Bishop: Father's Day-and Night

by Bishop Joensen | June 25, 2020

Bishop Joensen

At the end of the rally against racism June 1 on the west side of the State Capitol, Iowa Rep. Ako Abdul-Samad invited those present to kneel down in prayer.  I joined with the thousand or so folks present by going to both knees on the pavement.  It was a simple gesture where in my mind we were invoking God to draw us out of the present social turmoil to a place where justice is served, human rights are recognized, and where brothers and sisters can at last live in peace.

Kneeling before God is a familiar posture at Mass and beyond for Catholics, who believe that God alone is to be adored, for he holds sole claim to our lives, purchased by the blood of Christ on the Cross.  Yet in these past weeks there’s been a whole lot of kneeling going on in our country by people with diverse faiths and intentions: kneeling as a way of defusing tensions between protestors and police, whether as a gesture of solidarity in the common desire to live in harmony with each other, or as call that civil authorities forswear the arms they bear and yield to protestors’ right to free speech and assembly throughout the day and night.  Kneeling can also remind us of the lethal act whereby George Floyd was asphyxiated by the police officer who pinned his neck to the ground for nearly nine minutes; it calls us to alternatively identify ourselves by our complicity with oppressors or solidarity with the oppressed in our society.

Kneeling can also be viewed through the lens of submission, which likewise has varied motivations: I might toone more powerful than myself, to whom resistance is futile and ultimately perilous.  Submission can be a prelude to an exchange where I forsake my claim in hopes that I stand to benefit in the long run, a prudential calculation of what is and is not worth standing our ground.  Or it can be an awe-inspired gesture of tribute and praise before our Great God appreciated for his beauty, goodness, mystery, and mercy.

Jesus, the Son and supreme gift of the Father, offers us his heart as the wellspring of grace, mercy, healing and peace in the face of what afflicts us.  Pope Francis invites us this month—which includes the Feast of the Sacred Heart--to prayerfully pursue the “Way of the Heart: that all those who suffer may find their way in life, allowing themselves to be touched by the Heart of Jesus.”  Mindful of the rich graces and unfathomable suffering coursing through the Sacred Heart, St. Paul counsels us not to “lose heart over my afflictions,” but rather to unite with him and others as we “kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named.”  Our hope is that we, “rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the holy ones what is the breadth and length and height and depth”—and thereby extend the far-reaching dimensions of Christ’s love (Eph. 3:14-19).

We are called to bear radical witness to the love that is the complete form of justice embodied in Jesus’ Sacred Heart.  We reflect back to sisters and brothers of every race, color, ethnicity, religion or national origin the truth that they reveal God’s profile in a way no one else can capture.  We have seen how peaceful protests have sometimes turned ugly at night.  Jesus anticipated moments when “night is coming, when no one can work” (John 9:4).  In the long night of the global pandemic and national racial tensions that we continue to experience, we can feel as if even God is stymied in his work by the forces in play in this spiritual darkness. 

Catholic Christians kneel before Jesus, because as Son he did not cling to equality with his Father, but emptied himself, even becoming like a slave for our sake (Phil. 2:6-9).  A holy woman mystic reminds us that when the Lord himself or a Christian is not accepted in sharing the Gospel, we can always pray, even if the hurt of rejection is there.  We suffer for the Father’s sake because the truth of his Son is rejected, though still the wound is enfolded in God’s love.

In this conflicted time in our nation’s history, we sense all too well how Jesus felt in his passion.  It seemed even for Jesus that the way to the Father became clouded for a time because the Father appeared to withdraw his face.   Yet, like Jesus, we do not turn away from God in despondency as he reveals his pierced heart on the Cross.  For a brief time, day gave way to night, and then the darkness of death became the prelude to a day that will never end. 

We are constant in our solidarity with our hurting neighbors, especially those who have suffered the yoke of racism for so long.  We are unceasing in our prayer for victims of unjust violence, for law enforcement officials sworn to public peace, for those who publically advocate for justice, and those charged to make laws that conform with the heart and mind of God, shown in the love of God poured out in Christ.  As we approach July 4, the national holiday where we celebrate all that is true and good about this country, we pray for the ascendance of peace and justice as our liturgy proposes, before the God who stands watch over the day and the night:

“O God, who show a father’s care for all, grant, in your mercy, that the members of the human race, to whom you have given a single origin, may form in peace a single family and always be united by a fraternal spirit.  Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.”       



Bishop Joensen

The Most Reverend William Joensen is the current bishop for the Diocese of Des Moines, having been ordained and installed in 2019.