Facing racism in society and in our hearts with ‘Gilead’s Balm’
Oct 9, 2020
Made in His Image is the title of our Archdiocesan programmatic effort for responding to the racial turmoil that has so publicly gripped our nation and indeed the entire globe for much of this year. The scenes of protests, marches, and violent confrontations in too many places throughout the world have frightened, confused, and at times angered people. These months have reintroduced societal wounds that many people had hoped, prayed, and perhaps imagined had been adequately addressed because of the accomplishments of the U.S. Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and ‘60s. Nevertheless, racism and inequality still fester in too many institutions and, unfortunately, within too many human hearts.
Our local efforts will be an ongoing attempt to speak openly, candidly, and respectfully to one another in various group settings about the causes for this current eruption of activities. These events have unsettled so many people across the world. The purpose of our efforts is to find a truly faith-filled response. They are not intended to be blame sessions but an honest examination of our history, our aspirations, and our reactions to this moment. These listening sessions will be privileged encounters between brothers and sisters in Christ, where we come together to listen to each other, learn from one another and commit to walk together and to changing our society so that every person’s human dignity is respected.
Everywhere, people from sports figures, to corporate executives, from students to retired people have been engaged in calling for a change of heart that will – please God – lead to a better society for us all.
A few people relegate this unrest to unbridled “mob violence” – fomented by extremists on the left and the right of the social spectrum. Moreover, the violence that has ensued can never be condoned, justified or vindicated and, in fact, is unfortunately destructive of society and property. It is subversive to the dedication and sincerity of those who protest peacefully for justice, understanding, and racial reconciliation.
In spite of the violence that has accompanied this moment, there is much to learn about the causes of unrest and anger. While we, as a nation, have made important progress in achieving racial harmony and equality, much more still needs to be done. In addition to civil actions and official policies, we need to focus our attention on the attitudes that reside within our own hearts. While taking down statutes that honor persons who promoted, defended and held racist dogmas may well be a necessary and visible sign of change, our own attitudes must also change, since removing a statue may take away a granite image, but changing a hardened human heart is far more difficult. We all must engage in this process – all people – of every ethnic and racial group must examine our own feelings to see how we too need to be renewed and reconciled.
People of my generation who lived through the tumult and upheaval of the 1950s and ‘60s may often feel disheartened that all that has been accomplished through the herculean witness of countless people has not succeeded in achieving the dream that Dr. King proposed 57 years ago. Some might even feel that yesterday’s efforts were in vain. Such despair would be a sad commentary on the work of so many individuals to bring about harmony, equity and reconciliation among all people. Admitting that much more needs to be accomplished should not depreciate the achievements of so many whose lives were dedicated to racial harmony and equity.
I am most encouraged by two factors: first, the staying power of this moment is a sign of hope. Our modern society has such a short attention span, and yet we see ongoing televised and broadcasted supportive attention paid to this issue. This indicates that we are not facing a quick or facile solution, but an ongoing commitment to change things for the better for us all. Second, the energy of youth compels me to believe that there are many new champions for justice ready to continue the struggle well into tomorrow. There really is a Balm in Gilead – as this venerable spiritual continues to assure us.