I’m just a soul whose intentions are good… Nina Simone 1964
One does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes forth from the mouth of God. Mt 4:4
‘Oh, baby – don’t you know I’m human,’ sings Nina Simone in her 1964 plea to not be ‘misunderstood’. Surely Nina speaks for us all when she acknowledges that, ‘sometimes (she) feels a little mad … (because) ‘no one alive can always be an angel.’
This honest acknowledgment of the human condition contrasts sharply with the Lenten Season challenges of identity discernment:
‘love your enemies,’ Mt 5:44
‘be perfect as your heavenly Father,’ Mt 5:48 and
‘live…on every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.’ Mt 4:4.
Exaggeration and or simplification was a Jewish literary technique used by Matthew to draw attention to correct action rather than correct thought, spirit of the law rather than letter of the law.
Such challenges should be seen as goals rather than outcomes, destinations to strive towards on our human journey of transformation. Indeed, a school in which I once taught presented ‘Strive Awards’ to students whose work ethic was meritorious.
If commitment to Matthew’s goals were criteria for a ‘Strive Award,’ my nominee is Sr Helen Prejean, anti-capital punishment advocate, and author of her autobiographical Oscar winning movie, Dead Man Walking. Interestingly, ‘be perfect just as your heavenly Father is perfect,’ is line 1, page 1, of her 2019 autobiography, ‘Rivers of Fire.’
Sr Helen was raised in a ‘big two-story house’ in the former plantation area of Baton Rouge Louisiana, where, ‘it seemed perfectly natural we would have two black servants working for us: Ellen – helping mama in the house, Jesse – under Daddy’s supervision, doing yard work.’
Her devout parents immersed her in Catholicism: devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, nightly prayer, Sunday Mass and the Baltimore Catechism.
After joining the Holy Sisters of Saint Joseph in her teens, the post Vatican II theological turmoil caused a ‘rift’ in her community between ‘social justice’ sisters and ‘spiritual’ sisters. ‘No surprise I am solidly in the spiritual camp!’
The proverbial ‘bolt of lightning’ hit deeply when a fellow nun proclaimed: “Integral to the good news is that the poor are to be poor no longer. I’m stunned. How can I claim to be a follower of Jesus if I’m not aligned with poor people in their struggle for simple human dignity?”
Sr Helen then moved a short distance, but a world apart, from her ‘elite’ convent in New Orleans to the St Thomas Projects Government housing area, home of the poorest Afro Americans.
Upon receiving an invitation to write to a prisoner on Death Row, she confronted the reality of ‘loving your enemy’ as well as the cruelty/injustice of the death penalty.
Incredibly, after 1400 years of Church acceptance that the, ‘death penalty is permissible in certain cases,’ her advocacy and consultation with three Popes contributed to Pope Francis’ 2018 rewriting of the Catholic Catechism: ‘the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person.’
Sr. Helen moves me because she is real. “Religion should be what makes us come alive in the deepest dimensions of our lives.”
Southern humour, food and life energises her despite the racism, poverty and cruelty of the USA ‘Justice’ system.
I love her recent Facebook Post. Sr Helen is pictured on the shirt of a ‘line dancer’ in the 2020 Mardis Gras: “I’ve made it to the big time – featured as a famous New Orleanian in one of the Marching Krewe’s T-shirts during Mardi-Gras.”
Truly she has excelled in striving to become, ‘perfect just as your heavenly Father is perfect,’ a human journey upon which we are all travelling and best described by Nina Simone:
Oh, baby, I’m just human
Don’t you know I have faults like anyone?
Sometimes I find myself alone regretting some little foolish thing
Some simple thing that I’ve done
‘Cause I’m just a soul whose intentions are good
Oh Lord, please don’t let me be misunderstood
Don’t let me be misunderstood
(Image from Pixabay by Micredifine)