“Faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead.”
In our second reading yesterday, we hear that a faith not accompanied by action, one which speaks only in platitudes, is a faith that is dead. We hear that we cannot simply say to others who lack clothing and food to “Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well.” (James 2:16)
Who are the people lacking something in our world today, and how are we called to do more than say go in peace? Going beyond physical needs, how many people in today’s society lose their ‘clothing’ when their innate human dignity is stripped from them? How many people are starving as well? Starving to be recognized, acknowledged, loved, and to be seen.
To adequately tend to what these questions provoke, there is but one response: “I will demonstrate to you my faith from my works.” (James 2:18)
For myself, I’m constantly navigating my responsibility as a white Catholic to speak about the necessity of healing divides in relationships in the Church at the institutional and individual levels*. At the institutional level, the Church’s body will not be made whole until it reckons with its legacy of slaveholding, segregation, its attempted erasure of Indigenous culture, its role in forced family separation, and its own silence on this history. On the individual level we must listen to and learn from Black and Indigenous People of Color (BIPOC)** and thus to be in conversation and relationship with those in our lives.
For white Catholics, we must think more critically and pray more deeply about this relationship between faith and works. Plainly stated, the work necessary to rebuild bridges with hurting communities of faith cannot be built upon faith alone.
White Catholics cannot speak about peace or move towards reconciliation without reparations***, which this reading also suggests. Therefore we cannot tell others to simply keep warm without a blanket. Instead we must look for the holes and sew together the blanket which is covering us all, because, in fact we are all cold. It is always the suffering body of Christ through the gospel which calls us to this work.
“Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself,
take up his cross, and follow me.”
Reckoning with issues around social and racial injustice is indeed a cross that our Church leaders and the faithful must take up. In short, because until we do we will be unable to fully witness the beautiful diversity of the body of Christ.
*Olga Segura’s book, Birth of a Movement: Black Lives Matter and the Catholic Church, should be considered as essential reading for all white Catholics. I have learned so much from Segura that will inform me as I continue to work toward a more just future.
**In this piece I’m using the term BIPOC to hold the Catholic Church’s shameful past in it’s relationship both with Black Americans and with Indigenous Americans.
***In using the term reparations, I use Reverend Kelly Brown Douglas’ definition that “reparations should be directed toward building a future where all human beings are respected as the sacred creations that they are and thereby free to live into the fullness of their sacred creation. For faith communities, reparations must not be only an effort to compensate for past harms, they must also chart a pathway to a just future.”
William Myers is a former Jesuit Volunteer (‘19-’20) who spent a year at the University of Detroit Mercy working in the ministry office. He is currently a student at Union Theological Seminary where he is pursuing a masters of Divinity. William is passionate about the transformative power that music can bring to our prayer and contemplation, especially when considering issues of social justice.