Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Frances Gaudet

Every once in a while our Wednesday morning service offers a gift from the ECUSA calendar of Lesser Feasts and Fasts. This morning we observed a "probationary" saint, Frances Gaudet. The Episcopal Church has a process by which we commemorate particular members of the Body of Christ, the faithful in their generations. At a session of General Convention, a person is presented to the Church with a particular day set aside to remember them and their works in Christ. The name is set on our calendar with readings, prayers and their history. Some are "saints" as many perceive them: St. Alban, St. Elizabeth of Hungary, etc.

Today we greeted a "new" saint, Frances Gaudet. She was a woman of mixed race, African American and Native American born in Mississippi in the 1840s. She was raised by her grandparents and educated (earning a college degree) in New Orleans in the late 1880s. In the time between the Reconstruction and as the Jim Crow laws were coming into effect, she was an active and successful advocate for prisoners, particularly in the area of education.

I was impressed by her story and her witness.

Not to mention the Gospel reading (John 13:31-35):

When he had gone out, Jesus said, ‘Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him,If God has been glorified in him');" onmouseout="return nd();" href="javascript:void(0);"> God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, “Where I am going, you cannot come.” I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’

The "he" is Judas. At the very moment of Jesus' being handed over to arrest and execution, he is preaching love. How radical. Frances Gaudet faced so many challenges in her life and ministry, I am sure. As a woman of color, she entered into the darkest and ugliest places in her society at a time and place where the divisions of access to justice, education, freedom were almost insurmountable. She brought knowledge, education and self-respect to people who had to that time not ever had the access or opportunity to any of those things, ever before.

This is a tough walk for all of us, speaking a word of love when we are in the midst of things in this world which divide and destroy. The current economic crisis, the transitions and changes in the way business is done in this world, the violence that seems to never end. There is no safe place...at least, it is starting to feel like that. But, Jesus' word, from the moment of his removal from freedom, preaches the Gospel of Love...that we are called upon to love with the mind and heart of Christ.

That is a tall order. It is easy enough to love those who love me. It is a breeze to receive those who seek my company. Yet, Jesus is telling us over and over that this is only the beginning. We have to love those who hate us. We have to love, and not hate, those who create the divisions that Frances Gaudet fought so hard against a hundred years ago.

Just a little while ago, I saw an Internet ad in which John Lennon, long departed from us, is seen plugging the Gates Foundation laptop drive for children around the world. What if...he reminds us, what if children had what they needed-access to computers and to education and formation no matter where they are, no matter their circumstances.

That is what it is all about. Love. That kind of love transforms us, it alters our agendas and teaches us that who and what we are matters ONLY when we remember the Other-particularly the poor, the sick, the needy and THOSE IN PRISON.

God Bless Frances Gaudet.

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