Lest We Forget, Congressman John Lewis

BY FR. FRED KAMMER, S.J. | March 10, 2021
Today’s Readings

Speaking for the LORD in Deuteronomy, Moses urges the Israelites:

Not to forget the things which your own eyes have seen,
nor let them slip from your memory as long as you live,
but teach them to your children and to your children’s children.

As I too rapidly become an “elder,” the injunction from Moses “not to forget” is all the more important to continue the work for a more just world. I still can recall: my all-white Catholic parish and elementary school in New Orleans … whispers about a lynching overheard on a bus returning home through Mississippi as a high school freshman … riots by whites when the public streetcars, buses, and schools were integrated … admission of the first Black students to Jesuit High School New Orleans only in my senior year … segregated doctors’ offices near our novitiate in Southwest Louisiana … and much more.

Lest We Forget, Congressman John Lewis

[Image: John Lewis Candlelight Vigil, July 2020 – Stephen Harlan via Flickr]

“Lest we forget” is a phrase commonly used in war remembrance services and commemorations in English speaking countries. But it applies as well to the Holocaust, slavery, lynching, genocide, and other vivid examples of human cruelty and injustice. Remembering is important to sustain the long-term struggle to eliminate such atrocities from our lives and our world.

When Moses urges his listeners to remember, he emphasizes the good and loving deeds of God in their midst. They are not to forget and to teach God’s love to their children and next generations. And, as the psalm response teaches, we are to praise God for this loving history. So, too, as we learned in the acclaim for the civil rights hero Congressman John Lewis who died in July, we also must remember and imitate the often unsung heroines and heroes who today continue to walk long miles with people who are poor, marginalized, and excluded.

For Reflection: 

  • What memories sustain my own commitments to social, racial, and environmental justice?
  • Who are the people whose lives inspire me to work for justice, peace, and the environment?
  • What do I never want to forget?

6 replies
  1. Avatar
    Dr Eileen Quinn Knight says:

    He was an Irish priest(I mean he came from Ireland) in a immigrant community. He met with his community on Wednesdays and Sundays. He helped them in every way he could think of and they truly . loved him. The community made sure he ate supper with them on Wednesdays and talked about all the things they needed to do for the week. He was good at paper work. He knew how to get the people to the right places. He celebrated Mass with them on Sunday and communicated with them the best he could with an Irish broughe. He certainly reminded all of the goodness and generosity of Christ. He understood the rhythm of their lives and joyfully participated in their celebrations. He was struly a follower of Christ and gave His love freely.

    Reply
  2. Avatar
    Patti says:

    As a youngster I remember my Dad talking about the three civil rights workers who went to Mississippi and disappeared. Later their buried bodies were found. My Dad was a blue collar worker who understood Justice, the difference between right and wrong.
    I remember Cesar Chavez and The United Farm Workers. The grape boycott was known everywere.
    As a child I loved him.
    I remember the Beatles and their refusal to play in a segregated setting in Florida. The policy changed for that night and the Beatles performed !

    Reply
  3. Avatar
    Silvia Munoz says:

    I will never forget that I once once a refugee. I have been a US citizen for 50+ years but I can not forget that, as a “stranger” in this land, I was welcomed here. I want to do the same for those fleeing horrible conditions now.

    Reply
  4. Avatar
    michele wilkosz says:

    The seniors of a local catholic High School were marched into the Akron, Ohio police station en masse. The visit to the jail was part of a social studies class curriculum. After listening to one of the officers give an introductory talk, the class was taken down into the basement of the police station where they were led past a row of cells filled with male prisoners. Some cells had Caucasian prisoners, some held African American prisoners. The space between the wall and the front of the cells was narrow requiring the students to walk single file. It was almost possible for a prisoner arm to reach out and grab a student. The seventeen-year-olds had varying reactions depending on their personalities and background. Some student kept their heads down or turned away. Most rushed, some more than others, causing them to bump into the students ahead of them. Shouts were heard, “hurry up”. Some students responded aggressively to the cat calls of the prisoners.

    The prisoners in the cells also had different reactions. Some prisoners mimicked monkeys and apes. “Hey, do you think we’re in a zoo?” Those were the men that tried to grab the girls through the bars.
    One female student caught the eye of a young prisoner sitting on his bunk. He looked up in embarrassment. The girl mouthed the words, “I am sorry.” She felt angry. She had witnessed his humanity.
    To reclaim a modicum of his self-respect the young man chastised the monkey imitators,
    “Hey, you guys, these are just school kids.”

    Thinking back on it, it was a bad idea. Not sure what it was supposed to prove, what we were supposed to learn. There was embarrassment, confusion, and discomfort on both sides. The students were too immature to know how to respond to the moment; the prisoners were surprised, humiliated that they were put on display, made to be a part of a social lesson.

    The mandated class report required us to summarize our experience. For some of the students it evoked compassion and awareness of the societal divides among us. In this catholic school class, there was no mention of visiting the imprisoned with a mind to understand them or to help them. Visiting the imprisoned is after all a corporal work of mercy. What programs were instituted to help them; what justice would be served? We were never told what the reasons were for their incarceration.
    From her comments the students realized that their teacher expected a report along the lines of what the police officer had spoken to them about in terms of law and order. Maybe the jail visit was a ‘this could happen to you’ finger shake.
    One incident, several viewpoints. The sensitive prisoner, did he remember, did it matter that he stood up for his humanity? Did that help or hurt him? The girl who apologized, how did this incident resonate with her in her future encounters with social justice? We often don’t know the significance of an experience at the time. Reflection and an in-depth discussion afterwards may have led to more useful take-aways. The exposure to ideas and thoughts is the goal of an education after all.

    Reply
  5. Avatar
    Susan Sanders says:

    Working in the Mental Health system in Arizona, I was driving back to my office when I saw a Native American client walking in the brutal noonday sun. I pulled over and asked him if he wanted a ride. He got in the car, dripping with sweat, and asked why I was doing this. I said because it was too hot to be walking a long way in the heat. He replied, no one has ever been nice to me before. This was a man who, before suffering a psychotic break at age 20, was in a graduate program in engineering at MIT. We don’t take the time to know the ones on the street – what their stories are. His name is Bob and he is a D’nai – Navaho.

    Reply

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