By Vincent Guider
Sunday, January 27, 2019
This Sunday’s Gospel rattles my soul nearly every time I hear it. It is a loud and timely scream for us to recognize and address economic, racial, and social disparities between the lives of people living in various parts of Chicago. It has been described as a tale of two cities. I see and live this disturbing tale as I move from the wonderfully resourced Old St. Pat’s Church and its West Loop neighborhood and many parts north in the city and to areas of less abundance. When I travel to be with our North Lawndale neighbors or my own home on the south side, I see differences in living conditions that are unbelievable and disheartening. We live in very different worlds and some things seriously need to change. Quite often systemic racism is a root cause.
You have undoubtedly heard all this before but here’s the story again. Despite being one city in a single geographic area on the southwestern shore of Lake Michigan, a stark dichotomy exists between life in various sections of Chicago. In some parts, mostly in the northern and some suburban areas with a few exceptions, citizens are accustomed to lives of relative privilege, convenience, and good opportunity. Good housing, healthy and ample food options, well maintained infrastructure, efficient municipal services, and a generally wholesome environment are the norm. These areas tend to be whiter, more highly educated, and more affluent. However, in the other parts of the city, usually (and certainly not all of) the south and west sides, neglect and conditions of blight and despair are more obvious and abundant. These areas tend to be inhabited by more people of color who have less education and fewer opportunities and resources to improve their circumstances. There are exceptions to each of these examples, but these are general realities. Consequently, some questions arise. How do we reasonably respond to the starkly different and unjust living conditions that exist in the two Chicagos? What role does racism play in these circumstances? What do the scriptures and our Christian traditions say to us about these conditions and how we should respond? What is anti-racism and how do we as an Old St. Patrick’s Church congregation understand and embrace this philosophy and methodology?
According to the Gospel reading, all eyes in the synagogue were fixed on the boy Jesus on that Sabbath day as he read from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah. Unrolling the scroll he recited: “The spirit of the Lord is on me, for he has anointed me to bring the good news to the afflicted. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives, sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim a year of favor from the Lord.” In this reading, Jesus beacons us to recognize and take on our Roman Catholic Church’s role as a continuation of His mission to humanity. We are anointed by the Spirit at baptism and prodded on by sustaining our faith to think, pray, do and say Christ’s work in the world with our neighbors from one Sunday to the next, and especially with those most in need.
We bring good news to the afflicted when we assure them that we will stand in solidarity with them to help alleviate generational blight, joblessness, violence, and other social ills that threaten to trap them. We liberate captives when we do what we can to provide real assistance and loving encouragement to migrants, refugees, the despairing, the hopeless, job searchers, and those struggling to break free from addictions, abuse, and other forms of manipulation. We also can vote for and support civil servants in upcoming municipal elections that espouse values of justice and equity that can begin to heal the brokenness in our city. We give sight to the blind when we first open our own eyes to take close and honest looks at unjust circumstances others are subjected to.
We can sometimes either be unable or unwilling to recognize and acknowledge the suffering of others and the role we play in their suffering. By first seeing unjust attitudes and practices we’ve missed or denied, and then eventually helping others to see them as well, we open eyes and hearts and windows of opportunity for people in powerful ways. We free the oppressed when we face our fears, admit systems of oppression that we benefit from, and sometimes even reinforce, and then actively work at counteracting them. Sometimes other people’s freedom and access to justice depends on us freeing ourselves from evils that subjugate others. We provide these freedoms when we renounce greed and racism. We have much to do together to carry on Christ’s mission.
There are many ways we can and should proclaim favor of the Lord for others and ourselves, and we cannot always handle them all at once, sometimes a focused approach is good. Thus here’s an invitation to do so during the month of February, also recognized in the United States as Black History Month. Please join the Old St. Pat’s Social Justice Ministry and North Lawndale Kinship Initiative for a reflective and focused look at the virtue of Anti-Racism. Watch this Crossroads Bulletin and the other communication platforms at Old St. Pat’s to learn about and participate in these enlightening and formational experiences during February.