Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
With great sadness, Fr. Tim and I read the Sunday morning news about the violence in Charlottesville, VA that took place on Saturday afternoon. Our busy Saturday had been devoid of social media or news browsing, and so it was a rude awakening on Sunday morning! Like you, we were repulsed by the palpable hatred that filled the “protest.” We felt the same helpless feeling of “not again” as violence around the world inspired by evil extremism seems to crop up week after week. With those feelings, shared, I know, by all of us in this community, I hope that, rather than falling into despair or finger-pointing, we can also critically ask ourselves how we will respond in the face of real evil.
In the aftermath of Charlottesville and other similar events, we often see the famous quote from Gandhi: “Be the change you want to see in the world.” As Catholics, this is a constant call to us from Jesus. It is important to remember that every call from Jesus begins as a call to individual conversion of heart and life before moving outward to political or systemic change. First and foremost, you and I must enter deeply into a relationship with Jesus Christ who teaches us what true love and mercy look like. He calls us away from the darkness of sin that so often dominates our own lives and teaches us to live virtuously, humbly, and selflessly. Deeper conversion entails rejecting not only sinful action, but also those ideas or agendas that are rooted in sin.
Thus, the Catholic Church clearly teaches us that (first) as individuals, we must reject all forms of discrimination and maltreatment of our fellow human beings. Period. Full stop. I must treat everyone with love and respect and recognize their God-given dignity. This is non-negotiable. The Church further reminds us that no society can be truly good if racism or discrimination dominates. All are called to change their own attitudes and to erase evil ideologies from our societies. You and I are called to be instruments of reconciliation, peace, and influences of charity in our community. I will close with these words found in a 1988 document from the Pontifical Commission for Justice and Peace: “The Catholic Church encourages all these efforts. The Holy See has its role to play in the context of its specific mission. All Catholics are invited to work concretely side by side with other Christians and all others who have this same respect for persons. The Church wants first and foremost to change racist attitudes, including those within her own communities. She appeals first of all to the moral and religious sense of people. She states exigencies but uses fraternal persuasion, her only weapon. She asks God to change hearts. She offers a place for reconciliation. She would like to see promoted initiatives of welcome, of exchange and of mutual assistance as regards men and women belonging to other ethnic groups. Her mission is to give soul to this immense undertaking of human fraternity. Despite the sinful limitations of her members, yesterday and today, she is aware of having been constituted a witness to Christ’s charity on earth, a sign and instrument of the unity of humankind. The message she proposes to everyone, and which she tries to live is: ‘Every person is my brother or sister.’” (https://www.ewtn.com/library/curia/pcjpraci.htm)