The events of the past week in Charlottesville, Virginia have shaken our nation.  The white-supremacist protest, the counter protest, and the ensuing violence that left one woman dead and many others injured is a reminder that, despite the progress made by the Civil Rights Movement, racism still persists in our society.  We are saddened to see such overt acts of racial bigotry like we witnessed in the news this week, and I, for one, am distressed that such acts seem to be happening more frequently.  I think also of the racially motivated shooting of police officers in Dallas last year, and the shooting of black parishioners in South Carolina two years ago.  No one is entitled to take the life of another human because of their race.  Murder, under any circumstances, is evil.

Our country has made great strides since the 1950s in establishing just laws that protect the rights of minorities, whether they be racial minorities, religious minorities, or any other minority.  The systematic racism that once was written into our laws has been almost completely wiped out.

Yet, in the minds of some individual citizens, racism is still very real.  Left unchecked, a racist mentality leads to racist speech, and racist speech leads to actions of violence.

But I dare say that most racism does not end in the taking of a life.  What is far more prevalent is a racism that manifests itself in the way we speak about one another. The prejudiced words we speak about people of other races can be deadly to our souls.  Consider that the Greek word for Devil is diabolov, which means “the slanderer.”

To put it bluntly, racism is a sin, and a grave sin at that.  It is a sin because it is contrary to charity, the charity we are commanded by Christ to show towards our neighbors.  Charity seeks to unite, while sin always seeks to divide. Satan wants nothing more than to divide us from one another and ultimately to divide us from God.

The US Bishops wrote a pastoral letter on racism about 40 years ago, and in that document they wrote, “Racism…is a sin that divides the human family, blots out the image of God among specific members of that family, and violates the fundamental human dignity of those called to be children of the same Father.”

The remedy for this division we experience is unity, and a specific kind of unity.  I’m not talking about a worldly sort or unity, where we all hold hands and sing Kum Ba Yah.  I’m not talking about uniting under the banner of one racial advocacy group or another.  What I’m talking about is unity in Jesus Christ.

Jesus unites people of every race, tribe and tongue.We Catholics should understand this concept more than anyone; after all, the word catholic means “universal,” as in, the Universal Church, the Church for everyone.

In the book of Revelation, St. John gets a glimpse of heaven, and he describes to us what he sees.  He sees “a great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation, race, people, and tongue. They stood before the throne and before the Lamb, wearing white robes and holding palm branches in their hands.”[1]  This is proof that salvation is available to everyone, regardless of race.

In the Gospel today, Jesus encounters a Canaanite woman.  Now, the Canaanites were descended from the previous inhabitants of the Promised Land.  They were a different race; they were the people who God drove out from the Land so that the Israelites could move in.  And the Canaanites were pagans.  They were not part of God’s chosen people.  And Jesus explicitly states what his purposes are: to seek the lost children of the house of Israel.  So Jesus, mindful of the mission he was to complete, initially tries to send her away.  But the woman is persistent, and shows her faith in this Jesus, Son of David.  She recognizes that salvation has come to the Jews, and she believes in the power of God in Jesus Christ.  And by this faith, she is granted her request.  She, an outsider, a pagan Canaanite, becomes a partaker in the healing brought by Jesus Christ.

See, even though God initially favored the people of Israel, he always desired for the pagan nations to be saved thru Jesus.  The Old Testament is dotted with hints that the salvation offered first to the Jews was to be extended to all the nations and tribes of the world.  We hear it in the First Reading today from Isaiah:

The foreigners who join themselves to the LORD,
ministering to him,
loving the name of the LORD,
and becoming his servants—
all who keep the sabbath free from profanation
and hold to my covenant,
them I will bring to my holy mountain
and make joyful in my house of prayer;[2]

We hear the doctrine of universality also in the Psalm today:

So may your way be known upon earth;
among all nations, your salvation.

May the peoples praise you, O God;
may all the peoples praise you!
May God bless us,
and may all the ends of the earth fear him![3]

No one understood the universal offer of salvation more than St. Paul.  Before he was St. Paul, he was Saul.  He was a Jew, and a proud one at that.  Before his conversion, he looked on with approval as St. Stephen was killed for believing in Jesus.  He persecuted the early Christians.  He was, in short, a violent bigot.  But even St. Paul was changed.  After he was struck to the ground in a flash of light and heard the voice of Jesus himself, his way of thinking began to change.  He understood the truth of the Gospel, and his former zeal for persecuting Christians was transformed into an insatiable zeal for preaching Jesus Christ to the Gentiles.  St. Paul, a Jew, was the preeminent Apostle to the non-Jewish peoples of the world.

Our nation, too, needs conversion and unity in Jesus Christ.  And that conversion begins deep in the heart of each one of us.  It requires self-reflection; for us to examine our consciences humbly before Christ.

  • Do I view other races as “those other people,” as if it’s “us versus them?”
  • Do I think someone is less of a human being just because they speak a different language?
  • Do I fail to realize that Heaven means that I will be with “those other people” in Heaven for all eternity?
  • Do I fail to speak up when I hear others making racist remarks?

These are the questions we should ask ourselves.  We must examine ourselves and ask forgiveness for our sins against charity.

Blessed Pope Paul VI once said, “If you desire peace, work for justice.”  That justice begins in every heart.  When we allow ourselves to be converted by genuine charity, we will experience genuine unity and peace.

And then, the Catholic Church will truly “be called a house of prayer for all peoples.”[4]

[1] Revelation 7:9

[2]Isaiah 56:6-7a

[3] Psalm 67:3,6,8

[4] Isaiah 56:7b