Writing in the October 2014 issue of the newsletter of the Cause for the Canonization of the Servant of God Father Augustus Tolton, His Excellency the Most Reverend Joseph N. Perry, Auxiliary Bishop of Chicago, reflects on the spirituality of the first publicly acknowledged black priest in the United States of America.
After speaking of the importance of the crucifix being present wherever the Holy Mass is offered, Bishop Perry speaks of the importance of the example given us by Father Gus :
We live in a society that rejects the very idea of deriving meaning from setback, suffering, misery and tragedy. We are taught to believe the rubrics of the good life are supposed to deliver blessing and abundance. Finding blessing in life's misfortunes is a stretch of the imagination for most people. Yet, this is the story line of salvation. This is the Good News of the Gospel we try to grasp each Sunday and days in between.Father Augustus Tolton shows us in his own life's pattern that we can find blessing in everything, even what is most painful. The saints model for us how to embrace the joys and sorrows of life. Similarly, Father Tolton's story is one of suffering service. Through his experience of racial negation by a society that would separate black and white by force of the law and lawless custom, Tolton found the love of God, found his own vocation and ultimately has received his reward from God as a pioneer figure of Christian faith in action, indiscriminate love of neighbor and pastoral charity despite the bigotry that was thrown at him. The record of his life is absent any show of retaliation toward anyone or anything. Mild mannered and self-effacing as he was, Father Tolton survived enormous odds during a particularly difficult period of US history that saw him an anomaly as an achieving black man, former slave and Catholic priest. He shows us how to wrestle through fear, doubt, hurt, disappointment and sadness and see these experiences through the prism of the Lord's own sufferings to redeem his people [more].
The complete lack of retaliation on the part of Father Tolton against those who insulted him so greatly simply because of the color of his skin is what has always most impressed me about the life of this holy priest. It is an example of which we are presently in great need.
As we journey through these days of Lent, we might well ask ourselves - and the Lord - how we respond to insults and injuries that come our way from other people. Do we seek to follow the way of relation, or the way of meekness? As we ask these questions, we do well to ask the intercession of Father Tolton who followed the way of love so closely.
Holy Mother Church presents before us today part of the law the Lord God gave to Moses, including these commands:
You shall not bear hatred for your brother in your heart. Though you may have to reprove him, do not incur sin because of him. Take no revenge and cherish no grudge against your fellow countrymen. You shall love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD (Leviticus 19:17-18).
In the life and example of Father Gus, we see these commands lived out. If he could keep to these in the difficulties of his life, so can we in ours. If we do, when the Lord comes in his glory, we will hear him say to us, "Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world" (Matthew 25:34).