Dear Sisters and Brothers –
I will confess to no little angst as I have struggled to find words to address the events convulsing our country. My anxiety was compounded on Wednesday when I received two emails, one immediately after the other, the first accusing the Church and theJesuits for not saying enough and the second accusing us of saying too much. I fear doing either. I fear doing both. And I fear that whatever I say, I won’t do it right, or it won’t be compelling, or it will alienate, or ….
But, as you know, that kind of fear, the one that paralyzes and leads to inaction, is not of God; it comes from what St. Ignatius calls“the enemy.” And that’s the fear that has bound me. Additionally, the maxim that my father explained to me when I was a teenager and saw the movie A Man forAll Seasons for the first time, “silence gives consent,” has been ringing in my mind and agitating my heart.
Black lives matter. Looting is a crime that must be prosecuted. And it must be distinguished from our Constitutional right to peaceful protest, which must be protected by those sworn to serve all citizens.Racism is systemic in our country and in our Church, like cancer. COVID-19 has laid bare in an I-can’t-not-see-it-anymore way the racial inequities in our country – access to healthcare, job, food and housing security, opportunities for education; etc. I did not create systemic racism, but I have likely contributed to it in unconscious ways, and, as a white male, I have absolutely benefitted from it. For me to be silent is to be complicit.
This must change.
Early in his pontificate, Pope Francis characterized theChurch as a field hospital. It’s an image that is apt in this era of COVID-19, certainly, but it also applies to this time of unrest that has its roots in what author and justice advocate Jim Wallis referred to as the original sin of our country, slavery. The Church and Catholics need to be part of the conversation, avoiding the political fray, teaching the Gospel of Jesus, as it applies, and being agents of change to bring about the justice that God wants for all God’s creatures. Michelle Obama wrote recently, “But if we ever hope to move past [racism], it can’t just be on people of color to deal with it. It’s up to all of us – Black, white, everyone – no matter how well-meaning we think we might be, to do the honest, uncomfortable work of rooting it out.”
I write this keenly aware of my own sinfulness. I first became consciousness of my racism a few years after my time in the Jesuit Volunteer Corps. I was recounting to some friends that one afternoon, when I returned home from work, I was the only white person on the bus, and I felt afraid. But of what? My fellow passengers were mostly women carrying grocery bags, and I was young, tall and athletic. As I told the story, the shameful insight crashed down on me: I was afraid for my safety because of the color of their skin. It was the first timeI became aware of what was in my heart, but not the last time.
My need for conversion was made clear yet again this week while reading a very powerful essay by Fr. Bryan Massingale, a priest of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee and a theologian teaching at Fordham Jesuit University in New York. Even the title will be off-putting to some, but I think it should be on everyone’s required reading list, especially those of us who are white: The assumptions of white privilege and what we can do about it. (Access the article here.) There are parts of his analysis I agree with. There are parts of it that challenge my thinking. And there are parts of it that sting me, painfully, because they lay bare some not-so-pretty truths in a very uncomfortableI-can’t-not-know-them-anymore way.
St. Paul has also been with me in my thoughts and meditations this week. Because I tend to think in either/or ways, I have always considered him as Saul, the persecutor of Christians, or as Paul who had the eyes to see both Jews and Gentiles as heirs to the Kingdom of God. But one of my reflections has been that there was a constant between the two: both Saul and Paul had good intentions; both sought the will of God. But the essential bridge from Saul of Tarsus to Paul the Apostle was his conversion, which gave him the “felt knowledge,” as St. Ignatius calls it, that we all belong together, Jews and Gentiles in his time, white and people of color in our time.
Paul’s conversion was a journey of the heart. One I still need to make, one I think we all probably need to make. We have hearts with good intentions, we want what is good and holy and just for all people, but like Saul there are scales that prevent our seeing clearly.
To help remove those scales, our Mercy & Justice Commission and our Faith Formation Commission have begun to work together to share ideas to engage us. You have thoughts and ideas, too, which we want to hear. You can send them to me or Teresa Cariño, our Director of Faith Formation.
We all have something to contribute. Teresa, in fact, has a very powerful article published in the National Catholic Reporter today. At the end, she reminds us that “… the preferential option for the poor and oppressed is in fact not optional, but fundamental to our call to be disciples of Christ.” (Access the full article here, and link to an anti-racism syllabus Teresa has curated here.)
So let us pray to Christ Risen to convert our hearts and to bring our good intentions into righteous action.
Oremus pro invicem,