Catholic Race Relations

Twenty-five years ago today our nation observed, for the first time as a national observance, the holiday in honor of civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. While this year’s commemoration was marked alongside the conversation of whether our president is a racist, the deeper and possibly more urgent conversation hasn’t fully emerged: How racist is our nation? Or, more specifically, how racist am I?

Few of us will have direct influence on our national leaders, outside of our vote on Election Day or a letter to them offering our beliefs for the direction of legislation and policy. However, we do have the power to change our own hearts and reflect upon our own values.

Again, on this day, though 43 years ago, the CBS sit-com The Jeffersons premiered. Spinning off from All in The Family about the white Bunkers, this show featured their former black neighbors “moving on up to the East Side to a deluxe apartment in the sky high” and became an instant hit as it offered parallel social commentary to Norman Lear’s original comedy. Both the Bunkers and Jeffersons, as prototypes, offered us mirrors to see who we were, or more importantly, who we were becoming as our nation wrestled with questions of race, economic injustice, urbanization, and status. In terms of race and regardless of our race, some walk with the swagger of George Jefferson and others wince like his wife, Weezie. Where do we stand?

Fr. Bryan Massingale, a theologian at Fordham University, recently wrote an article in America on race relations from a Catholic perspective, drawing on the church’s social teaching that is grounded in the Gospel. He also reflected on his experience as a black man in our country and church. Among the fine insights he highlighted was the call for disciples to discuss issues of race with people from other races. Of course, enlightened, mature, and responsible Christians will discuss this essential matter of social justice in their homes, at their churches, and with their friends and colleagues. Yet, how often, he wonders, do we talk about race with someone whose skin color is different than ours?

Good question.

Perhaps we could set a goal, a late entry to the list of our New Year’s resolutions, to have a conversation about race with someone from another race, if we haven’t done so ever or recently. Until then, maybe prayer will aid our examination of social conscience. This prayer comes from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Committee on Racism:

O Lord our God, in your mercy and kindness, no thought of ours is left unnoticed, no desire or concern ignored. You have proven that blessings abound when we fall on our knees in prayer,
and so we turn to you in our hour of need.

Surrounded by violence and cries for justice, we hear your voice telling us what is required . . .
Only to do justice and to love goodness, and to walk humbly with your God” (Mi 6:8).

Fill us with your mercy so that we, in turn, may be merciful to others. Strip away pride, suspicion, and racism so that we may seek peace and justice in our communities. Strengthen our hearts so that they beat only to the rhythm of your holy will. Flood our path with your light as we walk humbly toward a future filled with encounter and unity. Be with us, O Lord, in our efforts, for only by the prompting of your grace can we progress toward virtue. We ask this through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Amen.