As much as I loved working with the freshmen at Resurrection High School in Chicago, the ever-present challenge was to help them see beyond their own very circumscribed experiences.
My thirteen- and fourteen-year-old students were growing in their knowledge of and sensitivity to the larger world, but that awareness was still seed-like and clouded. Many experienced an added layer of protection from parents who were first responders, living as far from the center of the city and its accompanying chaos, violence, and risk, as was humanly possible. Our neighborhood was a safe place where people who looked and acted “like us” lived, providing shelter from the larger world.
When it came time to teach the Gospel of Luke, I very intentionally focused on how Jesus interacts with and lifts up the marginalized in his society. Chicago—the tapestry of languages, nationalities, and races that it is—provided the perfect parallel between Jesus’ world and their own. As young women of faith, their somewhat narrow experiences of the “real world” needed to grow, but in a safe place like the classroom.
Each year, we listened to and discussed two songs, one from pop music and the other from a famous Broadway musical. “The Way It Is” by Bruce Hornsby and the Range depicts prejudice against Black people in an ironic way—“that’s just the way it is”—while while also pointing to efforts like the Civil Rights Act to bring change. It leaves you with a “two steps forward, one step back” kind of feeling. The other song, “You’ve Got To Be Carefully Taught” from the movie version of South Pacific is explicit about how we learn to fear and hate those not like us.
The conversations generated by both of these songs often started slowly as my students tried to grasp threads of experience from their own lives to connect with the songs. The Hornsby song often prompted them to ask their history teacher about racism, the struggles for civil rights, and the changes that followed. “Carefully Taught” hit a little closer to home, as we talked about behaviors and conversations they watched, heard, and lived.
Jesus in Luke’s Gospel reminds us time and time again that we cannot ignore, disregard, or be blind to the people who are not like us, whether they dwell in our neighborhoods—even in our homes—or on the margins of society. This week’s trio of CatholicsRead titles is about or directed to people who are often marginalized both by our lack of awareness of their needs and by our distant relationships with them.
Between Heaven and Earth from Liturgical Press is the first of this trio that speaks to many we may not recognize among us, the “nones” who still want to know more about the Christian message. In this book, author and biblical scholar Gerhard Lohfink takes up the colorful threads of many Old and New Testament texts and weaves from them a many-hued tapestry of biblical theology.
Embedded in the corporal works of mercy is the command to visit those in prison. The incarcerated are often forgotten members of society, and their families’ pain and suffering are pushed away or ignored. Corazón Prisionero: Reflexiones para personas que tienan seres queridos en prisión by Petra Alexander and Gerardo Gómez from GIA Publications is a much-needed prayer book for the family members of the incarcerated, as well as for those who minister to them. Also available in English, these prayers can help bring their experiences into the light and offer hope.
Last is Let the Church Sing On! Reflections on Black Sacred Music also from GIA Publications. While most of us are familiar with the breadth of the Catholic music repertoire, Black sacred music is still largely outside our experience. Dr. James Abbington communicates a deep knowledge of—and passion for—Black sacred music, and his insights are ones that could inspire all of us in learning and growth.
Therese Brown is the Executive Director of the Association of Catholic Publishers. She holds a master of arts degree in youth and liturgy from Catholic Theological Union in Chicago. She previously served as senior marketing specialist at United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Publishing Office. She is the author of Graced Moments: Prayer Services for the Lives of Teens (World Library Publications). She resides in the Baltimore area.