When we celebrate Mass we are calling to mind as a sacred act of remembrance the Passover meal. Holy Thursday, the eve before Good Friday, is a day when we Catholics commemorate the Last Supper: a Passover meal of remembrance that brings to mind the suffering, enslavement, and redemption of Israel by Israel’s God. Often forgotten, though, is that this holy evening is also the time of Jesus’s arrest, imprisonment, and placement on Death Row. This makes Holy Week a week of remembrances of past injustices that were upended by Jesus, the paschal victim who resisted retaliation with forgiveness and non-violent love. By this, Christians believe Jesus launched a movement of truth and reconciliation to confront a culture of violence.
Johann Baptist Metz, a Catholic theologian and priest who worked and wrote tirelessly for the Catholic church to confront its own dark past of antisemitism, spoke of how one day he asked his mother how was it he never knew his childhood Bavarian home was only thirty miles from a concentration camp. He was curious how she had likely suppressed knowing this and went on to speculate how often we block out the social evils that engulf us.
Over the past ten years as I’ve visited numerous correctional facilities throughout north Florida, I’ve come to wonder something similar: how is it I was never told that
just down the road from me children were ripped from their schools and incarcerated as adults? How did I not know that men were isolated and denied human contact, for years? How was I not told that they were deprived of sun and grass and sky? These histories and their effects don’t magically disappear. It is the work of what Metz termed Dangerous Memory (the recalling of that which had been forgotten and has the power to change the present, a concept first introduced in the philosophy of Herbert Marcuse).
These memories are dangerous because they, in calling to mind those defeated by cruel and dehumanizing institutions, open the possibility for institutions to change. When these memories are awakened we as a society resurrect the personhood and dignity of those history has buried.
The Catholic Church has begun what will no doubt be a long journey in confronting the realities of the abuses perpetuated by its members and the histories it has either hidden or ignored. Particularly, I’m thinking of the recent acknowledgment and apology from Pope Francis for the evil committed at Canada’s indigenous schools.
The state of Florida is no less culpable of its own crimes against children and countless incarcerated individuals. Holy week is a time for us to remember the wrongs done so that when we hear “Alleluia!” sounding forth from the risen paschal victim, the one whom the empire executed, we may then commit ourselves to a vision of hope and mercy that always triumphs over condemnation.
– By Fr. Dustin Feddon, Founder and Executive Director of Joseph House