The following unsigned editorial appeared in the July 24 issue of Our Sunday Visitor, a national Catholic newsweekly based in Huntington, Indiana. It was written by the newspaper’s editorial board.
Our nation is at a racial crossroads.
The killings of two black men by two white police officers, followed by the brutal murder of five white officers by a black man just days later, has ratcheted the country’s ever-smoldering dispute surrounding race into a boil.
Over the coming weeks, we will hear much political posturing on racial justice, police accountability, broken systems and gun control. Conversation, too, will circle around finding a political, sociological or legislative solution to the racial divide. All are worthy of conversation.
But what you won’t hear mentioned is what Father Bryan Massingale, a professor of theological ethics at Fordham University in New York, pointed out in a recent interview with OSV Newsweekly that more than a sociological, legislative or political issue, racism is a “spiritual issue.” It is, he said, a “soul-sickness” that “calls for a deep conversion of heart.”
When looked at through this lens, racism becomes a problem most effectively addressed at the level of the personal and individual. And as such, Catholics and the Church are perfectly positioned to offer a blueprint for healing.
As Bishop Edward K. Braxton of Belleville, Illinois, said in a pastoral letter on the racial divide in the United States for the World Day of Peace in 2015, “Painful ‘breaking news’ accounts call all Americans to rededicate themselves to the work of peace and reconciliation among our citizens of different races; ethnic origins; and social, cultural, educational, economic and religious backgrounds. As Catholics, as members of the body of Christ, the church, this is more than a call; it is our vocation, born of baptism.”
The first way Catholics live out this vocation, then, is through the unequivocal affirmation of the dignity of all life, regardless of skin color, stage of development, social circumstance, infirmity or political leaning. Each of us is made in the image of God and is worthy of respect.
These are the roots that hold us together as disciples of Christ, and such tenets compel us persistently to find ways to choose unity over division and dialogue over denigration. In unity and dialogue, we find the antidote to fear, racial discrimination and personal prejudice that can break down barriers and convert hearts.
Second, Catholics live out this vocation by pulling ourselves out of isolation — which as Father Massingale said fuels indifference, fear and “the tendency to see each other as a different species” — and into community with one another. With the Gospel as our guide, we as a community of believers are challenged to walk in the footsteps of the other and, as Pope Francis so often implores, to bandage each other’s wounds in the “field hospital” of life.
But we are only able to perform triage if we are in the presence of the other. Caring for and embracing the pain of the other — part of our Gospel call — can also help break down barriers and convert hearts.
Finally, conversion of heart and the healing of our racial “soul-sickness” will only come when we, as a nation, once again turn our faces and our hearts back to God, while simultaneously seeking the face of God in others.
Only the self-sacrificial love of Christ can heal the wounds of our fractured society, and it is to this love that we, as Catholics, have the privilege and challenge of pointing the way.
There is no easy, quick fix to the problem of race in this country. But we can begin with who and what we are: Catholics who love one another, the Gospel and the truth, and who are determined to live accordingly.