“Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.”
—Martin Luther King, Jr.
I joined #rendyourhearts, a community that prayed the rosary, the St. Michael prayer, and the Novena to the Sacred Heart of Jesus for peace, justice, reconciliation, and reparation for the sins of racism in our homes, communities, government, and churches for nine days (ending today, June 19).
I’m glad to see that the Governor of New York and the Mayor of New York City are both in agreement about making Juneteenth, which commemorates the end of slavery in the United States, a holiday. Since that day of emancipation, black Americans still had to continue to fight for full citizenship rights such as voting and integration. The experience that they endured, being treated in a way that denied their human dignity, is an inescapable part of American history.
Pope Francis called out racism for what it is: a sin, since it rips away the dignity of men. He said, “We cannot close our eyes to any form of racism or exclusion while pretending to defend the sacredness of every human life.”
Let us take time to look into our hearts and pray to the Sacred Heart of Jesus to have a new heart:
Efficacious Novena to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, by St. Margaret Mary Alacoque
I. O my Jesus, you have said: ‘Truly I say to you, ask and you will receive, seek and you will find, knock and it will be opened to you.” Behold I knock, I seek, and ask for the grace of… (here name your request). Our Father…. Hail Mary…. Glory Be to the Father….
Sacred Heart of Jesus, I place all my trust in you.
II. O my Jesus, you have said: ‘Truly I say to you, if you ask anything of the Father in my name, he will give it to you.” Behold, in your name, I ask the Father for the grace of… (here name your request). Our Father…. Hail Mary…. Glory Be To the Father….
Sacred Heart of Jesus, I place all my trust in you.
III. O my Jesus, you have said: ‘Truly I say to you, heaven and earth will pass away but my words will not pass away. ‘ Encouraged by your infallible words I now ask for the grace of… (here name your request). Our Father…. Hail Mary…. Glory Be to the Father….
Sacred Heart of Jesus, I place all my trust in you.
O Sacred Heart of Jesus, for whom it is impossible not to have compassion on the afflicted, have pity on us miserable sinners and grant us the grace which we ask of you, through the Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart of Mary, your tender Mother and ours. Hail, Holy Queen….
In the first reading, 1 Kings 7-16, Elijah tells the widow, “Do not be afraid. Go and do as you propose. But first make me a little cake and bring it to me. Then you can prepare something for yourself and your son.” Elijah was giving instructions to this widow who God intended to provide for him. When Elijah asked for food and water, the widow was terrified. She did not even have enough food for herself and her son, let alone Elijah. Despite this fear, however, she followed Elijah’s instructions. As a result, from then on, her jug of oil never ran dry and she never ran out of flour in her jar.
Keeping faith in the Lord is hard when what He tells you doesn’t make sense. In these current times, faith in the Lord is difficult to maintain. There are many people who can empathize with the widow when she was faced with Elijah’s request. The widow even told Elijah that she and her son were going to die; she had lost all hope. The trials of our world today give rise to increasing hopelessness each day, and not being able to receive the holy sacraments in our churches has not made it easier for any of us to hear the Lord’s voice and to follow His will. Now is the time to conquer this fear. “Do not be afraid,” Elijah said. Sometimes all we need to hear is this phrase, even if we have no idea what is going to happen. The reassurance of these words renews our desire to live and carry on.
The Gospel reading asks us to take this desire a step further: not only are we to lose our fear; we are called to be examples to others who are afraid. When conditions in our lives seem to be at their worst, we must reveal our faith to the world and to be a light in its darkness. Jesus said, “your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father” (Matthew 5:16). Over the past few months, this world has been cast into darkness and people are falling victim to fear. When fear is so dominant, it can be challenging to rise above despair, but we have our faith and we can trust in it. We can be the change necessary to shine light in the darkness.
O Lord, great peace have they who love your law (Ps 119:165a)
As Jesus was teaching in the temple area he said, “How do the scribes claim that the Christ is the son of David? David himself, inspired by the Holy Spirit, said: The Lord said to my lord, ‘Sit at my right hand until I place your enemies under your feet.’ David himself calls him ‘lord’; so how is he his son?” The great crowd heard this with delight. (MK 12:35-37)
King David had his monarchy, his jewels, his gold, his army. King David would reside as judge over civil disobedience, civil disputes, civil disorder. He would be the one to give the command when Israel’s soldiers went into battle. He held power. But King David knew that there was someone even more powerful than himself! He knew that there was someone who has complete authority over the laws of man’s heart. That person is God. We know this to be true because even the king of Israel himself calls him “lord.” By calling him “lord,” David is acknowledging that God is more powerful. No law that King David would write in decree would ever be above God’s law. O Lord, great peace have they who love your law.
This is important to remember. Power and platforms that yield authority can become idols. And by following these idols we walk away from God and the law of God that is self-sacrificial love, agape.
We are meant to live in community. Our goal is to be in heaven where we will be in perfect communion with the Trinity and all the angels and saints. While we are on earth, we should be living our lives striving for heaven, as best we can in communion with all our brothers and sisters. Not just a certain group or a particular “kind of person” but everyone. The book of Revelation tells us that in heaven there is a great multitude from every race, nation, people, and tongue (Rev 7:9). God did not create man to be alone. And one of the hardest truths is that we cannot attain salvation alone, for we are indeed meant to be keepers of our brothers and sisters.
