Acts 13:14, 43-52
Revelation 7:9, 14b-17
Mary Tallchief was a famous ballerina, recently deceased, noteworthy for her achievement, given her background as a Native American: a member of the Osage tribe that counted Kansas and Oklahoma as its homeland. This was also part of the territory, especially around Coffeyville, where the Dalton gang, contemporaries of Jesse and Frank James, hunted down and robbed trains, just as the James boys were doing. I grew familiar with this area during my novitiate year with the community of Passionist religious, in the small town of St. Paul, in southeast Kansas. The Passionists succeeded the Jesuits in this area at the end of the 19th century, during which the Jesuits had established Osage Indian mission there. This transaction cost $1.00, and the Passionists subsequently complained they had been cheated.
A novitiate year is the equivalent of boot camp in the military: it’s the beginning stage, where one learns the basics of the new way of life one is entering. My year of entry (1950) was memorable for me because a fellow novice, Richard Osterberg, drowned while swimming the nearby treacherous floodwaters of the Neosho River, despite his skill as a swimmer, being a US Navy veteran during WW II.
This is the context for appreciating the achievement of Mary Tallchief, (and the Dalton boys), in earning credentials with a grudging American society against this kind of background, which she did with aplomb. After all, was she not a Native American?
A similar scenario plays itself out in today’s liturgical readings. There we hear of another social division brewing between the early Christian community in Antioch, and the Jewish community there. Sts. Paul and Barnabas were there, preaching Jesus Christ as Savior to an unfriendly and unreceptive Jewish group, who ultimately forced Paul and Barnabas out of their territory. This was not the first instance of rivalry between Jew and Christian.
But there is a happy ending to this mutual antagonism, spelled out for us in the book of Revelation as it presents the final outcome and destiny of Jew and Gentile/Christian: an assembly of every nation/tribe on earth gathered together before the throne of God, at the end of time. At that point (the end of time) we are to be all gathered together, Jew and Gentile, as well as late arrivals in America, and native Americans such as the Osage, Apache, Iroquois, Sioux, Mohawk nations, hopefully to take our place in the great liturgy of praising God.
The gospel too captures this scene in terms of the Good Shepherd gathering together and protecting all His sheep, none of whom He overlooks, loses or forgets, whether Jew or Gentile Christian. We hear the consoling message that no one shall take any of these out of the Good Shepherd’s protecting hand; He will allow none of them to perish. Perhaps Mary Tallchief’s success in the eyes of her fellow Americans is a sign that all her fellow tribesmen will experience the same acceptance from us subsequent settlers, both now and hereafter. After all, was she not the child of an impressive Osage warrior/father and a Scotch-Irish mother? Divisions among us are destined to disappear at the end, as we assemble before the throne of God, Who gathers us together.
Fr. Sebastian MacDonald, C.P. is a member of the Passionist formation community at Catholic Theological Union, Chicago.