Each January busloads of Catholics travel to Washington, D.C., to sorrowfully commemorate the widespread legalization of abortion by the Supreme Court decision of Roe v. Wade. Each year folks pray, march and advocate for an end to the atrocity that abortion has been in our country for 45 years. Their actions should bring us to a continuing awareness of the attacks on life in our country.
This past November the U.S. bishops brought our attention to another attack on life: racism. In their most recent pastoral letter, "Open Wide Our Hearts," the bishops bring our attention to the sin of racism. This is what they have said:
"The injustice and harm racism causes are an attack on human life. The Church in the United States has spoken out consistently and forcefully against abortion, assisted suicide, euthanasia, the death penalty and other forms of violence that threaten human life .... As bishops, we unequivocally state that racism is a life issue. Accordingly, we will not cease to speak forcefully against and work toward ending racism. Racism directly places brother and sister against each other, violating the dignity inherent in each person."
This pastoral letter is the latest in a long series of teaching from the U.S. bishops against racism, beginning in 1968 when they spoke out against the injustice of "Jim Crow" laws that discriminated against African-Americans. Again in 1968, the Bishops issued a letter on the "National Race Crisis," and in 1979 they issued their outstanding letter, "Brothers and Sisters to Us."
Now, in this letter issued in November 2018, the bishops remind us: "Despite significant progress in civil law with regard to racism, societal realities indicate a need for further catechesis to facilitate conversion of hearts. Too many good and faithful Catholics remain unaware of the connection between institutional racism and the continued erosion of the sanctity of life."
Racism continues to be, as the bishops acknowledge, a "destructive and persistent form of evil." The need for catechesis and conversion among Catholics is precisely to combat this evil, to drive this sin from our hearts and our society.
In order to point out what racism looks like in practice, they give examples of the experiences of the most common victims of the evil of racism: Native Americans, African-Americans and Hispanics. The bishops point out, with specific illustrations, how each group has been on the receiving end of "deliberate, sinful acts" as well as attitudes that "lead individuals or groups to exclude, ridicule, mistreat or unjustly discriminate" against them.
As a framework for eliminating our sinful attitudes of racism, the bishops have used the quote from the prophet Micah (6:8) - "Do justice, love goodness, and walk humbly with God." For each of these instructions from the prophet, the bishops have outlined actions and attitudes that will be critical in making progress both personally and culturally - based on justice, love and humility.
Finally, the bishops are clear in their expectations, "We instruct our priests, deacons, religious brothers and sisters, lay leaders, our parish staffs and all the faithful to endeavor to be missionary disciples carrying forth the message of fraternal charity and human dignity."
Toward that end, they have provided resources for parishes, for education and for families to help make progress against this scourge on our society. This month, as we renew our commitment to the sanctity of life and the dignity of each human person, we need to recommit ourselves to our own conversion and the conversion of our society to eliminate racism from our midst.