BY PATRICK SAINT-JEAN, S.J. | November 24, 2020
Today, many American Catholics do not know what to say about those who have taken to the street to fight a system of injustice that has been maintained, in part, by a divided Church. Perhaps now is the time for a prophetic, safe, but uncomfortable conversation with our leaders about healing the injustices in a divisive Catholic Church.
The division in the Church has been perpetuated in full view of many of us who believe that we can influence the intention of the gospel with our privileges. This behavior has caused trauma—trauma experienced by enduring and witnessing brutality against Blacks. Now, it is clearly the time that we need to pray for conversion and ask God for the grace of unity.
More than ever, our American Catholic Church is polarized by its factions: pro-life vs. pro-choice, gun restrictions vs. pro-gun, Democrat vs. Republican, CNN vs. Fox News. Some Catholics have even developed an attitude of selective activism by choosing to side with one particular group’s agenda, hearing only the parts they agree with, while ignoring other social justice issues such as climate change, immigration, LGBTQ+ inclusion, and Black Lives Matter. Those selective behaviors pierce Christ’s heart once again. Such behavior gives a different connotation to the Cross of Jesus, as if Christ had to choose a side instead of unity, instead of being open to do the will of his Father.
Observe what is happening and what is putting people on the street today. All of us are lamenting for justice. Catholics in America have a collective moral and spiritual imperative to pray for unity.
The current division in the American Catholic Church does not occur in broad daylight. Take for example, the popular hymn “Amazing Grace.” Nearly all Catholics know the song by heart, yet few know the story behind the lyrics. As it turns out, the composer John Norton was a slaveholder, an oppressor of human beings. All these injustices happened in the name of Christ. This is a divisive attitude that we are still living with in our Church under the trademark of “otherness.”
As a Catholic Christian, when it comes to the question of Christian unity in America, how do I see myself? Can I join others in moving away from seeing Black, Brown Catholic America as “other?” Is it still possible to see “Our Brothers and Sisters ‘In’ Christ as One?” The history of division as “otherness” as a new sin in the Church can be viewed as part of our painful divisive history, yet there exists an opportunity for conversion, healing, reconciliation, and a true Christian unity for “one nation under God.”
If you are a Catholic in America today, you have an opportunity for conversion and unity for all of us. Are we willing to engage in it? This time of Kairos, a reminder for many white, Brown, Indigenous, and Black Catholics to recognize that our identity comes from the theological aspect of the sacrament of we are all ‘one’ in Christ.”
Unity is one of the greatest graces that will help us fight this social sin in our midst. As Pope Francis eloquently articulated in his homily for the feast of St. Peter and St. Paul this year, “We today can ask ourselves: Are we protecting our unity with prayer, our unity of the Church? Are we praying for one another?” The Holy Father went on to say, “now, as then, so many closed doors would be open, so many chains that bind would be broken, and we would be amazed.”
As Catholic Christians, our togetherness can guide us to respond to our primary vocation: Labor with Christ. We must work with Christ to end the divided church in America, to heal our division, and to help people find justice. We have a spiritual obligation to work for justice as a public act of faith and love. We can find justice only when we act as one Church. Unity is the act of justice that pleases God. If you want justice, work for unity.
As we pronounced in the creed, “We believe in One God;” how can we pray for the grace to always be One with Christ through one another? Perhaps now it is time to do an exam for unity:
An Examen for Unity
- Be Present with God:
Lord, open my eyes to see you as One in me and in everyone.
Lord, thank you for coming to meet me where I am, and bring me back where you want me to be. Open my eyes to seeing you in my community as ONE.
Lord, give me courage to recognize the times when I resist being ONE with you.
- Your Opportunity:
Lord, help me to see the shortcomings that take me away from seeing you in everyone as ONE.
- Looking forward:
Lord, grant me the grace to always receive you as the ONE who will meet with me tomorrow.
Patrick Saint-Jean, S.J., is an amateur of life, a psychoanalyst by training, and a passionate practitioner of Ignatian spirituality and Black Spirituality. He is a Jesuit in formation at Creighton University in Omaha, NE where he teaches in the department of psychology.