January 18, 2019

Christ the Cornerstone

We must love others to end the sin of racism

Archbishop Charles C. Thompson

Next Monday, Jan. 21, our nation observes Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day. On this day, we remember a man who gave his life to the cause of freedom, equality and justice for all. We honor him because his vision and courage inspired millions to choose love over hatred, freedom over oppression, and nonviolence over vengeance.

Racism is never overcome once and for all. It must be fought against and forcefully rejected by every individual, family, community and nation that recognizes the unity and equality of all human persons regardless of their race, ethnicity, or social or economic status.

We Catholic bishops of the United States affirmed the dignity and equality of all members of the human family in a pastoral letter against racism approved last November. “Open Wide Our Hearts: The Enduring Call to Love” is, first and foremost, a positive restating of our fundamental belief that every human being is made in the image and likeness of God and is, therefore, deserving of all the rights and respect due to God’s children. But our statement is also a firm rejection of all racist attitudes held by individuals and embedded within our social structures.

“What is racism?” our pastoral letter asks. “Racism arises when—either consciously or unconsciously—a person holds that his or her own race or ethnicity is superior, and therefore judges persons of other races or ethnicities as inferior and unworthy of equal regard. When this conviction or attitude leads individuals or groups to exclude, ridicule, mistreat, or unjustly discriminate against persons on the basis of their race or ethnicity, it is sinful” (“Open Wide Our Hearts: The Enduring Call to Love,” p. 3). In fact, racism can be gravely sinful when twisted attitudes or judgments lead to hurtful or violent actions against innocent victims.

Much has been accomplished since Dr. King and many others challenged our nation to revise its laws and its attitudes to ensure liberty and justice for all. But much work remains to be done—especially in light of increased violence and injustice directed toward African-Americans, Hispanics, Muslims and other minority groups.

According to our pastoral letter, “The re-appearance of symbols of hatred, such as nooses and swastikas in public spaces, is a tragic indicator of rising racial and ethnic animus. All too often, Hispanics and African-Americans, for example, face discrimination in hiring, housing, educational opportunities, and incarceration. Racial profiling frequently targets Hispanics for selective immigration enforcement practices, and African-Americans for suspected criminal activity. There is also the growing fear and harassment of persons from majority Muslim countries. Extreme nationalist ideologies are feeding the American public discourse with xenophobic rhetoric that instigates fear against foreigners, immigrants, and refugees. Finally, too often racism comes in the form of the sin of omission, when individuals, communities, and even churches remain silent and fail to act against racial injustice when it is encountered” (“Open Wide Our Hearts: The Enduring Call to Love,” p. 4).

What is the solution to the problem of racist attitudes and actions? Love. It sounds simplistic, even naïve, but there is a real sense in which humanity’s most serious problems, including the violent hatred and animosity that has existed since Cain first murdered his brother Abel, can only be solved by a conversion of the human heart from sin and selfishness to genuine respect and fraternal love for all our sisters and brothers.

So, love is the only real answer to the problem of racism. But this kind of love involves much more than sentimental good feeling. It requires the kind of robust action that makes justice and equality a practical reality in people’s daily lives.

Scripture tells us that “Whoever loves God must love his brother” (1 Jn 4:21). Love is not an option. It is fundamental to achieving basic fairness and equality among diverse peoples and cultures. “This is the original meaning of justice,” we bishops write, “where we are in right relationship with God, with one another, and with the rest of God’s creation. Justice was a gift of grace given to all of humanity. After sin entered the world, however, this sense of justice was overtaken by selfish desires, and we became inclined to sin” (“Open Wide Our Hearts: The Enduring Call to Love,” p. 9).

Let’s pray for the gift of God’s grace that can open wide our hearts. Let’s respond to the call of love by refusing to engage in any form of racist thinking, conversation or activity. Let’s love one another as God loves all of us, his children, and let’s give all our brothers and sisters the respect that is their due as free people made in God’s image and likeness! †

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