Sunday, February 24
By Vincent Guider
The tension continues. It seems as though the divisive “Us vs. Them” narrative is always there wagging its ugly finger in our faces, telling us we should not trust people outside our immediate circles. After all it is easier and seemingly safer to accept people living right next door to us as our neighbors. We can get to know people next door better. We can observe and understand where they’re coming from more conveniently. We can imagine trusting them more readily if they look like us, act like us, think like us, work, sing, dance, pray and play like us. They don’t make us as uncomfortable as people living way on the other side of town, outside our immediate circle. Those “other” people are so strange, so different. We may figure we have a lot to lose from those who do not embrace lifestyles we have grown so accustomed to. Hence the polarization we are experiencing today. At our best, we work at respecting and embracing all as our neighbors. At our worst, we regard those different from us as threats. We may even call them our enemies.
In this Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus concludes a long conversation by saying, “A good measure, packed together, shaken down, and overflowing, will be poured into your lap” (Luke 6:38). Many people think it is about money, but let’s think about this significant and often misunderstood verse. It is one that is frequently quoted before collection time in protestant services. To put it in the proper context, it is the 38th verse after 11 previous ones in which Jesus is talking about how we must forgive others and especially those we regard as enemies. So, after saying so much about enemies, or the nicer way we sometimes put it is, “those other” people, and after commanding that we be merciful, nonjudgmental, slow to judgement and condemnation, why in the 38th verse would Jesus talk about how we can multiply our finances and material resources? Well, the answer is: Jesus would not and he did not. Jesus is actually instructing his disciples (that means us in Chicago today too, you know), to follow Him by treating our neighbors in ways we’d want to be treated. In this Gospel, Jesus beckons us beyond our biases, condemnation and apathy to open our minds, arms and even our schedules to the realities and needs of others. This is a call for us to regard all as our neighbors and none as enemies. This notion really makes sense to me, especially when I think about how I’d like for God to treat me in spite of my life mistakes and my mountain of ugly sins. I need this type of compassion and understanding.
Knowing and loving our neighbor means considering and respecting the experiences of immigrants, refugees, the disabled, those in the LGBT community, the poor, adopted, widowed, divorced, homeless, abused, abandoned, unborn and more. In many cases we are able to talk about these topics with relative ease. However, when it comes to conversations on Race in America, some people get really nervous or angry. The very mention of race or racism causes some to retreat, hide and avoid speaking about it at all costs. These are such hot topics today and especially if discussed in mixed race company. Nervous or angry reactions are understandable because some people enter into these discussions with their proverbial guns loaded, determined to debate their points and win at all costs. So those who anticipate feeling blamed, attacked or talked over in the midst of a racial conversation often prefer to not speak about it at all. It might be preferable to move on to other, less volatile subjects. Surely, aside from Politics or Religion, few other subjects today evoke as much emotionally charged, us versus them sentiment as the topic of Race in America. It’s a tough conversation to have but a necessary one, and especially for people of Christian faith. If we are to be one bread, one body in Christ, the enfleshment of prayers that we pray and songs that we sing at Sunday Eucharist, and if we are to live as the unified (human) race we were created to be, we must dialog openly and honestly about race. Matters of race are as central to American history, culture and discourse as sacramental life is to the Roman Catholic Church.
I continue here by speaking from my own racial lense as a Black man living in this nation which is full of opportunity indeed, but we still have a challenge before us. For those who feel that we in America live in a post-racial society, ask yourself this question: given the situation in which many Blacks in America live today, and if given the choice, would you choose to be Black? If your answer was “no,” you understand the concept of racial privilege and recognize that our nation still has an issue with race that still needs to be dealt with. We are working at doing so here. In keeping with the yearlong Season for Social Justice at Old St. Patrick’s, our Social Action Ministries are hosting examinations of racial justice during February, which is also Black History Month. A Racial Wealth Gap Simulation, produced by Bread for the World Institute, was the main focus on February 13. The interactive session led participants through a historical timeline of government events and policies that systemically fostered wealth inequality in our society, and how the inequities greatly marginalized people of color and mostly benefited whites. The activity and the takeaways were brutally eye opening and they conjured up gut wrenching issues, but we had rich conversation about it all. The following are comments from participants at the simulation.
“All of us were struck by the fact that this is a reality in our country, and certainly not a game in the lives of many. Our discussions were rich and challenging as we looked at our [social] responsibility in creating this gap and ways to address it.” – Kathy Powers
“It was a difficult look at our history but essential for all of us to study, if we are to effectively address the systemic racism in our society. As Catholics we must be in the lead for racial justice and educating ourselves and honestly looking at our past is a required step on this path.”
– Patricia Mcavoy
“The Simulation is a revealing exercise in American history, and how our laws have advantaged whites and disadvantaged blacks. It became apparent that at each turn and with each new piece of legislation, whites have gotten land and money and blacks have gotten lost opportunity. This is why whites have on average 13 times the wealth of blacks.” – Eileen Sutter
“The simulation provided the chance to look at the problems faced not only as a nation but as a city and a community. Although the solutions to these issues are complex, let us as a church community begin the effort to understand and take action to do good for us all.” – Kevin Kelley
Manifestations of racism in our own city are sinful and pervasive but there is so much we can do as a community to unpack and thwart them. We invite you to join us in reading the prophetic book, Racial Justice and the Catholic Church by Fr. Bryan Massingale (Orbis Books). We also invite you to join us for a transparent and empowering discussion on the topic of Anti-Racism on February 28 here at Old St. Patrick’s led by Fr. Michael Pfleger, Pastor of St. Sabina Catholic Church in Chicago. Check page six of this Bulletin for details about both opportunities.
I end with Fr. Michael Pfleger’s words only one week ago. He said, “We cannot simply pray and talk about racism. As Christians we must actively stand with our brothers and sisters facing racial injustices and work to counteract systems oppressing them.” We take this time during the Season for Social Justice and Black History Month 2019 to think about giving in the sense that Jesus meant it in the Gospel. Let us be people courageous enough to have the hard conversations, seek better understandings of systems that divide us and stand with our neighbors for racial justice. Enemies no more!