I would not have believed it if I hadn’t seen it myself. There was reaching across the aisles in Washington, DC! People were not just reaching, but moving themselves into the aisles to join hands with those on the other side. Men and women, black and white and yellow and red, all were coming together for a common purpose. It was a beautiful sight to behold.
No, it was not a dream.
When my husband and I traveled to Washington this past November to celebrate Thanksgiving with our daughter and her husband, we went to the cathedral closest to Dupont Circle on Thanksgiving Day, but on Sunday, my husband had the great idea for us to go to Mass in the oldest African American Catholic Church in America. We went to the 12:00 noon Mass which is blessed with a full gospel choir. Now, I’ve seen gospel choirs in the movies, but I’ve never witnessed the power of the Holy Spirit through music like I did on that day at St. Augustine’s Catholic Church in our nation’s capital.
The Mass began with a processional complete with Liturgical Dancers who moved gracefully down the center aisle, their bodies swaying in rhythm to the music. All the Eucharistic ministers and the priest sang and clapped their hands exuberantly to the strains of the gospel hymn as they made their way to the altar. That church was on fire!
I’ve never in my lifetime of being a Catholic seen a more lively, focused, attentive congregation. It happened to be the Feast of Christ the King that Sunday, and the priest spoke about Dr Martin Luther King, Jr and his I Have a Dream speech. He talked about how it was only a short distance away, where the Civil Rights leader made his historic address in front of the Lincoln Memorial, but he pointed out that Dr. King did not initiate the dream about which he spoke. Long before the influential man spoke his words, God had that same dream. He still has that same dream for all his people. Father Paul challenged us to ask ourselves if freedom rings in our lives? When he chanted the words, “When Christ is King…” the congregation called out, “Freedom will ring!” He then cried, “Freedom will ring…” and the people shouted, “When Christ is King!” It was like a football game, only we were cheering about God. The priest talked about the Emancipation Proclamation which just celebrated its 150th anniversary last week, and how Christ is the ultimate emancipator. He reminded us that through surrender to God, we find our freedom. It was a brilliant sermon and an insightful homily blending together the words of Christ with the familiar message of Dr. King’s powerful speech.
Later in the Mass, when we said the Lord’s Prayer, was when congregants moved into the aisles to join hands with those across the way. It was electric! It was the only time in my life when I wanted to clap along with the music, and I did. And I sang my heart out, with tears running down my cheeks, and a huge smile spread across my face. I looked over to my husband whose reactions mirrored my own. The Holy Spirit was alive in that place!
It was an incredible experience! My words cannot possibly do it justice. I left that church with hope that maybe there can be unity among people, where they can share their ideas and reach toward understanding, where there can be listening without judging, and there can be compromise – In DC, of all places.
I left that sacred building wishing that the members of Congress could feel what we experienced that day. I left St. Augustine’s, a changed person.
That’s the kind of meaningful change we need in Washington.