin

adam-eveJesus Christ has revealed the loving kindness of God and the truth about man. As infinite God, He offered to His Father a sacrifice of infinite love, in order to redeem the human race. As a man, Christ exercised pure piety and religion; He submitted Himself completely to the governance of the Almighty. He lived the life of a sinless Adam, to found the human race anew.

In other words, Jesus Christ is the unique light that shines in history, to illuminate the mysteries of human life. Because we can see in Christ the truth about God and man, we can also, by that same light, see the human race as it truly is: A creation of God, destined for glory, which fell away from goodness at the very beginning and remains trapped in a web of destruction and evil.

The Fall. Original Sin. It’s not just a “concept.” It is a historical reality. But at the same time: something so ancient and intimate, that we need to perceive Christ first, in order to even begin to understand “original sin.”

Two ideas about original sin that are not true:

1. When Adam and Eve fell, they started human sin by giving bad example. Original sin involves freely choosing to follow the bad example of the original sinner.

No. Original sin is deeper than this. Original sin has compromised us in our very nature. No one can do good without God’s help.

2. When Adam and Eve fell, they corrupted human nature so profoundly that we are no longer truly free at all. We are nothing more than a jumbled mess of appetites. Our inclination to selfishness is so profound that we cannot rightly aspire to holiness. Instead, we must hope only that God will exercise a kind of mercy that simply does not pay attention to our incurable immorality.

No. Original sin wounded our natural inclination to God, but it did not destroy it. Christ’s grace does not substitute for, or cover over, our hopelessly corrupted human nature; Christ’s grace heals our human nature. God made us to be holy as He is holy, and we can be, by the grace of Christ.

Adam and Eve on Valentine’s Day

everib

Leave it to the good Lord.

By pure happenstance of the Lectionary: We read at Holy Mass on Valentine’s Day about God putting Adam and Eve together in the garden. Because “it is not good for man to be alone.” God told us: be fruitful and multiply. Which means men and women falling in love, exchanging Valentines, getting married, and having families.

Which came first? Mankind or the other animals?

Holy Scripture does not exactly answer this question. But the order in time matters much less than the order in being.

We human beings, alone among the animals, can conceive of the world as a whole, as God does. We alone can give distinct names to all the various parts of the world, the creatures that make up God’s creation. Alone among the animals, we form a spiritual bridge between the earth and the mind of God. The marriage of a man and a woman gives us a visible image of the union between God and mankind brought about by the God-man, Jesus Christ.

We know that the pro-abortion, “pro-choice” position betrays the truth. One way you can tell: the very euphemism that the pro-abortion movement chooses for itself. “Reproductive rights.”

Algae “reproduce.” Plants, bugs, other animals—they “reproduce.” Human beings marry. Human beings have families.

If you use words that apply to lower creatures to defend your position when it comes to human beings, you can be sure that you have strayed into a territory where violence reigns. “Reproductive rights” is a phrase from Orwell’s 1984, a mask to cover over systematic bloodshed.

On the other hand: Love. Marriage. Family.

That is the way that God gave to mankind, in the garden, before the Fall. The original gift of God—love, marriage, and family–makes Valentine’s Day happy.

Sexual Abuse by Former Pastor of St. Joseph’s

stjoeparishpic

The diocese published a list of priests yesterday, including one former pastor in Martinsville. [Make that two. See below.]

The diocese had promised us priests that we would get a phone call ahead of time, if the list included the name of a former pastor of the parish. No surprise–we never got a phone call.

The diocese’s list provides such sketchy information that we could not be sure at first. Is the Father John Joseph Munley on the list the same priest who served as pastor at St. Joseph from 1971-1975?

The Martinsville Bulletin did some good research and determined that it is indeed the same person. He died in 1995.

In the last twelve hours, I have learned about one of Father Munley’s sex-abuse victims. The victim also has died. He died young, perhaps owing to some degree to the abuse he suffered.

If anyone else wants to talk over anything about Father Munley, I am at your service as always. May the good Lord help us and steady us. Christ’s love and mercy endures forever, and His justice is perfect.

ADDENDUM

I learned from a former parishioner of St. Joseph that another former pastor’s name appears on the list: Father Harris Markam Findlay, pastor from 1955-1959. He died in 1980, while serving in the Diocese of Arlington.

ADDENDUM #2

Fr. Dennis Murphy’s name also appears on the list. Unlike the two priests named above, bishopaccountability.org has a record of Father Murphy.

During Father Murphy’s tenure at Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Salem (1985-86), he would travel to Rocky Mount to celebrate Mass at the local Episcopal church, for the benefit of the Catholic people in Franklin County. Those were the days of St. Francis of Assisi parish’s nascency.

