We Are Not Alone | Know Justice, Know Peace: A Jesuit Antiracism Retreat

Hello, my name is Eric Couto and I am with the Jesuit Post. Welcome to the last week of our Know Justice, Know Peace: A Jesuit Antiracism Retreat. In this series, we are journeying together into a deeper awareness of how racism and white supremacy operate in our lives.

Before we begin, let us pray:

Lord Jesus, we ask you now
to help us to remain with you always,
to be close to you with all the ardor of our hearts,
to take up joyfully the mission you entrust to us,
and that is to continue your presence
and spread the good news of your resurrection.
-Carlo Maria Martini, SJ

Growing up, athletics were my life. I played sports year round. In college, I even worked for the Men’s basketball team at the University I attended. I have had many black teammates, friends, coaches, and employers. This past year, one of my Jesuit brothers and I were talking about racism. I said to him, “I can’t believe those people who are racist. I’m not racist, I grew up with Black people and I am still friends with them to this day.” 

My Jesuit brother challenged me. He asked me to question if this fact really meant that I didn’t have any racist thoughts towards black people. I defended myself vehemently, feeling like he was calling me a racist. I said,  “Me? Racist? Ha! Good one!” I left the conversation upset and spent the next days, weeks, and months thinking about that conversation. It troubled me on many levels. I know who I am. I know the man that I am. I know I am a good person, I am a Jesuit, I thought, I’m not racist. That’s ridiculous.

A few months later, I was at the grocery store in the produce section and a black man approached me. He asked me if he could borrow my phone. I immediately, almost as a reflex,  responded by saying, “I’m sorry, I don’t have my phone on me.” I responded this way not because it was the truth, but in order to distance myself from the encounter as quickly as possible. I felt a bit afraid and uncomfortable. I wanted to diffuse the situation, even though it was just a person asking to borrow my phone. In the moment I could only think he was trying to steal my phone or scam me for some reason.

I didn’t think much of the encounter as I kept shopping through the store. But when I arrived home, it hit me like a ton of bricks. What the heck was I thinking? I subconsciously judged this man by the color of his skin and did not try to help him because I was ‘protecting myself.’ But, from what? My Jesuit brother was right. I do carry racist biases. What if it had been a middle aged white man who approached me and asked for my phone? Would I have responded differently? Probably.

Realizing this was extremely painful for me. I had always thought I was a person who treated everyone the same. Actually, I even thought I cared about marginalized people in a special way. The truth was that I, like the people I had criticized, carry certain fears or suspicions of black people that are subconscious but are now becoming conscious to me. This has humbled and disappointed me. 

So what does this have to do with the Fourth Week when we are supposed to be contemplating the Resurrection? St. Ignatius tells the retreatant to “beg for the grace of being able to enter into the joy and consolation of Jesus as he savors the victory of his risen life.” Ignatius tells us that Jesus comes in the Office of Consoler, meaning He comes to console and give us faith, hope and love. But where is the joy and consolation in my story? Where is the Risen Lord in the racism we’ve been confronting these weeks? 

I think about the apostles and the fear and confusion they must have felt in the days leading up to the Resurrection. They hurt and betrayed the One whom they loved. They watched their friend, who they believed to be their Lord, be persecuted, beaten, and die on a cross. And now what? Where do they go? Who is going to lead them? What do they do next? I have very similar emotions and feelings as I continue to reflect on my own racism.

But in the very midst of their fear, the glorified Body of Christ appears. He returns. He conquers sin and death as he rises from the dead. And when he appears after his Resurrection, he appears with his wounds. For us, this is something to rejoice in. And it is also instructive for us in our antiracist journey. The Son of God returns to walk with us—not as a perfectly back to normal Jesus—but with his wounds still present. 

I think this can mean at least two hopeful things for us in this retreat, and probably more.  

First, the consolation that we can experience this week is not that we have figured everything out, or that we have solved racism. The consolation is simply knowing that Jesus is journeying with us in our new mission. In our mission of discovery, transformation, our mission toward antiracism, we can be assured that the Resurrected Lord is with us and has the power to turn all sin and death into glory. 

Second, knowing that Jesus appears after his Resurrection still with his wounds can encourage us not to fall into our pity pots or fragility when confronted with the realities of our own racism and of that in the broader culture. We don’t have to despair when we realize that we are affected by racism or white supremacy, we just need to answer the invitation to work courageously against it.  

The scholar and author of the book, How to Be an Antiracist, Ibram Kendi explains that the opposite of being racist is not being a nonracist. It is being antiracist. The goal is not perfection, it’s not a life without our deficiencies. The goal, or the invitation, is a life in which we are courageous enough to resist the darkness within ourselves and choose everyday to confront our unfounded fears, or feelings of superiority and work towards dismantling the oppression of people of color. 

Hope is difficult to find in the face of such painful and brutal realities as historical and contemporary racist violence. But the Resurrection is not only about good feelings. The Resurrection assures us of a fundamental truth: that we are connected in a very real way with the lives of those who have gone before us. That we can have communion with the dead and that their spirit, primarily the Spirit of the living God, can animate us in the present realities we face. We are not left alone. 

We can take courage from people like Servant of God Sister Thea Bowman, or Julia Greeley, a former slave now on the path to Sainthood, or the late Congressman John Lewis, all of whom were inspired by the message of Christianity to not despair and to work towards a world of love.

I encourage you also to read through Matthew chapter 28, the account of the Resurrection. As you recall all that you’ve encountered in the last three weeks, what does the message of the Resurrection mean for you? 

What gives you hope and consolation about this mission towards antiracism?
Where do you find the Risen Lord consoling you? 

Let us close with a prayer from St. Claude La Colombiere.

Jesus I feel within me a great desire to please you but at the same time, I feel totally incapable of doing this without your special light and help, which I can expect only from you. Accomplish your will within me – even in spite of me.

Amen.

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