Why Retell the Terrible Story

Why Retell the Terrible Story

Not too long ago I shared with some friends how I meditate using the crucifix and some reading material to get started. I learned to do this as a high school student at the Passionists’ minor seminary in Warrenton Missouri and continue doing the same whenever I take the time.

I realized from one of my friends questions, that this practice of having a crucifix in front of me, presented a challenge for her, a former religious woman. She thought that to be too depressing. She was not the first one to challenge this practice, and I suspect She won’t be the last.

I explained that in the seminary as in most if not all Passionists’ houses, the corpus on the crucifix is still living. The picture of the cross on the left was taken at the Holy Name Passionist Retreat Center in Houston Texas. If you look closely, you will notice that the eyes of Jesus are still open, his head is erect and there is no sign of blood on Jesus’ side where according to the evangelist, John, the soldier pierced him. While the crucifix I have at home is not that, I still see Jesus alive on the cross. He is alive in the terrible stories we hear on the Daily News, reports of as Robert Burns put it: “Man’s inhumanity to man”. And Jesus’ response? He speaks his truth, upsets those around him, especially those in power. Then those in power, attack him at first verbally. They scare the fearful around Jesus, those whose faith is in power, and convince them that they must get rid of this threat. Those in power manipulate the law and ultimately erase the threat, or so they think, because the story does not end there.

The story goes on as in the horrific treatment of Emmet Till, a beautiful, innocent fourteen year old boy from Chicago who visits his family in another city where he, not knowing the “culture” has the audacity to make a comment to the store keeper where he and his friends had gone to get some candy. This leads to his brutal death. The town tries the perpetrators of Emmet’s death, and because of the “culture” of this community, a culture of fear, these killers are acquitted and seemingly set free. Are they really free? Do they live on or is it Emmet who lives on?

Who is freed and who gets to live on, those covering up, avoiding the truth that they know will convict them, or is it Jesus and Emmet Till who live on? For me, I believe Emmet won, just as Jesus did. They won in the sense that they changed history. They did not have to live a lie. Their story lives on inspiring us today as well as future generations to come. Their lives made a difference. They changed history. The fearful, the people who covered up, died as Caesar tells Calpurnia in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar:

Cowards die many times before their deaths; 
The valiant never taste of death but once. 
Of all the wonders that I yet have heard.
It seems to me most strange that men should fear; 
Seeing that death, a necessary end, 
Will come when it will come. 


James Cone, a noted Black theologian in his book, “The Cross and the Lynching Tree” writes: “White theologians do not normally turn to the black experience to learn about theology.” I don’t claim to be a theologian, but I’m afraid I have spent more time than I should have, looking for answers there instead of sitting in front of the cross. Reading Cone’s book and this quote from it, inspired this post.

Posted by Dan O’Donnell, a layman who has covenanted with the Chicago Community of Passionist Partners. In addition to the standard covenant, Dan promises to work at connecting all partners known and unknown, to a conscious following the the way of Jesus, the way of the cross which Dan believes transforms all failure, and injustices, democratizing the human journey

2 thoughts on “Why Retell the Terrible Story

  1. Thank you Dan.
    I believe in the “present moment” of Salvation history. I believe that we are (very slowly) moving toward the realization, the fulfillment of the plan of God, “that all may be one.”
    I believe that our present history – is God revealing once again the “gift offered to all of creation through the deliberate, suffering love of the Son of God which frees us from whatever oppresses us and deliver us from sin and the Power of Evil.” That is the definition of Salvation according to Pope Paul VI in “Evangelization of the Modern World.”
    Please do not let particular movements distract you from the movement of God who is moving us towards lifting the oppressive, invasive forms of the 400+ year history of slavery, vis a vis, racism. It is in our DNA like cancer. We must work toward our Salvation, by removing the racist curse from our society, church, culture and self. g. alex steinmiller, c.p. asteinmiller@gmail.com

  2. Well done Dan and very thoughtful for our present time.Hard to be optimistic our future unless we can change how we relate to all people and all their different experiences.Nice that at this time that we can turn to the sacrifices that those in the past made for us.Was in a class of about 75 people 3 years ago on fair housing and the teacher asked if anyone knew who Emmett Till was and I was shocked that I was the only one who knew and there were several african americans in the class.Maybe since I lived in Chicago at the time but I never forgot this injustice to another of God’s Creations.

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