In the second reading of today’s Mass we heard these words of St. Paul, words that are familiar to us all: “Owe nothing to anyone, except to love one another....The commandments,” he said, “are summed up in this saying, namely, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’. Love does no evil to neighbor; hence, love is the fulfillment of the law,” St. Paul concludes.
With these words in mind, I was challenged, confronted by several articles I read this week in different Catholic publications on the topic of racism. The first was in America magazine, a Jesuit publication, written by Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore. It was very informative on the hotly debated issue of Black Lives Matter. While it was indeed challenging, I thought it was fair and balanced. Other articles were in our own Criterion of this week discussing racism.
As I said, I was challenged, even confronted by these articles on a burning topic these days in both the church and American society, while also having in mind what St. Paul wrote. I thought I understood the basis for why racism is considered an evil that must be acknowledged and which cannot be tolerated. But in order to clarify my understanding I consulted the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the book that contains the official teachings of the Church. The Catechism says this, which I share with you: “The equality of [humans] rests essentially on their dignity as persons (created in God’s image) and the rights that flow from it” (1935). It goes on to quote from Gaudium et Spes, “Joy and Hope,” the Vatican II document on the Church in the Modern World, which says: “Every form of social or cultural discrimination in fundamental personal rights on the grounds of sex, race, color, social conditions, language or religion must be curbed and eradicated as incompatible with God’s design” (GS 29,2).
It is clear from these statements that racism or any other form of discrimination based on any reason whatever, sex, race, color, etc., as Vatican II said, is contrary to God’s plan for humanity. Racism is a state of mind, an attitude that regards, for any reason whatsoever, another human being as lesser than me, and therefore not deserving of value or respect. Clearly, this is against God’s plan and design for his creation and is opposed to the teaching of the Catholic Church.
Our Archbishop Thompson, in announcing a special Mass for Peace and Justice that he will celebrate this Wednesday at the Cathedral, said: “Racism is an evil that continues to plague society as well as the hearts of many both within and outside the Church. It is a sin that erodes the dignity of individuals and the common good of community.”
Racism therefore is something that must be acknowledged both by us as individuals and as Church. It is true that at one time slavery was accepted by the Church. It was only in 1839, less than 200 years ago, that it was finally condemned by Pope Gregory XVI as being against human dignity. It is a known and established fact that at one time early in its history, Jesuit-run Geo.rgetown University in Washington, DC had slaves who worked its property. Georgetown has recently admitted its shameful past. And so too must we all.
Each of us then needs to examine ourselves, our inner thoughts and attitudes toward others in our society, especially those different from us. As with any sin, this is difficult to do, but it is something that is a challenge for us, in these days especially. Pope Francis has said that the line between good and evil is not outside of us but inside. We tend to see evil in the other, but the pope is right, evil is inside of us, and this is sin. Let us have the humility to acknowledge it and seek God’s forgiveness and change in our hearts. Remember, love is the fulfillment of the law.