Encountering Jesus on a New Road
BY CLARISSA ALJENTERA | April 24, 2023
During the season of Lent, I found myself and my family attending Sunday Mass at a Black Catholic parish on Chicago’s South Side. I participated in two Holy Week liturgies in the company of a majority Black congregation listening to preaching that uplifted the Black community. As a Filipina American, I have found more resonance with an image of Jesus that is dark skinned with coarse, curly black hair in recent years.
Sometimes I wonder what the image of Jesus would be in Emmaus if we saw him as a Black man instead of the often Eurocentric faces that hang in many U.S. Catholic churches. That image of a lighter-skinned Jesus is familiar to me and is the one I am sure I would have talked with and maybe even welcomed to sit with me at dinner.
I wonder if I would have stopped to talk or listen to a Black man if my blinders were on and my focus were on the conversation with my friend while we were on the journey. Would I have stopped to listen on the road to Emmaus if it was a Black man that stopped me and my friend?
My husband and I are raising a mixed-race child and are constantly thinking about how we want to raise him in a home that celebrates Blackness. That journey means my own questioning about what I have known to be true about who my Jesus is and who my Jesus looks like today. More often it means sitting in discomfort and looking to explore new narratives and experiences.
- When we sit with Jesus and He breaks open sacred scripture, who is the face we want to see? Who do we need to see?
Clarissa V. Aljentera joined Ignatian Solidarity Network staff in 2022 as director of Education for Justice. She holds degrees from San Jose State University and Boston College School of Theology and Ministry and has worked as a campus minister at Northwestern University, for the Archdiocese of Chicago in faith formation working with programs engaging young people, engaged couples preparing for marriage, and racial justice initiatives. Before working in ministry, Clarissa spent 10 years working as a newspaper reporter. She lives in Chicago, Illinois with her husband and son.
Powerful and filled with Wonder and Awe!
When the Lord and I are in Scripture together, I want to see the face of the person who is praying with us. The gift that God has given me is the fact that I am comfortable with any face that is offered at this time. The pastoral associate at the parish that was mentioned is a woman of great faith and recently received an award for knowing and loving the people in her Church. She was the first woman to receive the award, the first black woman, the first of a large group of people to win this award. It was an acknowledgement of the faith and mercy of our Church.
Who I imagine as Jesus – a man living in Palestine with long hair and robes, and gentle demeanour.
Who I see as Jesus today – the poor, homeless people living on the street.
I actually have several nativity scenes I’ve collected throughout the years. None with Eurocentric features. Each year we celebrate Christmas with a birthday date cake for baby Jesus. I suppose Grandma thought dates might be a fruit found in Galilee so she made that cake each year. We have continued the tradition for 3 generations. One year my sister-in-law called and told me she couldn’t find her baby Jesus figurine to place on the cake, would I bring one. She didn’t want to use the expensive one from her nativity. After she hung up my brother said to her “I wonder what color Jesus we’ll have this year?”. I took an African baby Jesus and a Lenox glass one. My brother hugged me then put the black baby Jesus on the cake. My nieces and nephews, brothers and sisters go out of their way to find nativity’s and angels for my Christmas collection, few of which are Eurocentric. My new niece-in-law after experiencing Christmas at my house painted me a picture of one each Hispanic, Black and Eurocentric angel. I’d like to think any one us on the Road to Emmaus would travel along with anyone sharing their story with us. My mother was the most inclusive person I know. She taught us to be the same way. We’ve continued to do the same with our families. Today’s world is scary and I think hesitancy would have more to do with behavior than with race/color. Anyway I’d like to believe that.
Holy Scripture says Jesus was born poor and died on a cross after being condemned as a criminal.