Racial Justice and Social Peace
June 3, 2020
Justice and peace are words sometimes used to summarize the whole area of our faith called Catholic social teaching and action. They are what the protestors decrying the brutal death of George Floyd last week in Minneapolis are chanting about. All want a harmonious society, but there can be no true peace without justice for all. As Pope St. Paul VI famously said in his message for the Day of Peace in 1972, “If you want peace, work for justice.” How do we do that?
The first step is listening.
While decrying violent demonstrations, Archbishop José Gomez, President of the U.S. Catholic Bishops provocatively stated, “It is true what Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, that riots are the language of the unheard. We should be doing a lot of listening right now.” Too many of our African-American brothers and sisters lament racial discrimination, including on the part of law enforcement, for it to be ignored. It is a crie de coeur. “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted,” the Psalmist tells us. (Ps. 34:19) May his disciples likewise listen to those who cry out.
The next step is love.
The goal is not merely the absence of external discrimination, but rather a true unity among peoples. Love means exulting in the other. Thomas Merton veritably sang about people of color in his Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander: “the grace of election that made them God’s chosen, the grace that elevated them above the meaningless and trivial things of life, even in the midst of terrible and unjust suffering.” More than speaking about a bland equality, can I sing about the beauty and giftedness of African-American people, in the way that I am drawn to admire cultures and people more familiar to me?
Then comes action — a challenge.
How does one improve the situation? I recall the advice of a black friend in a conversation about race: We need to eat at one another’s homes. True equality comes with true friendship, and that means sharing lives. On a larger level, there needs to be, to borrow the phrase used in South Africa after the fall of apartheid, a spirit of truth and reconciliation. May there be an openness to listening to historic and current stories of racism — not for the purpose of accusation, but with the hope of mutual understanding and justice. “All Christians, their pastors included, are called to show concern for the building of a better world,” as Pope Francis said The Joy of the Gospel. (#183)
For Dominicans, the answer starts and ends with preaching.
Our communities are our first preaching, and these can each be a witness to love amidst the diversity of human background, God-willing with ever more ethnic and racial inclusion. Then proclamation can show how the message of racial equality springs beautifully from the Gospel and Church teaching, Preaching that omits justice issues is stunted. Rather, “let justice roll down like waters,” (Amos 5:24) and may Christ, the Prince of Peace, reign in our hearts and in our troubled land.
Fr. Francis Belanger, O.P., is the pastor of Saints Philip and James Parish in Baltimore, MD, and the Promoter of Social Justice for the Dominican Province of Saint Joseph.