Every year during the Easter Season, I have a heightened awareness of how often the phrase “Jesus died for our sins” is used as an excuse for our human-perpetuated injustices. This happens with the line from our second reading today一“He is expiation for our sins, and not for our sins only but for those of the whole world” (Jn 2:2)一a line that can be taken out of context and weaponized as a way to excuse inaction. Of course, there isn’t anything untrue about the quote, but when interpreting it, it cannot be separated from the lines that directly follow: “The way we may be sure that we know him is to keep his commandments. Those who say, ‘I know him,’ but do not keep his commandments are liars, and the truth is not in them” (Jn 2:3-4). Jesus’ death and resurrection is not a get-out-of-jail-free card for our responsibility to uproot injustice in the world, but is an urgent wake-up call for us: We would be hypocritical if we claimed to know the Resurrected Jesus without engaging in the Beatitudes一commandments that point us toward justice.
If you’ve been connected to the Ignatian Solidarity Network in some way, you likely know the importance of seeking justice in our world. Yet, for us to truly “keep his commandments,” we cannot act as if we are standing on a perfectly holy high ground, looking down upon and denouncing the rest of the world. We must apply the Beatitudes to ourselves, recognizing our own truth: Where do I have privilege that directly harms other people? Where do I knowingly and unknowingly perpetuate injustice by my actions or inaction? Turning inward also means examining institutions that we belong to and love dearly一especially the Catholic Church.
The truth is that the Church is far from being clean of injustice, and we continue to be the “liars” that are exposed in John’s reading when we shy away from condemning that. The Church has been racist, sexist, homophobic, and oppressive in ways that I cannot fully do justice to in this reflection.
We are called to follow the lead of committed Catholics who have held the Church accountable for these injustices for centuries, people today like Dr. Shannen Dee Williams, Fr. Bryan Massingale, Fr. James Martin, S.J., Olga Segura, Dr. Natalia Imperatori-Lee, Elizabeth Johnson, among countless others past and present. This means that when white and non-Black Catholics condemn the police murder of Daunte Wright, we cannot just condemn the police officer or the system that allows this to happen, but must take responsibility for how we personally perpetuate anti-Blackness and fail to fully acknowledge and dismantle the Church’s anti-Black racism.
This requires humility. We are shown how necessary that humility is in the Gospel reading, as the disciples fail to recognize the Resurrected Christ. Just like those disciples, we too are going to mistake Christ一we, individually and as institutions, are unable to be perfect on the path toward justice. Our humility frees us to accept that reality, not as an excuse, but as active self-awareness, continually examining ourselves, the Catholic Church, and the world. In this way, we may all know Jesus by truthfully uprooting injustice and exclusion, and rebuilding with radical equity and kinship.
Chloe Becker is an artist committed to creating Catholic art for racial justice. She graduated from Magnificat High School in 2020, is currently taking a gap year, and will be attending Harvard University in the fall of 2021. She is spending her time this year in Cleveland, Ohio as an intern at ISN and doing lots of painting. In 2019, she painted a mural at her high school to strengthen the Catholic Church’s voice against racism, which gained attention over social media and was published in an article in America Magazine. She spoke at the 2019 Ignatian Family Teach-in for Justice, and has had her writing published by ISN.