Namesake

baby

“Lord, have mercy/ On my descendants/ For they know not/ What they do/ For they know not

Who you are.” ~ “Pillar of Truth” by Lucy Dacus

It’s been about four hours since the birth, and now that everyone is calm and happy and relaxing, I take a minute to steal away. I descend softly down the stairs, down the corridor, and into the dim, cool, silent wood and stone chapel. On the side is the naive where the tabernacle waits, the red lamp is lit and glowing. I kneel.

“Thank you. Thank you for the gift of my son. Thank you for the gift of his life, his healthy delivery. For his mother, his sister, our whole family. I’m really overwhelmed with gratitude for these blessings. Thank you. Really.”

I pause. I look around. I breathe in the quiet for a moment.

“If I’m being honest … I’m a bit nervous. About raising a son. It’s a … confusing time to be raising a young man. A confusing time to know what it means to be a man, with so many different, conflicting ideas of manhood competing for attention. Some quite uplifting, but so many so destructive, so toxic … so short of what I hope my son will be and become.

“That’s why we named him after you. Joshua. He’ll know you by a different name of course — the Latin derivative, instead of the Hebrew — but still, he’s named for you. Please teach him, your namesake, by your example of what it means to be a man.

babyMeet baby Joshua (image courtesy of Steven Cottam)

“Teach him that courage does not mean the willingness to inflict pain, but the willingness to endure it for the good.

“Teach him that it is stronger to control anger, greed, and lust than to give it free rein and inflict it upon others.

“Teach him that the proper use of power is the defense of the powerless.

“Teach him that to protect and provide for his family does not stop with those who share his features, but extends to all his brothers and sisters in need.

“Teach him that it is better to die as an innocent, than to live as an oppressor.

“So many have said to me, about my son, ‘How exciting, a son!’

’Yes, exciting!’ I say.

‘He’ll get to be the one to pass on your name.’

‘Well, yes,’ I say. ‘Maybe. Probably. Unless of course he is called to a different path. To be a religious brother. Or a priest. Should we be so blessed.’

‘Well, sure … but you don’t want your only son to be a priest. Who would pass on your name?’

“Hmm. Good question. Who would pass on my name? I’ll be honest Lord. It doesn’t matter to me if my name is passed on. It doesn’t matter to me if my descendants remember me. But please, Lord, let my son pass on your name. Let my descendants remember you. Let them know who you are.

“Please remember this your namesake. Remember him by granting him the grace to remember you — your name, your life, and to call upon you all the days of his.

“Amen.”

Steven Cottam

Steven-Cottam-babySteven Cottam serves as youth minister at Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church. He lives in Mechanicsville, Virginia, with his lovely wife, precocious daughter and adorable infant son. He is an active member of Common Change, a group which seeks to gather and distribute tithe money in a relational and collaborative way. He has been friends with Sister Julia ever since they were students, coworkers, and cooking club members together at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago. His interests and passions include language learning, gardening, coffee, and becoming a Jedi Master.

A new school year and a refreshed legacy

Like many students and teachers around the country, I recently started a new school year. As this new year began to feel imminent, I looked back on my experience of teaching, so far.

I hesitate to admit that I haven’t always loved teaching. Sure, when I started this important ministry eight years ago, I loved it. I was full of passion and energy and idealism. I was going to change the world, one willing student at a time.

Somewhere along the way, however, I felt my passion for the ministry wane. I fell into a bit of a rut and lost interest in striving for meaningful growth, for myself or my students. I recycled lesson plans and techniques, lacking the energy and motivation to try to find better practices in order to meet the students’ needs. I was questioning whether or not to leave the classroom and…

[This is the beginning of my latest column for the online newspaper, Global Sisters Report. Continue reading here.] 

The new view from my teacher desk in my classroom. Photo by Julia Walsh FSPA
The new view from my teacher desk in my classroom. Photo by Julia Walsh FSPA

Singing with my Sister Thea

Today is a day for singing. And I mean singing. 

We are celebrating the life of a Sister whose legacy continues to unfold. Sister Thea Bowman died 25 years ago today, at age 52. And Sister Thea’s life was a life of song.

Photo credit: http://www.catholicnews.com/data/stories/cns/1001322.htm

I never got to meet Sister Thea in person. Yet, through the communion of saints and our shared membership in the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration, I feel quite connected to her. I first heard of Sister Thea during my first telephone conversation with the FSPA Membership Director in 2003. Sister Dorothy encouraged me to pray to Sister Thea for guidance in my discernment journey. Even before she met me in person, she said that I reminded her of Thea. When I visited St. Rose Convent and learned more about Sister Thea a few weeks later, I began to understand the connection that Sister Dorothy sensed.

Now, much of who Sister Thea is and what she stood for continues to enliven me and my life of Gospel living. In her, I get to know some of the freedom that being a FSPA gifts me. She models a life of authenticity and spunk. She shows me how to speak up for justice, even if I am speaking to power. I pray that I also express joy and proclaim a fiery message of inclusion and equality.

Here is a video of Sister Thea’s famous speech to the U.S. Bishops about Black Catholic spirituality in 1989.

Our Church has a lot of work to do, to fully integrate Sister Thea’s vision– just as we have a lot of work to do to live out the invitations of the Gospel.

As we work for the Church we hope for, we shall sing. So, today is a day when I have lively African American spirituals in my head and on my lips. Today is a day when I am praying for a Church that lives out the message that Sister Thea proclaimed, a day to celebrate the joy that comes from knowing Jesus.

Today is a day for singing.