Racial Harmony in Christ

Virginia State Capitol

Woe to you who laugh now, for you will grieve and weep. Blessed are you who are now weeping, for your will laugh. (Luke 6:25, 21)

God made one human race. We all descend from one original mother and father, Adam and Eve. Because our First Parents fell from grace, we inherit human flesh in a state of sin. So we find ourselves estranged from each other, broken down into clans and tribes and races. [Spanish]

God united us again by sending His Son, the new Adam. Christ can and does overcome all the divisions that separate one people and nation from another, by reminding us of the true unity of all mankind, which we find inside ourselves. He died to reconcile every human soul with our Creator. By His light, we can see other people for who they truly are—brothers and sisters, children of the one heavenly Father, with whom we share the destiny of eternal life.

During the eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth centuries, other ideas wrought havoc with our sense of human fraternity. A lot of people lost sight of the unity of the human race. People here on this very land of Virginia trafficked in human slavery, justifying themselves with the idea that having white skin made you superior to dark-skinned people.

This way of thinking extended well into the last century. Governors, judges, even U.S. presidents, took it for granted. And now, suddenly we Virginians have to face again an excruciatingly ugly and painful aspect of this history. A phenomenon that plagued our state, and much of the country, for over a century. White men masquerading as black men, in order to mock and demean the entire race.

To Kill a Mockingbird Jem Scout DillNow, I for one am not exactly shocked, when it comes to the governor himself. After all, he had just gotten through defending the idea of snuffing out the life of a child at the point of birth. We already knew that the governor hardly has a “moral compass.”

But I want to explain what stuns and hurts me so much. I imagine that it has stunned and hurt a lot of us, especially those among us who remember the 1970’s, those of us who remember what the Civil Rights Movement accomplished.

Everyone read To Kill a Mockingbird? Do you remember the scene in the courthouse, when the children had snuck in, to watch the conclusion of the trial? Little Dill begins to realize that the judge and jury will not give Tom justice, simply because Tom is black.

Dill is just an eight-year-old boy. He doesn’t understand any of it well enough to express his insight in words. He just starts crying. The reality of racism confronts his idealistic and innocent mind for the first time. All he can do is cry.

In the 1970’s, thanks to the heroic courage of many people who gave their lives for it, we found ourselves there, as a country. We looked at the crushing racism that ran through our whole history. We looked at it pretty squarely and honestly. And we wept.

Not just blacks. Not just whites. We wept together. Dr. King had said what we needed to hear, in order for us to regret it all, together.

He was a churchman. He was a preacher. He shone the light of Christ’s truth. We have a common destiny, the one human family. Racial injustice harms the souls of the privileged while it crushes the un-privileged. We have to chase the dream together: sons and daughters of former slaves, and sons and daughters of former slave owners, sitting down together at the table of brotherhood.

So many things about blackface offend. But maybe one thing, above all: the smallness of it. The petty mockery, from behind a mask.

We can be bigger than that. We can communicate as equals, without pretenses. We can live together with true mutual respect.

But I think that we face truly grave danger right now. Without the grace of Jesus Christ, the human race stands united in only one thing. Sin.

We’re not born knowing how to communicate, and build trust, and expand our own souls by sharing the experiences of others. We have to learn how to do that—learn how to do it, from Jesus Christ. We need His grace, His peace, His strength. His love. He loved His enemies. He prayed for the cruel, Jew-hating Roman racists who crucified Him.

Without the love of Jesus Christ, this state, and probably this whole country, will only descend further into the chaos of mutual recrimination.

But He is with us. We can learn from Him. We can have a table of brotherhood. We do have one. We gather around it every time we celebrate Holy Mass.

The Virginia state house may be in a meltdown. The federal government may be in a meltdown. The holy Roman Catholic Church may be in a meltdown.

But we have hope. With Jesus, and with each other. The dream of a unified human race lives, right under the roof of every parish church.

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Josephine Bakhita’s Master

In his letter on Christian hope, Pope Benedict XVI undertook to explain something that we tend to take for granted. That is, how we came to have a concept of God that gives us hope.

St Josephine BakhitaThe pope illustrated his point with the life story of St. Josephine Bakhita of Sudan. She had become a slave at age nine. Her multiple masters beat her mercilessly. One branded her by cutting ownership symbols into her skin and filling the wounds with salt. Then Josephine got caught up in the Sudanese civil war.

As a girl, Josephine never heard anything about Jesus and the heavenly Father. Until she was thirteen or fourteen. But when she learned from some nuns about Christ, and His love—His love for the Father and for all the Father’s children—Josephine realized that this was the true God Whom she had always longed to know.

Pope Benedict put it like this:

Bakhita came to know a different kind of ‘master’—the God of Jesus Christ. Up to that time, she had known only masters who despised and maltreated her. Now she heard there is a master above all masters, the Lord of all lords. And that Lord is good. She came to know that this Lord even knew her, that He had created her, that He loved her… This master had Himself experienced being flogged and was now waiting for her at the Father’s right hand. Now she had hope.

Here’s how Josephine explained her awakening to God: “I am definitely loved, and no matter what happens to me, I am awaited by this Love. So my life is good.”

Josephine’s encounter with the nuns led to her liberation from slavery. She herself became a nun. She lived in Italy through World War II and died 72 years ago today.

Now, speaking of anniversaries: here in Virginia we commemorate the fourth centenary of African slavery in the Commonwealth. It began in 1619. It became one of the basic foundations of the state’s economy and culture.

I don’t think the meltdown at the Richmond state house is a tempest in a teapot. Speaking for myself, it has rocked my own sense of who we are in this state and how we can understand ourselves. We need to find a way to face reality that involves neither unsustainable self-righteousness nor a willingness to excuse the inexcusable.

Seems like the Lord is watching out for us. He has given us the anniversary of St. Josephine Bakhita’s holy death right when we need it. We can tackle the very long, and very difficult, sorting-out process with a sense of hope–by starting from St. Josephine’s love affair with Jesus Christ.