In recent months the persistent specter of racism in our society has manifested itself in dramatic and powerful ways that cannot be ignored. The instances of the national horror taking place all over our country are heartbreaking for all of us: the vast majority of those affected by COVID-19 are people of color, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Christian Cooper, George Floyd, and Omar Jimenez, and the list goes on and on, all victims, to varying degrees, of systemic racism in this country. The sad fact of the matter is that the sin of racism is as ubiquitous as the air that we breathe. The cauldron of racism has been cooking for ages, but it is boiling over right now in violent and disturbing ways. We resist recognizing our complicity in the saga of racism. Still, it penetrates the foundational systems of our society: politics, justice, housing, health care, education, even our language, and the list goes on.
Last weekend, throughout the world many Christians celebrated the great solemnity of Pentecost, that fifty days after the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God’s love, was poured forth upon the disciples. The event is recounted in the book of Acts of the Apostles 2: 1-11. The disciples had been, for all practical purposes, holed up still in the upper room where they had celebrated the Last Supper with Jesus. The Spirit descended upon them like flames of fire, and they began to proclaim the Good News. The story is wrapped in a mystery, but the thing that really grabs my attention is that as the disciples began to proclaim the Good News, everyone understood them. There were devout Jews from all over the known world in Jerusalem to celebrate Shavuot, the “Festival of Weeks,” one of the major Jewish feast days, a day of pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Shavuot commemorated the reception of the Law by Moses; we celebrate the reception of the Holy Spirit by the community of the disciples and the birthday of the church.
The birth of the church is marked by unity in diversity, it is realized in understanding and at the very core of the teaching of Jesus is reconciliation. We are called to be reconcilers in a world torn by division. We are called to be the very compassion of God for our contemporary world. The love of God reaches out to all people, and racism is a very grave sin because it is an assault on the dignity of not just a single person but all humanity. Injustice infects us all! When my brothers and sisters are suffering, we all suffer with them, and we are all poorer.
Jacqueline Novogratz has said, “Man! I want future generations to look back on us and say, ‘Look how hard they tried!’ not ‘Look at how blind they were!’” That’s my hope. I pray that God will send the Holy Spirit over us in a really powerful way and help us to see with God’s eyes of compassion the truth of this troubled, troubled world that we live in. We MUST say, not just with our words, but with our hearts, lives, institutions, and social structures, to our black brothers and sisters, your lives matter. Pope Paul VI put it very succinctly, “If you want peace, work for justice.”
By Pastor Rex Hays, Sacred Heart Catholic Church. Sermon Notes is a column by local religious leaders.