Pastoral Message on Racism

June 3, 2020

The Most Reverend Joseph V. Brennan
Bishop, Roman Catholic Diocese of Fresno

This past week has seen so much turmoil and strident conflict in our nation that like many of you, I was shocked and began alternating between being overwhelmed by anger one moment and then by sadness the next.  I did not want to put any of my thoughts on paper until such time as I could be more centered, if that was even possible.  I have failed in that attempt but can wait no longer in saying something.

Recently, the first reading in the daily celebration of the Mass came from the Second Letter of St. Peter.  He spoke about waiting for and even hastening the arrival of the ‘day of God’.  He spoke of our waiting for a, “…new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.”  The Spanish translation of the last few words from that quote make it even clearer as they proclaim, “…en que habite la justicia.”  This literally foretells a place where justice dwells.  As Catholic Christians we certainly do not subscribe to ‘heaven on earth’ but we are obligated to ‘hasten’ along the Kingdom just the same, especially when some people are creating a kind of ‘hell on earth’ for themselves and for others.  We are obligated to ‘do’ justice to the best of our ability.  St. Peter offers a suggestion for doing just that.  It involves personal responsibility and deep examination of one’s conscience.  In a word, it involves leaving sin behind as we read, “Therefore, beloved, since you await these things, be eager to be found without spot or blemish before him, at peace.”  (2 PT 3:12-15, 17-18)

We are obligated to ‘do’ justice to the best of our ability. St. Peter offers a suggestion for doing just that. It involves personal responsibility and deep examination of one’s conscience. In a word, it involves leaving sin behind as we read, “Therefore, beloved, since you await these things, be eager to be found without spot or blemish before him, at peace.” (2 PT 3:12-15, 17-18)

If we are honest with ourselves then we must acknowledge that as a nation, as a people and as individuals, we have not been ‘found without spot or blemish’.  If there is one drop of selfishness coursing through our heart, one drop of prejudice or racism, then we have to look in the mirror, acknowledge it and begin to deal with it.  How we do that remains to be seen and fleshed out but to avoid doing so will set us on a course of repeating some very sad history.  Around the year 1865, our terrible Civil War was winding down at the cost of nearly 400 thousand soldiers on the Union side alone! Among the dead could be counted 40 thousand black soldiers.  At that time the great abolitionist, Frederick Douglass, touched upon the real reason for such sacrifice when he wrote, “The conditions of human associations are founded upon character rather than color.  And since character depends on mind and morals, there can be nothing blameworthy in people thus equal meeting each other on the plane of civil and social rights.”  Fast forward to a very hot August day in 1963 with a huge crowd gathered in Washington, D.C.  The words of Frederick Douglass are ‘echoed’ by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as he proclaims in front of the Lincoln Memorial, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”  The fact that Martin Luther King needed to say something so similar to the words of Frederick Douglass after nearly 100 years clearly indicates that even then, we had a long way to go.  I believe in my heart of hearts that we have indeed come a long way since.  I am willing to admit, however, that that may be wishful thinking on my part.  What is clear to me is that during these past few days, we have been painfully reminded that we still have a long way to go.

No, we will get to work and engage in the often messy process of really listening to each other, of not demonizing the ‘other’ whoever they may be, and of responding to, as my favorite President, Abraham Lincoln, once said, “…the better angels of our nature.”

What happened to George Floyd over a week ago was terrible, tragic and cries out for justice.  It is clearly a wake-up call for us all and will hopefully inspire us to be better and do better.  Notice I did not say anything about feeling better.  In fact, what lies ahead of us is not going to feel good at all.  Besides, I have seen enough ‘feelings’ on the streets of America this week to last a lifetime.  No, we will get to work and engage in the often messy process of really listening to each other, of not demonizing the ‘other’ whoever they may be, and of responding to, as my favorite President, Abraham Lincoln, once said, “…the better angels of our nature.”

 

In Christ,

Bishop Joseph V. Brennan