Welcome to day 11 of Know Justice, Know Peace: A Jesuit Antiracism Retreat. My Name is Peter Bell, and I am with the Jesuit Post. Today, we continue the fourth week of deepening our awareness of and striving to eradicate racism within ourselves and in our society.
Let us begin with a prayer from the Sisters of Mercy:
Good and gracious God, who loves and delights in all people, we stand in awe before You in your resurrection, knowing that the spark of life within each person on earth is the spark of your divine life. Differences among cultures and races are multicolored manifestations of Your Light. May our hearts and minds be open to celebrate similarities and differences among our sisters and brothers.
As Eric mentioned in the last talk, during this fourth week we are contemplating the Resurrection of Jesus and are praying for the grace of consolation and hope. The very fact that we ask for these graces indicates that the experiences of joy and hope in the Resurrection may not come naturally, especially after we have been reflecting on such realities as White Supremacy, the long history of racism in our country from slavery to segregation to redlining, and the lasting impact that all of this has on individuals and communities.
But the Resurrection is a reality that changes everything. And for the Christian, it means that there is always hope to be found no matter how dire a situation may seem.
I grew up in a white, upper-middle class family in a white suburb in Southeast Denver. Race was not on my mind growing up. Because I am part of the dominant group, I was ignorant to the privileges that my whiteness afforded me. When I entered the Jesuits and began to learn more about the realities of racism, it was a much-needed awakening.
When I began college, I took multiple classes that dealt heavily with race and racism. It was difficult for me to accept that reaping the benefits of a secluded white suburban life, meant I was implicitly supporting many systems of racism that gave me advantages and put people of color at a disadvantage. And in every class and talk that I went to there was something in me that resisted this. But there were also moments of consolation and I’d like to explain these a bit here.
One example was a few years ago. I attended a public listening session hosted by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops during their process of writing a pastoral letter on racism. People of Color from around St. Louis took turns sharing experiences of racism they had suffered within the Church.
One of the presenters said that part of the process of healing is to sit in the muck of racism. It was necessary to listen to and be confronted with these painful stories and to feel the weight of them, similar to what River and Matt mentioned last week. But she also stressed that once we sit in the muck and feel these realities, we need to do something about it.
This was difficult, but her exhortation was consoling to me. I felt angry with myself. I was disappointed in the ways I had perpetuated racism and the racism I hold within myself. But her encouragement was the consolation that pushed me to realize that I can’t only sit in the muck, but need to move forward with ever greater commitment and clarity with a deeper knowledge of the truth.
It is almost as if the consolation from this week is that we now know the truth of ourselves, the truth of our society, even if it is difficult. We can be grateful that we can live more in touch with reality. As Jesus says in John’s Gospel, “The truth will set you free” (John 8:32). Even though the truth is inconvenient, we can be glad that we are not ignorant of it and we can begin to change because of it.
I recommend reflecting on Luke’s Gospel today, the story of the Road to Emmaus. The story starts with two disciples walking along the road discussing the events of Jesus’ crucifixion. Jesus comes to them on the road, but their eyes were prevented from recognizing that it was him. They explained to Jesus what they had been discussing: the crucifixion of their friend, the supposed empty tomb and a vision of angels. After this, Jesus walks with them and explains the scriptures to them from Moses and all the prophets and explains everything to them.
Looking more closely at the disciples, they are walking away from Jerusalem and therefore away from Jesus and from the community. They sat in the muck of the crucifixion and mourning, but instead of doing something about it, they walked away hopeless, with fear—even though they had been told Jesus would rise—they saw his miracles and had heard news of the empty tomb!
I find myself in a similar position when all I see is bad news and the task of resisting racism seems insurmountable and I decide today it is just too much for me. I have the data and I know the problems but I feel like taking a day off from thinking about racism, or considering my role in perpetuating and resisting it. But then comes Jesus to open my eyes and point out that it is because of my privilege that I am able to take this break.
The culmination of the Emmaus story is the breaking of the bread. The disciples finally recognized Jesus in the Eucharist. The experience of the Eucharist should similarly have us all running towards Jerusalem, should inspire us to commit to being antiracist. Because the Eucharist, which is the source and summit of our faith, completely defies the logic of racism.
In her book, Enfleshing Freedom, Theologian M. Shawn Copeland writes, “Eucharist is a countersign to the devaluation and violence directed toward the exploited, despised black body.”
“Racism opposes the order of Eucharist…An intrinsic evil, racism is lethal to bodies, to black bodies, to the body of Christ, to Eucharist. As his body, we embrace with love and hope those who, in their bodies, are despised and marginalized, even as we embrace with love and forgiveness those whose sins spawn conditions for the suffering and oppression of others.”
We cannot acknowledge the Eucharist without acknowledging the way Christ has identified with the despised and the marginalized. But at the same time, just as we reverence and celebrate the gift of the Eucharist, so should we rejoice in the gift of our diversity that is made one in Christ’s body and see it as a sign of hope and consolation.
Ultimately, it is the Eucharist, the truth that God has given all of us to share in His one body, that should strengthen our desires for a fair and just community and have us running to do our part in bringing about that community and society.
I do not need to tell you that there is a long road ahead in confronting racism. But I am here to tell you to have hope in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. When the disciples go back to Jerusalem, it is just the start. The Lord will work through them in their joy and hope and he will do the same with you.
Take consolation in the breaking of the bread, in the gift of our common humanity and let the Eucharist lead you into a renewed commitment to live in the truth that we are all one in the Body of Christ.
Here are some questions to reflect in the coming days:
- How do I see myself moving from the muck and despair into action?
- How might contemplating the Eucharist help me in my antiracist journey?
- What do I need to give thanks for over the course of this retreat, what truth have my eyes been opened to?
- Do I, like the disciples need help to see Jesus at work in the world, and if so, how might I seek that help and be open to it?
Let us close with a prayer, again from the Sisters of Mercy:
Good and gracious God, you invite us to recognize and reverence your divine image and likeness in our neighbor. Enable us to see the reality of racism and free us to challenge and uproot it from our society, our world and ourselves. Amen.
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