Though the urgency of America’s need for heavenly intervention has long been clear, it’s probably safe to say that most of us now have a deeper appreciation of this fact in the wake of the unrest that was fomented by the heinous killing of George Floyd. While symptoms of our deteriorating social cohesion have been evident for some time, we now see that the civil order in this country is more precariously fragile than we previously imagined. St. Augustine insightfully taught that peace is “the tranquility of order,” so that the eruption of widespread tumult is indicative of a festering disorder that has for too long gone untreated. The remedy for what ails us is at once complex and simple.
We are therefore asking you to join with us in a National Novena to Four Saints of Color on June 11–19, 2020, finishing on the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. The "Four Saints" (two of them as yet only “venerable”) are Ven. Augustus Tolton, Ven. Pierre Toussaint, St. Josephine Bakhita, and St. Martin de Porres. A worship aid is attached at the bottom of this article to help in this endeavor.
As is by now obvious, racial injustice is a major component of the multi-faceted wound that continues to afflict our civilization. Despite dramatic progress in this area since generations past, the horrible gravity of the mistreatment to which people of color were long subjected in this country demands a more thoroughgoing rectification than we have yet achieved. In addition to more just social policies, what is needed most of all is fraternal charity. “Love does no wrong to the neighbor; hence, love is the fulfillment of the law” (Rom 13:10). It is love that builds up the Body of Christ and fosters true, interpersonal communion.
However, our capacity to love our neighbors as ourselves is hindered by all of the myriad sins that too many of us have come to accept as constitutive of 21st century life: materialistic consumerism, sexual licentiousness, arrogance, greed, unforgiveness, indifference to the plight of the poor, forgetfulness (or denial) of God, etcetera. This led Jesus to warn concerning the end times that, “because of the increase of evildoing, the love of many will grow cold” (Mt 24:12). In the intricate web of social relations, wherever the bond of charity breaks down, that rupture becomes the epicenter of a ripple effect that spreads outward to affect a whole network of relations. For this reason, St. Teresa of Calcutta famously and persuasively argued that “the greatest destroyer of peace today is abortion,” because, “if we accept that a mother can kill even her own child, how can we tell other people not to kill one another” (Address at the National Prayer Breakfast, Washington, D.C., Feb. 3, 1994)?
Fortunately, the astounding, redemptive power of Christ’s Paschal Mystery is capable not only of stopping the metastasizing spread of sin but of reversing it. By freely enduring the supreme expression of human malice on the cross in sacrificial love and then vanquishing it by rising from the dead, the Son of God has endowed every moral fault with the potential to be transformed into an occasion of mercy and redemption. With the help of prayer and the Sacraments, when we decide to forgive those who have hurt us and repent of the ways we have harmed others, this divinely infused love “covers a multitude of sins” (1 Pet 4:8). Not only are we healed, but we can radiate Christ’s saving mercy throughout the whole network of relations in which we’re each uniquely situated.
The four saints to whom we will appeal in this novena each suffered tremendous hardship on account of the racial prejudice of those who should have loved them as fellow children of God. Yet, through their identification with Christ Crucified, they found the grace to forgive and even to live as active instruments of God’s redeeming love. They are thus uniquely poised to help us—both as intercessors and as models of the merciful love that will enable each of us to play our part in the healing of our society. As we contemplate the mysteries of our redemption through the prayer of the Rosary and imitate the Saints’ fidelity to the two great commandments of love of God and love of neighbor, the Holy Spirit will so reorient our relationships (to self, others and God) as to restore the order whose tranquility is true peace.
If we respond to this moment wisely, the wakeup calls we have recently experienced as a nation have every potential to become a profound occasion of grace. Like every summons to repentance, this is also an offer of new life. Though failure to listen heedfully would promise disaster, a wholehearted response will warrant tremendous hope. With the Lord’s merciful help, we as a nation may perhaps finally begin to realize the noble ideals of our founding: in accord with the laws of nature and nature’s God, to safeguard the equal right of every human person to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
(top photo: Fr. Augustine Tolton)