Ready to Let Go

Depart from me Lord

Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man. (Luke 5:8)

Christ worked His miracle in the deep water of the Sea of Galilee, and St. Peter recognized the awesome holiness. [Spanish]

Peter was afraid. He knew he was not worthy to be in the presence of God. Peter thought to himself: The incredible gift God just gave me means that He will inevitably ask something of me. Something that will require me to let go of everything.

If our First Parents had not fallen in the garden, we would have a different point-of-view. We would focus on God always. We would have complete confidence in His Providence. We would know that our deepest desire is for God. We would know that He alone can make us truly happy. Serving God frees us from anxiety about things like comfort and reputation.

As it is, though, we are a fallen race, living in a fallen world, and we each have to struggle to survive. This inclines us toward avarice and pride. We hold on tight to what we have. We fear life without our “stuff.”

None of it is really ours—everything we have is God’s gift. Given for the short term, to help us get to heaven. But we cling to our stuff, instead of holding it loosely, ready to let go and reach out for the only real treasure worth having, namely God Himself.

When St. Peter realized that God had come to him, he was paralyzed. Peter could not believe that the Christ of God intended to be his friend. Personal friendship with the Messiah? That’s too good for me! And too challenging. Or so Peter thought.

sistine isaiahBut Jesus said to the fisherman: No, My friendship is not too good for you. I have plans for you. I will make you worthy. Just let go of everything else.

The Lord Jesus extends the same invitation to each of us. He has a plan for us all. This plan involves our co-operating with Him, growing closer and closer to Him, and doing great things for Him. Helping draw other souls to Him, by the evidence of our own faith. While we meanwhile hold on loosely to everything currently within our grasp, ready to let go if need be.

We tend to shrink back from the adventure that the Lord invites us to make. Our faith falters. We think: How close could God really want to be to me, anyway? I have so many spiritual warts. And unclean lips, as Isaiah put it. We tend to think, ‘Surely the Lord would prefer a holier person to be a soldier for the kingdom and a fisher of men.’

But it’s not true. Our excuses are not true. Right here and now, the Lord is saying to each of us: ‘Do not be afraid. I know how poorly qualified you are. I do not care. I am not looking for hot-shots. I am looking for friends with generous hearts.’

St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians teaches us the single qualification we need to serve as an apostle of Christ.

I handed on to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures; that he was buried; that he was raised on the third day. (I Corinthians 15:3-4)

Only one thing is necessary, for us to follow the Lord into the adventure of a holy life. We have to believe that He rose from the dead.

We believe it! We have faith in the triumph of Christ. He has conquered all evil.

That faith is all we need. Then we let go of everything else.

Josephine Bakhita’s Master

In his letter on Christian hope, Pope Benedict XVI undertook to explain something that we tend to take for granted. That is, how we came to have a concept of God that gives us hope.

St Josephine BakhitaThe pope illustrated his point with the life story of St. Josephine Bakhita of Sudan. She had become a slave at age nine. Her multiple masters beat her mercilessly. One branded her by cutting ownership symbols into her skin and filling the wounds with salt. Then Josephine got caught up in the Sudanese civil war.

As a girl, Josephine never heard anything about Jesus and the heavenly Father. Until she was thirteen or fourteen. But when she learned from some nuns about Christ, and His love—His love for the Father and for all the Father’s children—Josephine realized that this was the true God Whom she had always longed to know.

Pope Benedict put it like this:

Bakhita came to know a different kind of ‘master’—the God of Jesus Christ. Up to that time, she had known only masters who despised and maltreated her. Now she heard there is a master above all masters, the Lord of all lords. And that Lord is good. She came to know that this Lord even knew her, that He had created her, that He loved her… This master had Himself experienced being flogged and was now waiting for her at the Father’s right hand. Now she had hope.

Here’s how Josephine explained her awakening to God: “I am definitely loved, and no matter what happens to me, I am awaited by this Love. So my life is good.”

Josephine’s encounter with the nuns led to her liberation from slavery. She herself became a nun. She lived in Italy through World War II and died 72 years ago today.

Now, speaking of anniversaries: here in Virginia we commemorate the fourth centenary of African slavery in the Commonwealth. It began in 1619. It became one of the basic foundations of the state’s economy and culture.

I don’t think the meltdown at the Richmond state house is a tempest in a teapot. Speaking for myself, it has rocked my own sense of who we are in this state and how we can understand ourselves. We need to find a way to face reality that involves neither unsustainable self-righteousness nor a willingness to excuse the inexcusable.

Seems like the Lord is watching out for us. He has given us the anniversary of St. Josephine Bakhita’s holy death right when we need it. We can tackle the very long, and very difficult, sorting-out process with a sense of hope–by starting from St. Josephine’s love affair with Jesus Christ.