Many of the brothers of our province have been preaching against racism in our society lately. Here is an example of such preaching, given by Fr. Andrew Carl Wisdom, OP on Trinity Sunday at Mother Cabrini Shrine, Golden, Colorado.
The readings of the day were Exodus 34:4b-6, 8-9, 2 Corinthians 13:11-13, John 3:16-18. An audio recording and the text of the homily follow:
“You know, Uncle Andy, I’m so embarrassed. 99% of us believe in our call ‘to serve and protect,’ but there is always that 1% that is cocky, arrogant and power hungry.” So said my nephew, a police officer, appalled by what happened to George Floyd. He emphatically assured me there is no professional police training anywhere stipulating, encouraging or allowing an officer to kneel on someone’s neck. Abusive actions of that 1%, he continued, “come back on the rest of us cops.”
I told him as a priest I understood what it’s like to be painted with the same brush when abuse of power happens among your own. I told him I knew what it was like to hurt for the victim and hurt for the tarnishing of your life’s calling “to serve and protect.”
Friends, dealing with an unseen, anonymous, dangerous contagion, we now find ourselves confronting yet another invisible virus—not new, but all too painfully old and familiar, just as dangerous and contagious! Racism. And, we are hurting, and we need healing.
Both these insidious viruses can be subtle and stealth until they hit with such deadly force their victims literally struggle to breathe. Ironically, we kill the one by social distancing. We destroy the other by promoting social solidarity. To preserve life, we need to mask the first of these viruses and at the same time unmask the other!
Now, viruses never completely go away, but we can severely weaken their impact by consciously and conscientiously seeking to diminish them daily. It appears our brave healthcare workers are getting a handle on the Corona virus, but we all must stop the virus of racism from spreading! And it will only stop when people of conscience—you and I—step up and make their voices heard; when distant sympathy for a sad situation intentionally turns into an active empathy, feeling the pain of one’s neighbor as one’s own, resolving from then on “to serve and protect” our neighbor.
One virus is not of our making; the other is a self-inflicted wound by a people, not unlike those angry, frustrated stiff-necked people Moses protests about to God in today’s first reading. Notice, though, in an honest moment Moses owns his part and prays: “Pardon OUR wickedness and sins and receive US as your own.”
London, Paris, Berlin, Amsterdam—beginning in cities across Europe, thousands have marched in honor and solidarity, searching for the American ideals of justice and equal treatment they had looked up to and by which they were often inspired. Now, they and we watch as these values fail to live up to what we should expect. In ways, they are failing miserably, not just in America but in varying degrees around the globes. Now the world awakened to a racism only new in the technology that rapidly transports it to our T.V. screens in all its horrid, viral, living color. What we are seeing across our American cities, across our country, across continents is a world saying: Enough is enough! You’re right, St. Paul, we must ‘Mend our ways.’ Not tomorrow, today!
The global response speaks to the global proportions of this disease of racism. Unmasking this historic moment reveals a pandemic within a pandemic, killing us as a country founded on the principle “all men and women are created equal.” We hear in the gospel today that God gave His only Son that we might not perish but, have eternal life. Yet, there is no life where people can’t breathe freely and securely; where, without having the cops called, they can’t walk into a Starbucks, or remind someone to put their dog on a leash in a public park or go out for a morning run 10 minutes from home.
There’s a failure here of our most basic Christian tenet: to love one another as God has loved us, to be our brother and sister’s keeper. A friend’s Facebook post offered this thought: “You have never seen nor met anyone that God has not loved.” St. Paul says, “Live in peace and the God of love and peace will be with you.” But friends, this is not a cheap and easy peace. It’s one fought first in our own minds and hearts, examining our default dispositions and attitudes, our behaviors, subtle and unsubtle. Is there any way I have excused, rationalized or participated in racism? Or stood by while others have? Have you??? I have.
Ironically, or providentially, what we celebrate in the Solemnity of the Holy Trinity today is what was clear to Christians as early as the First Century, the experience of God as a loving, self-giving trinitarian community described in our Opening Prayer as: “Unity, powerful in majesty.”
Now, I don’t often quote Jesuits, but as Professor Michael Simone of Boston College eloquently put it: “For Christians this is the true nature of reality. There is no solitary God and no friendless human. The love that the Trinity shares within itself is the rightful inheritance of every person. If today’s feast teaches anything it is that estrangement is a sacrilege and alienation, blasphemy.” Racism is a social estrangement, both sacrilege and blasphemy. It treats “the other” as lesser because they do not look like me, perpetuating the myth that difference means inferiority. Just as coronavirus is a breath-stealer, so too is racism, stealing the very breath of life.
Brothers and Sisters, when one member of the body of Christ is under attack, so are we all. Part of that body is hurting. Are we going to risk feeling that hurt and bring it healing, or are we going to anesthetize ourselves to the pain, ignore it and hope it goes away? Are we going to just treat the symptoms or get to the heart of the problem? This part of the American body has been hurting for too long!! And we have not dealt with its chronic roots. “But, somebody else will, right???”
As Catholics, we are committed to life from the moment of conception to the moment of last breath, everyone’s last breath. We fiercely defend unborn life as we should. Now we need to be just as fierce about defending life that is born and living among us, threatened every day. As Pope Francis said last Wednesday: “We cannot tolerate or turn a blind eye to racism or exclusion in any form and yet claim to defend the sacredness of every human life.”
Before we are anything, we are Christians. Before we are white, black or brown, before we are republican, democrat or independent, before we are Americans…before I am the son of Carl and Sue Wisdom of Aurora, Illinois, I am a child of God. Each of us is an Alter Christus, another Christ in the world, bringing His mind and heart to a world all too often acting mindless and without heart. You and I are held to a higher bar…to act with the divine mind and heart. That is not a partial occupation, but a 24/7 calling. That’s why God gave His only beloved Son, to show us how.
St. Bernard of Clairvaux says of this gift, “Christ is given to us as the kiss of God.” St. Paul says, “Greet one another with a holy kiss.” Christ is that holy kiss! It’s past time we extend it to all, regardless of their color. For that Divine kiss ‘serves and protects’ the most precious expression we have of God’s presence among us each day, save the Eucharist: the living, breathing presence of our neighbor!