On All Souls’ Day, we commemorate the faithful departed. If you’ve glanced at the newspapers, you read that thousands of people in Detroit yesterday paid their final respects to Rosa Parks. In 1987, John Paul II, on a pastoral visit to the US, said that the “black cultural heritage enriches the Church and makes her witness of universality more complete.” In the same year, now-Archbishop Wilton Gregory said, “I do not subscribe to those who doubt that cultural accommodation is possible between the Roman Rite and the Black American cultural heritage. I will admit that it will demand a patience on the part of Black American Catholics and the magisterium of the Church.”
I’m not sure if we American Catholics (perhaps especially St Blog’s) have really even begun to learn from the experience of God in African-American culture. So, here is a prayer for All Souls’ Day from the Rev Grainger Browning Jr, pastor of Ebenezer AME Church in Fort Washington, Maryland; he read this prayer at a memorial service for Rosa Parks at another AME church in Washington, DC, on Monday. We might find parts of it unfamiliar or even questionable, but we should listen:
Can we all take somebody by the hand in unity as we go to God in a word of prayer. Eternal God, our Father, we come today despite our sorrows, despite our grief, to say thank you, because you are still the God of our weary years and the God of our silent tears. You’re still the one that has brought us thus far along the way. And today we want to say thank you for the hall of fame and the hall of faith and the cloud of witnesses that now encompass over us.
We say thank you for Jarena Lee and Richard Allen for inspiring us. We say thank you for Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass for liberating us. We say thank you for Sojourner Truth and Nat Turner for emancipating us. We say thank you for Mary McLeod Bethune and Benjamin Mays for educating us. We say thank you for Ida B. Wells, Mary Church Turrell and WEB DuBois and A. Philip Randolph for organizing us. We say thank you for Lorraine Hansberry and Langston Hughes for writing for us. We say thank you for Mahalia Jackson and Marian Anderson and James Cleveland, Thomas Dorsey for singing for us. We say thank you today for Fannie Lou Hamer and Barbara Jordan and Shirley Chisholm and C. Delores Tucker, we say thank you for them involving us.
But on today, most of all, we want to say thank you for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and we say thank you, dear Lord, for the mother of the Civil Rights Movement, Rosa Parks. We say thank you for her loving us. We say thank you for having courage for us. We say thank you for her quiet strength. And now on this day, dear Lord, we want to say thank you that death still has no sting, and the grave still has no victory, and Rosa Parks is not dead, but her life and legacy is still alive. And we give your name beyond the praise and the glory.
But even though she’s still alive, racism is still alive, sexism is still alive, classism is still alive, poverty is still alive, injustice is still alive. So, on today, dear Lord, we redouble our efforts to carry on her legacy, to do justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with you, our God. So today we want to say thank you. We praise you. We glorify you that we too pray that you’ll bless and comfort the family. Give them the strength that they need to run on to see what the end is going to be. And when it’s all said and done, we pray that we, too, will hear you say, “Well done, thy good and faithful servant.”
And we say thank you that when Rosa Parks got to heaven, she cast her crowns at your throne. But then she took her seat with the 420 elders besides Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. And we want to say thank you. It was finally she was able to say, “Free at last, free at last, thank God, almighty, we are free at last.” In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen. Amen. And amen.