“Finally, let each and every Catholic, regardless of their ethnicity, beg God to heal our deeply broken view of each other, as well as our deeply broken society.” — the May 29 statement of U.S. bishop chairmen in wake of death of George Floyd and national protests.
As a writer, I know the power of revision, which means to “see again.” In these days of national grief, my call is to keep seeing and listening, to keep the conversation going, even if the words are hard to hear.
It is to become more vulnerable, to shed my ordinary modes of seeing in favor of a Catholic vision of the world: one that looks to embrace all people, to bear the sufferings of others, and through careful listening to amplify voices we have neglected.
And it’s true — our current view of each other is broken. As a result of the fall, we are broken people. And yet, we each bear a shared identity as members of the body of Christ. When I imagine the people of this nation, this world, as members of one body, it makes so much sense that the pain of one group, and even one individual, should be felt by all of us.
The killing of George Floyd has painfully reawakened us to the work we still need to do to fight racism in all its insidious forms. As the U.S. Catholic bishops state, “Racism is a life issue.” If we are pro-life, we are called to be for the lives of every person: the unborn, the elderly, the immigrant and especially in this moment the black community. To give attention to one is not to forget the others.
If we are able in these matters to set aside the political lens, and any “us vs. them” mentality, perhaps what we’ll see first is the violation of a person, the pain of a person and a whole group of people who too often experience their nation as inhospitable. And perhaps we’ll see that this immense pain is our pain, too.
I’ve found that the work of seeing and responding to suffering begins within, with an examination of my own heart. Catholic writer Caryll Houselander has illuminated for me my responsibility when it comes to this response. Known by some Catholics for “The Reed of God,” her book on Mary, Houselander also penned “Guilt,” where she unfolds the mystery of human suffering.
“The suffering of the whole world is the concern of each one of us,” she says, and yet “it is from the responsibility of guilt that modern man turns away, from the constant effort of self-conquest, from the acceptance of the world’s suffering as his own business which he cannot shelve.”
Having lived through the London Blitz and deeply involved in ministering to those with postwar trauma, Houselander reminds me that I am not exempt from guilt in this national moment, and as the bishops share, “Indifference is not an option.”
Houselander challenges me to pause anytime I try to sidestep important conversations: “The danger is great when we are not in conscious conflict with ourselves. We must bring the evil out into the light of consciousness, in order that we may meet it on the battlefield of our own souls.”
This may sound scary, but it can also be read as encouragement to do the work. And what our work is takes discernment. It may involve greater compassion toward what’s being shared and reported about racial issues, speaking out against injustice, and/or approaching people with a desire to hear their stories.
As I’ve reflected on the concept of re-seeing persistent issues in our society, Flannery O’Connor’s short story “Good Country People” comes to mind. The myopic Hulga says she cares for nothing and no one until her prosthetic leg is stolen by a stranger she thought she knew everything about.
Noting how stories have the ability to alter our vision, O’Connor says, “In my own stories, I have found that violence is strangely capable of returning my characters to reality and preparing them to accept their moment of grace.”
What I’ve come to see is that the taking of Hulga’s leg — symbolic of the crutch of her own ego — actually opens for her a new means of experiencing grace, an opportunity to see the world differently than she did before.
My hope for our nation is that the flipside of this heartbreak is renewal, that we emerge from this suffering with increased thirst — for equity among races, to weed out any prejudice in our own hearts — and a greater desire to vanquish racial injustice.
Houselander reminds me that suffering “leaves a stamp upon the soul. … It may disfigure, it may make beautiful; one or the other it will do.” May this suffering make us grow. May it heal our broken vision of each other.
Lindsey Weishar holds a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing and works as an English language and adult literacy instructor in the Kansas City region. She is a guest columnist for Catholic News Service. A version of this column first appeared in The Catholic Post, the newspaper of the Diocese of Peoria, Illinois.
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