By RAECHEL KIESEL AND MARIA SERMERSHEIM
Six days after the murder of Mr. George Floyd in police custody, Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angeles, president of the USCCB, issued a statement that began, “The killing of George Floyd was senseless and brutal, a sin that cries out to heaven for justice.” Protests have erupted across the nation in response to this and many other instances of inexcusable brutality against
African Americans, including the deaths of Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery. “We should all understand,” wrote Archbishop Gomez, “that the protests we are seeing in our cities reflect the justified frustration and anger of millions of our brothers and sisters who even today experience humiliation, indignity, and unequal opportunity only because of their race or the color of their skin.”
As Catholics, we are called to root out the sin of racism, which is incompatible with God’s design of every person in God’s own image and likeness (Gn 1:27). “Every racist act — every such comment, every joke, every disparaging look as a reaction to the color of skin, ethnicity, or place of origin — is a failure to acknowledge another person as a brother or sister, created in the image of God” (Open Wide Our Hearts, 2).
Paul wrote to the Corinthians that we are each part of the one Body of Christ into which we have been baptized, so “If [one] part suffers, all the parts suffer with it” (1 Cor 12:12-13, 26-27). As one Body of Christ, we cannot ignore the pain that our brothers and sisters are feeling at the death of George Floyd and the justified anger that arises out of our long history of race-based discrimination in the United States. Following the lead of our bishops, we “stand in passionate support of communities that are understandably outraged” at the persistence of the sin of racism which has
so harmed our society and this, our Body of Christ. Following the example of Jesus, our Christian response must always reflect the gift — and cross — of true charity. “This command of love can never be simply ‘live and let others be.’ The command of love requires us to make room for others in our hearts” (OWOH, 14).
Pope Benedict XVI wrote that “Love — caritas — is an extraordinary force which leads people to opt for courageous and generous engagement in the field of justice and peace.” The call of protesters for justice for George Floyd and all marginalized members of the Body of Christ is an effort “to defend the truth, to articulate it with humility and conviction, and to bear witness to it in life,” which is an “exacting and indispensable [form] of charity.” Protests are important articulations of the truth. They introduce “opportunities to hear, with open hearts, the tragic stories that are deeply imprinted on the lives of our brothers and sisters,” so that we may “be moved with empathy to promote justice” and heal the open wounds in the Body of Christ (OWOH, 7). We are not blind to destructive protests-turned-riots, and we join U.S. bishops in the call to end violence and rioting. But even denouncing violence does not excuse us of the responsibility to stand with Christ in solidarity with those who have been oppressed.
Racism has “too often… [come] 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” (OWOH, 2). Brothers and sisters, the sin of racism has been encountered, and we as Catholics are called to respond not by retreating into the comfort of complacency or denial, but by loving fiercely and joining in solidarity with the rest of the Body of Christ in mourning and conversion.
As part of our examination of conscience, we are called to discern if we are complicit in the evil of racism; and if so, we must pray for God’s help to change these sinful attitudes, words and actions. Through sacramental Confession, we obtain forgiveness for these sins and the grace to move forward by being a living witness to our true desire to change. This means answering the call to listen – whether in conversations, books, podcasts, videos or on social media platforms. It means, among other things, communicating with candor and compassion; donating to organizations that strive for a more just society; and wrestling with the task of loving every neighbor by calling them to the path of holiness.
It is uncomfortable to face the truth of what is happening in our country (sin is always ugly), but as Pope Benedict XVI said, “you were not made for comfort. You were made for greatness.” Let us accept this call to greatness, to listen to our brothers and sisters in true compassion and repentance. Let us respond to this crisis of the heart by changing ours so that we may truly share the love of Christ.
Raechel Kiesel is a member of Holy Cross Parish in Fort Branch and a 2020 graduate of the University of Notre Dame. Maria Sermersheim is a member of Good Shepherd Parish in Evansville and a regular columnist for The Message. She is a junior at the University of Notre Dame.