Thursday, August 14, 2014

St. Jonathan Daniels

The news this week from Ferguson, Missouri, reminds us we still have a lot of healing and reconciliation to do in this country.  When I was on the Pine Ridge Reservation a few weeks ago, I experienced firsthand how events like the Wounded Knee Massacre still cast a long shadow on relationships between people of different races and ethnic backgrounds.

Today's saint, Jonathan Daniels, was a martyr during the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s - as I wrote about last year (, he was a an Episcopal seminarian from New England who answered Martin Luther King Jr.'s call for assistance, and he ended up on the wrong end of a shotgun blast as a result. 

After spending time in Selma, Alabama in 1965, Daniels returned to seminary, and would have lived if he had stayed there.  But, he felt God was calling him to return:  “[S]omething had happened to me in Selma, which meant I had to come back. I could not stand by in benevolent dispassion any longer without compromising everything I know and love and value. The imperative was too clear, the stakes too high, my own identity was called too nakedly into question...I had been blinded by what I saw here (and elsewhere), and the road to Damascus led, for me, back here.”

Why was he called to go back to Alabama, a decision which cost him his life? He also wrote:  "I began to know in my bones and sinews that I had been truly baptized into the Lord’s death and resurrection...with them, the black men and white men, with all life, in him whose Name is above all names that the races and nations shout...we are indelibly and unspeakably one."

On Pine Ridge, I learned that the Lakota have a phrase for the kind of unity that Daniels spoke about: "Mitakuye Oyasin", or in English, "we are all related".  May God give us the strength to follow the example of St. Jonathan Daniels, so that we may continue the struggle for justice, peace, and reconciliation. 

If you are interested in learning more about Daniels, you can watch an excellent documentary about his life here:


  1. Here is what I don't understand, and maybe you can explain: Daniels said: "we are indelibly and unspeakably one," yet he was studying to become a priest in a denomination that had broken away and split the Christian Church.

    Daniels knew very well that King Henry wanted a divorce more than anything. The King killed Thomas More (a lawyer), made himself head of his new church, and got his divorce. Henry's actions, following Luther's, destroyed the unity of Christ's Church. Christians were no longer "indelibly and unspeakably one" -- at least in the eyes of the world.

    I'm sorry, but to call Daniels a "saint" makes no sense to me. Sure, he got killed fighting for civil rights, who am I to judge?, but is he an example of what he proclaimed: Unity in Christ ("in him whose Name is above all names")? This makes no sense. Please explain. "Justice, peace, and reconciliation," as you say, must start in the church. We cannot tell blacks and whites to live in unity if Christians cannot.

    The news this morning is not good. Nothing has changed since the race riots of 1965 -- in fact, things have gotten worse, especially in my hometown, Chicago. Jonathan Daniels would be very disappointed. What did he die for? The core of the Reformation was the refusal to accept the authority of the Magisterium. Without respect for authority, we, black or white, are toast. (It does look like things might be changing, however....

  2. For the last time, I am going to refrain your invitation to debate these kinds of issues. Pope Francis offers a better way to engage in ecumenical discussion. Any further comments which do not reflect the attitude of Pope Francis with regard to relationships between Christians of different traditions will be deleted.

    (1) Regarding the martyrial sainthood of Jonathan Daniels, since the earliest days of the Church, martyrs have been considered to be saints. Accordingly, his church body recognized him as a martyred saint, so there is nothing further to discuss about whether or not he is a saint.

    As to whether or not Daniels was acting in a way which builds the unity of the Church, Daniels was in Alabama because he answered the call from Martin Luther King, Jr., a Baptist minister, and was with a Catholic priest, Father Richard Morrisroe when he was killed (Morrisroe was severely wounded). That is the epitome of unity.

    Pope Francis has recognized that Christian martyrs come from different Christian traditions (

    "(Pope Francis) said the “ecumenism of suffering and of the martyrdom of blood are a powerful summons to walk the long path of reconciliation between the Churches, by courageously and decisively abandoning ourselves to the working of the Holy Spirit.”

    “We feel the duty to follow this fraternal path also out of the debt of gratitude we owe to the suffering so many of our brothers and sisters, which is salvific because it is united to the Passion of Christ.”

    Pope Francis thanked Karekin for his work for ecumenical dialogue, and exhorted that they might prayer for each other: “may the Holy Spirit enlighten us and lead us to that day, so greatly desired, in which we can share the Eucharistic table.”

    This ecumenism of suffering and of martyrdom is seemingly the way Pope Francis wishes to tread the path of ecumenical dialogue."


  3. (2) For decades, Protestants and Catholics have recognized that the cause of division lays on both sides - blame does not rest solely on Luther, King Henry VIII, Pope Leo X, Pope Clement VII, or any one of the various historical figures of the Reformation era. Here's how Pope Francis deals with non-Catholics regarding the causes of the Reformation and our current separation (from

    "The most intriguing aspect, as I see it, regarding Pope Francis’ message, is that he more or less “inverts the emphasis,” so to speak, usually associated with the term “separated brethren.” We Catholics tend to focus on the \’separated\’ part of this term we use for fellow Christians in Protestant denominations. The Pope focused instead on what it means to be \’brothers\’.

    Mentioning the “two rules” of loving God and of loving neighbor “because he is your brother . . .,” Pope Francis then acknowledges that, yes, “We are kind of… permit me to say, separated.” He goes on to say, “Separated because, it’s sin that has separated us, all our sins. The misunderstandings throughout history. It has been a long road of sins that we all shared in. Who is to blame? We all share the blame. We have all sinned.”

    He then calls to mind the “embrace” among Jacob’s sons that took place in Egypt after the hungry clan discovered the brother they had sold into slavery was there with them again. “We have to encounter one another as brothers. We must cry together like Joseph did. These tears will unite us. The tears of love,” he said.

    Concluding his words, he tells the audience of Pentecostal Christians, “From brother to brother, I embrace you.”

    The simple truth of genuine reconciliation comes into focus with his words “we must cry together.” How often do we resist coming to terms with the “shared” blame that must be addressed in our pursuit of restored Christian unity? On the contrary, we should prepare to weep for our own failures and for the too-numerous lost opportunities to be a true brother to any Christian with whom we find ourselves “separated.”

    Such a sense of “remorse” and willingness to “cry together” with our brothers over the scandal of Christian separation should not come as a surprise to us. The Decree on Ecumenism makes it clear, in fact, that our primary duty is NOT to look across the aisle of separation between us and our Protestant brothers to correct them. Rather, the Decree (Vatican II's Decree on Ecumenism) says:

    “Catholics, in their ecumenical work, must assuredly be concerned for their separated brethren, praying for them, keeping them informed about the Church, making the first approaches toward them. But their primary duty is to make a careful and honest appraisal of whatever needs to be done or renewed in the Catholic household itself, in order that its life may bear witness more clearly and faithfully to the teachings and institutions which have come to it from Christ through the Apostles.” (no. 4)"