Lift Every Voice: A Lenten Journey Toward Racial Justice

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Racial injustice is a gospel issue.

LIFT EVERY VOICE is a Lent 2016 blog addressing America’s original sin of racism through the lens of Ignatian spirituality and the daily readings. From Ash Wednesday through Easter Sunday, voices from throughout the Ignatian network will lament racial injustice in our communities and reflect on how the Gospel calls us to repent, pray, and act in solidarity with those affected by an enduring legacy of systemic and personal racial discrimination.

Today’s readings bring to our attention the rejection that many people of color deal with in American society. In America, people of color have historically been given the biblical role of the last child in line for an inheritance or honor, and in many ways this remains true in the present day. Black people in America were considered sub-human until a war was fought and a piece of paper was signed.

“All lives matter.”

“My family didn’t own slaves.”

“I don’t see color. I see people.”

“My parents worked hard for everything we have.”

“What about black on black crime?”

“This is just another case of a few bad apples ruining the bunch.”

“Don’t play the race card.”

In today’s passage, Jesus speaks to his disciples on the way to Jerusalem, foreshadowing the extreme suffering that he would undergo for our redemption.

Why did Jesus endure such horrendous suffering and ultimate death on the cross? Because of a passionate love for mankind! Reflecting upon his act of sacrifice—the lengths to which he went to reach us—reveals something about the importance of reaching out to those outside of our close circles, those whom we see as being “different.”

Jesus frequently laments the Pharisees’ legalistic worldview and the grief they cause their flock. Perhaps well meaning, perhaps not, the Pharisees strike me as tormented and insecure as they cautiously live in fear of human imperfection. Out of compulsion, they worship a false God of fire and brimstone, tit for tat, and simple rules with straightforward penalties. In other words, they worship themselves; and if we care to admit it, they are often us.

Recently at a Black Lives Matter symposium, I was challenged to voice what I wanted, needed and recommended from white people who aspire to become co-conspirators in the dismantling of white supremacy.

In the Transfiguration, Jesus appears dazzlingly as all colors. White light is a mixture of all colors. His disciples saw him for who and what he really was, and is. Jesus is all colors. Jesus speaks with Moses and Elijah, something like a presidential candidate being visited by George Washington and Martin Luther King, Jr. A theophany thunders: “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.”

African Americans are intimately familiar with the directive from Jesus to love our enemies. Oftentimes, we ask: “Lord, who is my enemy?” This happens in both the best and worst of times. Right now we have an African American president, black and brown Supreme Court justices, and black and brown CEOs. But it is also an era of increased racial discrimination: unwarranted stop and frisks of young people of color by the police, and morally unjustified police killings of young men of color, women, and even innocent children. Furthermore, black and brown people are often incarcerated for offenses that actually warrant medical treatment, not imprisonment—in many cases leading to a lifetime of disenfranchisement—never being able to vote, apply for good government jobs, or secure affordable housing.

Today’s reading reminds us that although our collective past has shaped us, it need not define us forever. The wickedness of slavery, the evil of racism, the anguish of dispossession of culture and lands, can be overcome. Past may be prologue, to borrow the words of the Scribe—but an intentional labor to rehabilitate our institutions, redefine our justice systems, and free ourselves from the yoke of systemic racism can lead to redemption.

Throughout human history the reviled, the vilified, the rejected, the weak, and the powerless have been able to depend on God alone for help. When religion and culture became an excuse for intolerance and hate, Jewish lives were lost in unprecedented numbers.

Jonah comes to us as an important figure in salvation history. A reluctant God-bearer, his discernment process wailed in him through much inner turmoil. He was a good man—just unsure of himself, and who he was before God. After accepting the unrelenting call of the Lord, he laid down his armor of fear and doubt and picked up the armor of God. He was chosen and like many of those chosen as messengers, it took a while for him to realize that God had his back.

Authors Include:

M. Shawn Copeland, Ph.D.

M. Shawn Copeland, Ph.D.

Theology Professor, Boston College

Dr. M. Shawn Copeland is Professor of Systematic Theology at Boston College. She is a former president of the Catholic Theological Society of America (CTSA), and a former Convener of the Black Catholic Theological Symposium (BCTS), an interdisciplinary learned association of Black Catholic scholars.

Professor Copeland is a prolific author, with more than 100 publications to her credit, including "Enfleshing Freedom: Body, Race and Being and The Subversive Power of Love: The Vision of Henriette Delille." She is the recipient of five honorary degrees as well as the Yves Congar Award for Excellence in Theology from Barry University, Miami, Florida, and the Distinguished Scholar Award from the Black Religious Scholars Group of the American Academy of Religion.

Dr. Copeland’s research interests include: 1) shifts in theological understanding of the human person and accords particular attention to body, gender, and race; 2) the African American Catholic experience, and 3) political or praxis based theologies.

Fred Pestello, Ph.D.

Fred Pestello, Ph.D.

President, St. Louis University

Fred P. Pestello, Ph.D., is the 33rd president of Saint Louis University. The first permanent lay president in the University’s nearly 200-year history, Dr. Pestello officially began his tenure at SLU on July 1, 2014.

Dr. Pestello is Jesuit educated and has spent the entirety of his 30-year career in Catholic higher education. He has been noted for upholding Jesuit values throughout his career, including his commitment to dialogue and inclusion both during and after campus protests at SLU in 2014.

Prior to coming to SLU, Dr. Pestello was the president of Le Moyne College in Syracuse, New York. Dr. Pestello also spent nearly 25 years as a faculty member and provost at the University of Dayton.

Born and raised in Cleveland, Dr. Pestello has three degrees in sociology. He earned his bachelor‘s degree from the Jesuit institution John Carroll University in 1974, his master’s degree from the University of Akron in 1981, and his doctoral degree through a joint program of the University of Akron and Kent State University in 1985.

Maureen O’Connell, Ph.D.

Maureen O’Connell, Ph.D.

Assoc. Professor of Christian Ethics, LaSalle University

Maureen H. O’Connell is Chair of the Department of Religion at LaSalle University, where she is also an Associate Professor of Christian Ethics. She is the author of "Compassion: Loving Our Neighbor in an Age of Globalization" (Orbis, 2009) and "If These Walls Could Talk: Community Muralism and the Beauty of Justice" (Liturgical Press, 2012). Her current research explores racial identity formation, racism, and racial justice in Catholic institutions of higher education.

Dr. O’Connell previously taught for eight years in the Theology Department at Fordham University. She currently serves on the board of the Society for the Arts in Religious and Theological Studies and is a member of St. Vincent De Paul parish in Germantown, PA. She is also a member of POWER (Philadelphians Organizing to Witness, Empower, and Rebuild), an interfaith federation of 90 faith communities working to make Philadelphia a city of “just love” through fair wages for workers, funding for public schools, immigration reform, and decarceration.

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Racial injustice is a gospel issue.Join the Ignatian Solidarity Network in reflecting on this reality during Lent."...

Posted by Ignatian Solidarity Network on Friday, January 15, 2016