Over the past few years, I have been challenged to examine my life through the lens of race. As a white person, society has never forced me to do this, and oftentimes even questions the conclusions to which I am led. This process has been disorienting, many times leaving me to discern how I hold up structures of racial oppression through my lack of awareness, my lack of knowledge and experience, or the discomfort I feel when I realize the implications it has on my life. As a teacher, it has led me to dive into the topic with my students, which has resulted in many uncomfortable, challenging, and painful conversations.
The reading from Daniel and the Gospel today highlight an important first step in working for justice, self-awareness, and acknowledgment of complicity. Daniel wrestles with his own sin and the historic, systemic sin of the Jewish people. This is the first step in his own liberation, but also the liberation of the Jewish people.
Owning our complicity is scary because once we own it, the only response—love—is to act in ways to reduce it. This frequently requires a path of downward mobility, whether personally or institutionally. It is only through recognizing our complicity that we can be led to conversion and aid in the conversion of our systems of oppression. In discovering our complicity, we simultaneously discover our capacity for change and goodness.
The Gospel warns us against the temptation to first look outward, especially in the context of the systems within which we exist. My first inclination is to point out when the institutions I am part of fall into the sin of racism. This temptation, if not rooted in self-awareness, mercy, and love, tears the kingdom down. This is not to say we can’t challenge oppressive structures or even people, but it is to say that our critique must flow from a humble, mercy-centered awareness of our own sinfulness and each person’s capacity for goodness. Daniel understood that he and the Jewish people were meant for more and that through God’s loving mercy and compassion, they could be transformed.
As we move through Lent, take a moment to examine your own complicity in whatever social justice issue you are most passionate about. Where are you being called to draw out the goodness that is distorted by pain and suffering?
Will Rutt is a graduate of Brophy College Preparatory and Creighton University, and is currently studying Catholic educational leadership, with a focus on equity and inclusion, at the University of San Francisco. He currently teaches religious studies at Brophy and serves as the Director of Ignatian Service and Advocacy. Immigration has been at the forefront of Will’s work over the last 10 years.