In today’s Gospel, the beginning of the Gospel of Mark, we read:
“As it is written in the prophet Isaiah, “See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.'” John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
Some sin is personal and some is social. Some sins are intertwined, the personal and social sin feeding on and supporting one another. Racism is such a sin.
The Maryknoll Advent message says:
“Our country – and our world – is in the midst of a deep reckoning with the injustice caused by the sin of racism. The pervasiveness of racism and all ways in which our society values some lives more than others are great impediments to peace. We have seen the ways in which they result directly in the unjust, violent deaths of people of color.”
Father Bryan Massingale, SJ, a prominent African-American theologian and professor at Fordham University, wrote in June of this year:
“Yes, racism is a political issue and a social divide. But at its deepest level, racism is a soul sickness. It is a profound warping of the human spirit that enables human beings to create communities of callous indifference toward their darker sisters and brothers.”
Father Massingale goes on to recount one story after another of racism in 2020 in the United States, of this sin of our nation embedded deep within our social and political and economic systems. While racism is a social sin and a systemic injustice, that does not let you and me off the hook.
“Most likely you never received a formal class or explanation [in racism]. It’s just something that you know, or better, that you realize on some distant yet real part of your brain. At some early age, you realized that no matter how bad things got for you, at least you would never be black. And it dawned on you, though you rarely consciously say it, that you would never want to be black. Because you realized, even without being explicitly told, that being white makes life easier….
“How did you, how did I, how did we all learn this? No one taught you. No one had to. It’s something that you absorbed just by living. Just by taking in subtle clues such as what the people in charge look like. Whose history you learned in school. What the bad guys look like on TV. The kind of jokes you heard. How your parents, grandparents and friends talked about people that didn’t look like you….
“That’s the reason for the grief, outrage, lament, anger, pain and fury that have been pouring into our nation’s streets. Because folks are tired. Not only of the individual outrages. But of the fundamental assumption that ties them all together: that black lives don’t matter and should not matter — at least not as much as white ones.”
That’s why signs and protests and people say Black Lives Matter. We have to say Black Lives Matter because the social and political and economic systems of this country—and many of our white elected leaders and neighbors and family members and friends—do not act as if Black lives matter.
In today’s Gospel, John the Baptist proclaims the need for repentance and confession of sins. In the Epistle, Peter says that God “is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance.” Isaiah calls for us to “prepare the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.”
How do we confess and repent our national sin of racism and prepare a new way for the coming of the Lord?
Father Massingale gives a place to begin:
“First, understand the difference between being uncomfortable and being threatened.There is no way to tell the truth about race in this country without white people becoming uncomfortable. Because the plain truth is that if it were up to people of color, racism would have been resolved, over and done, a long time ago. The only reason for racism’s persistence is that white people continue to benefit from it.
“Repeat that last sentence. Make it your mantra. Because until the country accepts that truth, we will never move beyond superficial words and ineffective half-measures.”
Want to start and to move on the path to healing our national division and sin? Father Massingale’s article, “The assumptions of white privilege and what we can do about it,” has five more steps after the first one quoted above. Reading this article is a good place to begin.