“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” (Mt 3:2) These words taken from John the Baptist have often been yelled at me, or rather just yelled, as I rode the subway or as I walked across a street corner. It is difficult for me to untangle my visceral feelings of discomfort at and contempt of subway preachers from the words in this Sunday’s Gospel.
But that’s just it. Those words are meant to make me feel uncomfortable, to shake me from my apathy. It’s easy to turn up my headphones and rush past a subway preacher. It is more difficult to ignore the gnawing feeling inside of me that is asking difficult questions, urging me to face my sins. How do I reconcile being complicit with institutions that have fueled racism and sexism? How do I belong to a nation that separates families and puts children into cages?
Paul understood the messiness of humanity and human institutions. He is trying to reconcile the church of the Roman Empire in the 1st century. On the one hand, the church in Jerusalem is arguing that the Gentiles are not equal to and therefore do not have the same privileges as they do. Then the burgeoning church in Antioch is arguing that they don’t have to conform to Jewish law. Paul knows that the community will continue to wrestle with these questions, yet he also knows that God is a God of endurance and encouragement. He urges them to “welcome one another, then, as Christ welcomed you, for the glory of God.” (Rom 15:7)
The prophet Isaiah illustrates for us the glory of God. “The wolf shall be the guest of the lamb” (Is 11:6) and “the baby shall play by the cobra’s den.” (Is 11:8) I know that I will continue to wrestle with my questions as the Romans struggled with theirs. Yet I am called to prepare the way of the Lord, to work toward the coming of Christ—I await the day when justice and peace will flourish.
Teresa Marie Cariño Petersen is an educator and activist particularly interested in racial justice and embodiment. She currently works as a campus ministry teacher at Sacred Heart Prep, Atherton where she teaches social ethics and coordinates the immersion program. She credits her faith that does justice formation to ISN and is an alum of St. Ignatius (San Francisco), the University of San Francisco, and (soon to be) Jesuit School of Theology. She also served as a Jesuit Volunteer in New York City 13’-14’ and worked at two Jesuit parishes. Teresa also serves on the board of the National Catholic Reporter.
Find her on Instagram @teresamariecarino