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Yes We Can

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With a small gathering this afternoon, I had the joy of celebrating the Eucharist with Bishop Gabino Zavala, the auxiliary bishop of the San Gabriel region in the Archdiocese of LA. Bishop Zavala frequently sacrifices the afternoon of his single day off during the week to celebrate Mass at the college where I live and work. The staff and students here have great affection for him, so I eagerly anticipated our first encounter.

At the beginning of his homily Zavala recalled the excitement he witnessed during a very recent trip to Washington D.C. He wore a warm grin as he described the buzz of change in the air around the capital city. Against the backdrop of the day’s readings, Zavala reminded us that this exciting time of political change is also about faith for us. As people of faith, we must remember that change begins with us. And often, the way we treat others—even in little ways—can lead to big changes. Jesus exemplifies this with the healing of the leper in the gospel reading. Even after Jesus told the healed man to keep the miracle a secret, he could not contain himself because Christ’s act had made such a significant impression on him.

I walked away from the liturgy with a feeling of immense gratitude. What a gift to hear this loving reminder about the efficacy of our actions in a time when I am feeling particularly overwhelmed by the mammoth changes I long to see in our Church. Zavala implored me to recognize and remember something I already know so well, but often downplay in moments of frustration or sadness: Whenever I cross paths with a kind and humble bishop like Zavala, or a dedicated minister, or amazingly faithful young person, his or her actions and presence and goodness keep me in the Church. They help me to believe in the slow and continual revelation of God through all those seeking the Divine in our church. These individuals change my weary heart. Small actions can lead to incredibly significant changes.

As we celebrate (and I mean CELEBRATE!) the inauguration of our new president, let us continually remind ourselves of the words another wise man once spoke: let us “be the change we wish to see in the world.”


  1. Jeff Staples says:

    How can we claim to “Be the change [we] wish to see in the world” when one man will be making monumental decisions on behalf of over 300,000,000 people for the next four to eight years?

    Jesus does exemplify big changes, but they’re individual decisions to act based on changed lives, not delegating our responsibilities to other people who in many (if not most) cases will not represent our interests. I’m not trying to discount group action here, but to claim that one man is going to “be the change” on our behalf is not only preposterous and naive, it’s downright detrimental to your own efficacy and agency for change in this world.

  2. Jessica Coblentz says:

    Jeff, thanks for reading, and as always, thanks for your comment.

    Regarding the first question, which actually strikes me as rather anarchistic in tone (which is fine): I think our individual actions are incredibly important, even when we are a part of power structures that delegate power and authority to others. If I didn’t believe this, I definitely couldn’t be a Catholic–or an American–in our current day and age. Our actions can change things–on small and large scales–regardless of who is in charge: Obama or Bush or Pope Benedict. That was my point.

    As for your second point, I honestly can’t make sense of it in the context of my post, so perhaps you could clarify if I am misguided in my response? I am in no way saying that “one man is going to ‘be the change’ on our behalf.” On the contrary, the homily I heard reminded me that the quotidian actions of every individual can make a significant impact on others. Furthermore, I was pondering this in the context of a religious community, particularly Catholicism–not our American political system, although I think the message can be applied there too.

    I am in no way exaggerating the efficacy of one man, that is, Barack Obama; nor am I trying to make any point about anyone making decisions on anyone else’s behalf.

    The point is–and I think we would agree on this, which is why I am a little baffled by your comment: individual actions can make a big difference, and it is important, as Christians, to be mindful of that.

    Having said all that, I think it would be foolish to say that Obama has not already made a significant impact on the American political climate, even if it is fleeting in the end. BUT that is another blog post entirely…

  3. Jeff Staples says:

    Thank you for calling me out. I took things way out of the context in which they were intended in your post. I made inferences that are too great a stretch.

    I’m glad that it was your intention to point out the inherent power of individual action regardless of the existing power structures. But for me, the tone of the post was such that I took your optimism about the upcoming presidency and overlapped it with your idea about being the change we wish to see. I took it to be saying that in electing such a president, we have already enacted the change we wish to see. It seemed to me that you were linking or perhaps even equating the election of Obama with our individual calls to be forces for good in this world.

    That is what caused the (rash) reaction on my part. Thanks for the clarification, and I apologize for lashing out so angrily. I should have given you the benefit of the doubt, which I clearly didn’t, but which I will try to do in the future.

  4. Λεωνίδας says:

    “Whenever I cross paths with a kind and humble bishop like Zavala, or a dedicated minister, or amazingly faithful young person, his or her actions and presence and goodness keep me in the Church. They help me to believe in the slow and continual revelation of God through all those seeking the Divine in our church.”

    No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.(1 Jn 4)

  5. Jeff Staples says:

    I have to say, as much as I hate the office of president in general, this one is doing a pretty great job so far. If he keeps going in this direction, he might engender hope in people as cynical about American politics as me!

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