It's no surprise that Ferguson and the wider St. Louis community have been the center of attention for the nation these last eight months with the unceasing racial tensions and gun violence. Archbishop Carlson desired that the Archdiocese of St. Louis respond with a prayerful presence by hosting a monthly prayer vigil for peace, justice, and charity, called "Faith in Ferguson." Three weeks ago on Tuesday, March 10th, Br. Nicholas and I had the privilege to attend a prayer vigil which featured a reflection given by Sr. Mary Antona Ebo, FSM. Sr. Ebo, a Franciscan Sister of Mercy, was one of many sisters that marched with Martin Luther King, Jr. in Selma fifty years ago to advocate the passing of the Voting Rights Act.
Ninety years of age, Sr. Ebo defeated the perceived image of a fragile elderly woman. She graced everyone with a presence that was full of life, joy, and conviction. She based her reflection from Isaiah 55: 1-5:
All you who are thirsty, come to the water! You who have no money, come, buy grain and eat; Come, buy grain without money, wine and milk without cost! Why spend your money for what is not bread; your wages for what does not satisfy? Only listen to me, and you shall eat well, you shall delight in rich fare. Pay attention and come to me; listen, that you may have life. I will make with you an everlasting covenant, the steadfast loyalty promised to David. As I made him a witness to peoples, a leader and commander of peoples, So shall you summon a nation you knew not, and a nation that knew you not shall run to you, Because of the LORD, your God, the Holy One of Israel, who has glorified you.
Four key words that she wanted everyone to focus on were: come, listen, witness, and live.
Come: "Come" is an invitation from the Lord as he tells Simon Peter and Andrew, "Come and See." Sr. Ebo asked the question, "Are you beginning a new day, entering a new day, calling forth people? If not, what is holding you back?" She lamented that what makes for discomfort in Ferguson is believing that the city is dangerous and should be avoided. What people fail to see is the beauty already present there, God's grace working in those individuals that are taking it upon themselves to foster reconciliation in the neighborhoods through efforts such as facilitated dialogue among community members. To come is to invite others to be a part of this work: to bring love back into a community that is divided by indifference.
Listen: In order to understand the differences in culture, we have to be willing to listen to one another. Sr. Ebo, whom was Baptist growing up, placed a special emphasis on learning to listen to the Holy Spirit. She sang, "And what the Spirit says 'say,' you gonna say 'O Lord!" Say what the Spirit says 'say!'" Being attentive to the Spirit is to see the Spirit working within each person, to let them speak first before we dismiss them. To listen is to enter dialogue with an openness of mind and heart to the other's words. It is the Spirit that gives us the right words in our response, a response that is grounded in love of God and neighbor. Listening like so helps us be more attentive to what another says, which can often time be misunderstood or not communicated.
Witness: What Ferguson is in need of is God's grace and mercy. Sr. Ebo said that to see the beauty in Ferguson requires us to be patient and diligent in doing God's work. If we want reconciliation in the neighborhoods of Ferguson and the St. Louis community, we have to embody and extend that reconciliation to others. She said, "I'd like to see people with a little more compassion." What she meant by being more compassionate was to walk, talk, and be available as Jesus was . Transformation for Ferguson and the wider St. Louis community is tangible only if people see a transformation in one another.
Live: Sr. Ebo asked the question, "When all is said and done and we are before God, he will ask us where are the people that we have touched." In walking, talking, and being available like Jesus, we become witnesses to the Gospel. It is through our witnessing, our living, that we guide others back to the Church, because Sr. Ebo says that many people these days do not feel at home in the Church. In one of the Catholic schools that Sr. Ebo served in, she encountered the quote: Enter to Learn. Learn to Serve. She says this is an invitation for the faithful of the Church, that we come to learn about God's grace and mercy so that we might go back into the community to spread that grace and mercy to others.