By Father Casey
This past week I joined 18 youth and 18 adults on a pilgrimage through the Deep South. Our aim was to venerate the sites associated with the Civil Rights Movement, places most folks know from textbooks and documentaries, but are seldom actually visited. It was a journey across a historic landscape, hallowed by the blood of countless martyrs, and also a journey into the depths of the human soul, where we confronted the very worst and the very best within people.
I had the privilege of making a similar pilgrimage only four years ago with an adult group from Transfiguration, when we visited many of the same sacred sites. I assumed that this trip would feel familiar – walking across Edmund Pettus Bridge, visiting the Greyhound Station where the Freedom Riders were nearly lynched by a mob, seeing the place where the bomb went off at 16th Street Baptist that killed four little girls. But in every place, it felt new.
Perhaps it helped that our group included my 13 year-old daughter, whose maturity and thoughtfulness made for some unforgettable, shared moments. But I think it had more to do with the fact that the stories of these places are the sort we can return to again and again and always find new power. There is no bottom to this well, for every time we return to witness courage and faith offered by the saints of the Civil Rights Movement – men, women, and children – we can always be inspired. The presence of God is palpable in their unwavering practice of love, which when applied nonviolently is the most powerful force for justice in the world.
It’s a bit like Scripture in that regard. Just when we think we have it figured out, we realize there is more to be learned. Just when we think we’ve heard every story, we discover God speaking to us afresh in familiar words. We should all be on guard against thinking we already know everything we need to know.
We returned to Dallas knowing that the work begun in the 1950s has not reached its completion. Too many of the rights won at great cost back then remain under threat all these years later. Jim Crow may be ended, but its stain remains visible in too many of ways – in voting rights, educational opportunity, life expectancy, wage equity, and so much more. That was the request made to us by all the footsoldiers of the Movement we met: Don’t drop the baton. Keep running this race. Keep on fighting for justice. Don’t take anything for granted. There is more to be done, and now it’s up to us.
So, don’t be surprised if a whole bunch of youth at Transfiguration start making “good trouble,” as John Lewis famously put it. They’re just following the lead of the students who paved the way over 60 years ago, who would not settle for an unjust society, no matter how comfortable their own lives might be. Like those silver-haired mentors, these youth know that God is always on the side of justice, and oppression anywhere is a threat to freedom everywhere. And just as our nation eventually did all those years ago, I hope we’ll be willing to follow their lead.