The Catholic Church’s social teachings are the best biblical “cheat-sheets” on how to live in society and in communion with God at the same time. It shows us how to be model citizens, how to be brothers and sisters in Christ, and how to be disciples of Jesus—we need to be all of these things at the same time. There are seven themes to Catholic Social Teaching, and you cannot explicitly talk about just one without touching upon the next theme because they are all rooted in the love of God. But for right now, let’s talk about solidarity.
We are one family, one human race, one body in Christ. It does not matter what ethnicity you are or what your cultural background is; it doesn’t even matter what religion you practice (I know, this one shocked me the most!). We are all loved by God: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is not male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:28). To genuinely believe that we are all one in Christ is to acknowledge that, no matter our differences, something inside each of us is exactly the same. This is the dignity of being human: that each one of us is formed by God and created in the same image and likeness of God.
We believe that every human life is precious from conception to natural death. Racism is an evil that disrespects the sanctity of life. It is a sin that puts brother against brother, sister against sister. It is a sin that breaks our communion with God and neighbor because we falsely perceive that someone, by the way they look, is inferior and non-deserving of a dignified life. The basics of a dignified life are universal because they were first given by God: the right to have food, to have shelter, to be clothed, to maintain your health, to be able to participate in just labor. I ask that you reflect on Adam and Eve when they left the garden. God did not forget about them. Even after the pain of their sin God properly clothed them, allowed continued dominion over animals, gave them a job on tilling the soil, provided food. These were not privileges that they had earned; rather, they were human rights that God granted to them simply because they existed. Sadly, in today’s society essential rights are not always given to everyone by their governments, making it difficult for everyone to be perceived as equal. Unlike in today’s Gospel —where King David, the civic law maker of Israel, acknowledged that God’s law was above his own laws as king—most governing authorities today do not seek God’s law above their own. However, as Christians, it is our duty to place God’s law first and foremost in our lives. O Lord, great peace have they who love your law.
Perhaps you do not cross the street when you see a black person walking on the same sidewalk as you. Perhaps you had never looked at a black person and automatically assumed that they were trouble. Perhaps you did not automatically think “uneducated” when hearing a black person speak or you did not assume “they do not belong” when seeing a black person in a nice suburban neighborhood. But what did you do about the person who did make these judgements? Did you correct them? Did you instruct them on the principles of the Gospel? Living the faith is actively loving your neighbor as God loves them, which means standing up for the sanctity of every individual human life. The Bible, Tradition, and Catholic Social Teaching all instruct us to take care of one another—why are we failing at this? Are we afraid to speak up, afraid to do something, afraid to demand change of the injustice and oppression of our brothers and sisters? We are indifferent toward racism in our society because it might not necessarily affect us. We may think racism is wrong, but we do not live out the Gospel to stop racism from happening. Joining a peaceful protest might not be for you, that is fine. But the Holy Spirit that is in all of us has given you particular gifts—use them. Write a reflection to bring awareness, coordinate a judgment-free zone where members of your community can voice their concerns, donate to organizations that help the oppressed or the wrongly convicted, read books, support black-owned business, join intercessory prayer teams, ask your priests to give more homilies that are specific on the sin of racism, volunteer in places that value the dignity of the black man who is poor and the black woman who is sick. I am being specific on how to use your gifts for the good that enhances the black community. Please, do not misinterpret this and think that no other ethnic group is important or needs help—this is not the case. We all need the mercy of God. But we cannot shout over each other about who is the most oppressed.
A mother with five children loves them all, feeds them all, clothes them all, takes care of them all. But when one of her children falls in the playground and breaks their leg, when the child is in pain and crying and full of blood—the mother rushes to that one child and gives them special attention, takes them to the emergency room to fix their wound, soothes their pain, reassures them that they will be okay. She is gentle with them and reminds them that they are loved. Does this extra attentive care take away from her love for the other four children? No.
Do not be afraid of the words “social justice.” The word “justice” is mentioned repeatedly in the Bible over and over. Our God is just and merciful. He will bring justice to those who are righteous. To seek justice is to render to someone his or her due as it was first given to them directly by God. We need to talk openly and honestly about racism without making it political. Racism is not a political issue. Racism is a universal sin that is rooted in hate and contradicts the teachings of the Gospel and Jesus Christ. This problem is not political. I refer once again to today’s Gospel where the King of Israel acknowledged that God’s laws are greater than his laws. O Lord, great peace have they who love your law.
The Devil is very intelligent; he is manipulative and conniving. He takes things that are good and twists and corrupts them into evil. He enjoys doing this because then it disrupts the person from continuing to do God’s will. Out of every strong movement in which the public wants pure change that will ultimately bring humanity closer together the Devil gets involved and makes havoc of it. He has us focus on the violence. He has us angry at the riots. He has us condemning the looting. He has us extremely ticked off that social distancing is all of a sudden out the door. And we should not dismiss any of those concerns. Most people would agree that violence and destruction are not the proper way for change. However, the Devil is very intelligent, because now he has us upset at our brothers and sisters; he has us ignoring the root of the sin, which is racism; he has us turned against one another; and he is winning at breaking apart our family and taking souls away from God. The Devil will always try to infiltrate a place in which there is potential for great good and conversion of hearts. Let us not allow the complexities of these events to distract from our responsibility to condemn the sin of racism at their core. Pray that we will be able to identify the enemy.
George Floyd, a black American man, was made in the image and likeness of God. His life was precious and belonged to God alone. It was wrongfully taken away. So many lives, in our country and around the world, have been wrongly taken away. The tragedy needs to end. Faith assures me that the deaths of so many black men and women is not in vain and will give way to black saints.