The tragic events of Charlottesville, Virginia, have revealed again the prevalence of racism in the U.S. Almost 60 years ago, the U.S. bishops spoke out against discrimination and enforced segregation in the 1968 document “National Race Crisis,” in which the bishops called for us to eradicate racism from society. In the 1950s and 1960s, various branches of the federal government wrestled with laws and policies restricting equal protection. Some bishops found themselves fighting the architects of division, racism and separation. We are still fighting these battles today.
Undoubtedly, this is a very uncomfortable topic for people in our pews. However, “Racism is a sin, a sin that divides the human family, blots out the image of God among specific members of that family and violates the fundamental human dignity of those called to be children of the same Father” (Brothers and Sisters to Us, 1979). Many of us have remained quiet and on the sidelines of issues that affect the whole family of faith.
Catholics pride ourselves on being intrinsically pro-life. During the 1999 Apostolic Visit of St. John Paul II in St. Louis, as he challenged us to be unconditionally pro-life, he also directed us “to put an end to every form of racism.” Being pro-life means we must always stand up for the uncomfortable “right and just” as opposed to merely remaining silent in the face of the inherent “wrong.” Being pro-life also means working toward the eradication of racism from our society.
Considering the entrenched divisions between the Jewish and Samaritan communities, Jesus was clear about our responsibility to others in the parable of the Good Samaritan. We know very well that “every form of social or cultural discrimination in fundamental personal rights on the grounds of sex, race, color, social conditions, language or religion must be curbed and eradicated as incompatible with God’s design” (Gaudium et Spes, 29). We have to stand up, speak out and work toward the unity that St. Paul speaks of, “one Lord, one faith, one baptism” (Eph 4:5).
Every day of my life, I look at my black face in the mirror. At the age of 40, I know very well that blacks among others have not made it over. Regardless of our ethnicity, we must recognize the certain reality that every day is a process of continual, ongoing conversion. The anthem of the Civil Rights movement remains our objective: to overcome some day. Bigotry, violence and racism should never be tolerated.
So, as we praise God for another day, we should also recall the words of Jesus to “Do to others whatever you would have them to do you” (Mt 7:12). For Christ to increase, we must stand up to be witnesses to the saving power of God. We will overcome prejudice, racism, intolerance and bias when we stand up and speak out. Life seen as self-centered earthly existence and lived in denial of Christ ends in destruction. Let not our silence be construed as tacit approval.