The following is adapted from A Prayer Service for Racial Healing in Our Land (also in Spanish), from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Perfect for Lent, this and other resources from the USCCB Racism page can help Catholics examine their consciences and pray and act in support of racial healing.
“Racism has rightly been called America’s original sin. It remains a blot on our national life and continues to cause acts and attitudes of hatred, as recent events have made evident. The need to condemn, and combat, the demonic ideologies of white supremacy, neo-Nazism and racism has become especially urgent at this time. Our efforts must be constantly led and accompanied by prayer—but they must also include concrete action” (USCCB Executive Committee statement). People of faith call on the Divine Physician, Christ the Lord, to heal the wounds of racism throughout our land.
In Luke 10:25-37, the question is posed, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus is ready, answering with a parable. Jesus often used parables to shed light, bring new insights, and provoke a change in the hearts of listeners. We hear that someone is robbed, beaten and injured. Two walked by, ignoring the injured man, but a third came to the man’s aid, caring for his wounds and securing him safe lodging. He was the good neighbor. He was acting like Jesus, doing what God required.
Keeping this in mind, consider the scenario we are witnessing today as racism persists in our communities and in our churches. Too many walk by the victims of racism without looking deeply at their wounds or the pain inflicted on them. Many of these wounds have festered over centuries. Today’s continuing disparities in education, housing, employment, economic well-being, and leadership are not disconnected from our country’s shameful history of slavery and systemic racism. Any act of racism injures the perpetrator and the victim, threatening the dignity of both. The failure to act to end systemic racism, which is often animated in our laws, policies, and structures, hurts those who are victimized and denies all of us the opportunity to benefit from the gifts of diversity.
Jesus’ parable calls us to our obligations as Christians, to be a good neighbor: the one who stops and helps the injured; the one who does not hesitate to accept the responsibility of healing.
The signs of this time are asking us to wake up, to stand up and to speak up when we see racism. This is how we love our neighbor as ourselves. This is how we act like Jesus. This is how we do justice and love goodness (Micah 6:8). This is how we make safe lodging for all. This is how we begin the healing from racism in our land, writing a new parable of racial justice for this time.
Conscience is the “core and sanctuary” within us where we are alone with God and hear his call to “love good and avoid evil” and “do this, shun that” (Gaudium et Spes, no. 16). We must exmine our conscience in light of the sin of racism, asking ourselves:
- Have I fully loved God and fully loved my neighbor as myself?
- Have I caused pain to others by my actions or my words that offended my brother or my sister?
- Have I done enough to inform myself about the sin of racism, its roots, and its historical and contemporary manifestations? Have I opened my heart to see how unequal access to economic opportunity, jobs, housing, and education on the basis of skin color, race, or ethnicity, has denied and continues to deny the equal dignity of others?
- Is there a root of racism within me that blurs my vision of who my neighbor is?
- Have I ever witnessed an occasion when someone “fell victim” to personal, institutional, systematic or social racism and I did or said nothing, leaving the victim to address their pain alone?
- Have I ever witnessed an occasion when someone “fell victim” to personal, institutional, systematic or social racism with me inflicting the pain, acting opposite of love of God and love of neighbor?
- Have I ever lifted up and aided a person who “fell victim” to personal, institutional, systematic or social racism and paid a price for extending mercy to the other? How did I react? Did my faith grow? Am I willing to grow even more in faith through my actions?
We must recognize that racism manifests in our own individual thoughts, attitudes, actions, and inactions. It also manifests in social structures and unjust systems the perpetuate centuries of racial injustice. We must examine our individual actions and our participation in unjust structures, seek forgiveness and move towards reconciliation. We must pray together for the will and the strength to help contribute to the healing of racism in my time:
God of Heaven and Earth,
you created the one human family
and endowed each person with great dignity.
Aid us, we pray, in overcoming the sin of racism.
Grant us your grace in eliminating this blight
from our hearts, our communities,
our social and civil institutions.
Fill our hearts with love for you and our neighbor
so that we may work with you
in healing our land from racial injustice.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.
We have prayed and now, with changed hearts, let us move our feet to action.
For additional information, see the USCCB Backgrounder on Racism, the USCCB Special Task Force to Promote Peace in Our Communities: Report and Recommendations (2016) and U.S. Bishops Establish New Ad Hoc Committee on Racism (2017); the U.S. bishops’ Pastoral Letter on Racism, Brothers and Sisters to Us, and more resources at USCCB.org/Racism