Appleton, WI

Jun 7: In Joy and Sorrow with Fr. Bill

As I sit down on Tuesday evening to write this message, there is way more sorrow in my heart than joy. My heart feels like it is being held down, against my will, into the muck of something that is very dark and terrifying. The very fabric of democracy in our nation is being torn in two. The divisiveness
in our nation has reached a breaking point. None of us lived through the Civil War, but if we don’t address the issues, put forth by people who are in pain and people who are righteously angry, we will find ourselves on the brink of a precipice that could send us hurling over the edge. I am terrified, my friends, for our future.

Make no mistake about it: the majority of protesters are peaceable and have a legitimate grievance. We have watched the very life breath of a human being, pinned to the pavement on a street in Minneapolis, being squeezed out of him, as he begged to be given air – as he cried out for his dear Mom. No human being can witness such inhumanity and not be shaken to her or his core.

I know I was and I’m sure you were, too. You and I would never have done such a terrible thing to anyone, no matter who they were. But how do we contribute to racism in this country whether knowingly or unknowingly?

I believe that my life is easier because I am white. I believe that my brother priests who are African American, or Asian, or Hispani in this land have a tougher go of things than I do. I don’t like to think of myself as privileged but I am privileged. I have never had to fear getting on an elevator because the color of my skin might be a problem. I have never feared being stopped by the police and treated differently solely because I am white. I have never felt discriminated against. Many of our sisters and brothers cannot say this. For they live every day in fear for their very lives or the lives of their children. How can you and I conceive of an African American brother, birdwatching in Central Park, kindly asking a young white woman to leash her dog, which is the law, and she accosts him, calls 911, and reports that he is attacking her? Would she call the police on you or me? These situations of oppression of a brother or sister take my breath away! I cannot begin to imagine the fear or ignorance or whatever that would cause someone to treat a fellow human being in such an unloving and unjust way.

Sadly, some of our Catholic Bishops have been reluctant to address this issue that is plaguing our society. I have always looked to Cardinal Blase Cupich, the Archbishop of Chicago, in the hope that he will touch my heart. His reflection entitled, “It’s Time for a National Reconciliation,” is profound, balanced, and challenging. I cannot encourage enough to ponder the entire message.

Here is the link for you:

These words from the Cardinal got my attention:

“We.” It is a difficult word for white Americans to use in these days when searing anguish, simmering anger and existential sorrow explode into protest, some of which descends into
violence. White people must never pretend that our place is to narrate the experience of non-white Americans, let alone feel justified in simply condemning the violence against black people, or the violence that has sparked from that justifiable outrage. No one should allow themselves to dismiss the aims of peaceful protestors because some among them exploited the anger by engaging in criminal acts. Nor should we dismiss the legitimate work of first responders and law enforcement, despite the dangerous overreactions of some against protesters and journalists reporting on these demonstrations.

The responsibility of any neighbor, any citizen, especially those of us who profess belief in Jesus Christ, is to do the work of accompanying their brothers and sisters who carry this pain every
day of their lives.

That work begins by understanding that when such feelings erupt they do not come from nowhere. They are the consequence of centuries of national racial injustice that began with the inhuman practice of slavery, was re-institutionalized during the Jim Crow era, and continues today with the myriad ways people of color are treated as less-than, or worse. People of color suffer discrimination and indignities not only from racist individuals, but from the very structures erected by our society that were meant to protect the vulnerable.

Americans must realize that beneath the outrage is the same aspiration all people have to freely pursue a life of meaning and flourishing. The death of George Floyd was not the sole driver of the civil unrest our nation is witnessing today. It just ignited the frustration of a people being told repeatedly in our society: “You don’t matter”; “You have no place at the table of life” — and this painful frustration has been building since the first slave ships docked on this continent.

This is where our conversation about healing should begin, not with simple condemnations, but with facing facts. We need to ask ourselves and our elected officials: Why are black and brown people incarcerated at higher rates than whites for the same offenses? Why are people of color suffering disproportionately from the effects of the novel coronavirus? Why is our educational system failing to prepare children of color for a life in which they can flourish? Why are we still asking these questions and not moving heaven and earth to answer them, not with words, but with the systemic change it will take to finally right these wrongs?

These questions should be particularly troubling to people of faith. As the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops put it in its recent statement on the death of George Floyd and the resulting protests, “We cannot turn a blind eye to these atrocities and yet still try to profess to respect every human life. We serve a God of love, mercy, and justice.”

May a cry for healing and hope, for justice, love and mercy well up from deep in your heart and my heart. May the Lord hear the cries of agony across our land. May the Lord give us the courage we need to face the facts and to begin to truly love one another as brothers and sisters in the Lord! Now is the time before it is too late! Our hopes for our nation must be grounded in the Gospel of Jesus. For me, it is always about Jesus and His Gospel. The Word of God is not like a sword to be brandished. The Word of God is a clarion call to a change of heart and is a healing balm to those living in anguish and fear.

I thank you so much for taking the time to read this In Joy and Sorrow. Let us pray for our nation, for those in agony, for those, who by their violent and unlawful destruction, are breaking the law and drowning out and desecrating the cries for justice coming from righteous people who feel powerless, and for one another! LORD JESUS, make haste to help us!

Father Bill +