It took an extra Two and a half years for the state of Texas to finally abolish slavery in 1865, the Emancipation Proclamation was promulgated in 1863. The last gasps of slavery were legally extinguished on this date in June. Laws change but human hearts frequently lag behind. While slavery officially ended and finally made illegal, the moral attitudes and dispositions that created slavery, remained. Over One hundred and fifty years later, in 2020, the struggle to finally surface and confront deeply held racist attitudes is calling the nation to a reckoning of conscience.
This time of upheaval is a summons for those of us who are White to take a hard look at our own culture that we have “celebrated” for literally centuries. This “culture” has had one defining, hateful belief, that has deeply wounded and marred its accomplishments and strengths: SLAVERY and the ability to see an entire race as less than human. The removal of statues, flags, paintings, names of schools and even names of towns is one response in acknowledging the impact of racism and the slavery it gave birth to. Racism and slavery go hand in hand, hatred and fear creating a powerfully destructive alliance.
How ironic that this “Juneteenth” coincides with the beautiful Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. What we, as Catholics, celebrate on this Feast is the powerful love of Christ,
emanating from his heart that was “pierced” as he hung upon the Cross. The Heart of Jesus feels the deep wounds of sin and hatred that have divided the human family. This humanity was created by the Father through his Son in many colors united in love. But it clearly is not and the Father weeps.
Love and the heart also go hand in hand, and a heart that beats in love must allow old, ancient wounds to be surfaced and healed. Sin is a word we don’t like to use, which speaks volumes, since racism is a sin that divides the heart, and consequently, the human family. Our nation is being called to let the sin be known, owned, by us who have been horribly shaped and spiritually deformed by demeaning attitudes and beliefs.
The love of Jesus, symbolized by his Heart, is the way out of a blindness that has prevented us from seeing the hidden effects of racism in our own hearts. When Christ’s love takes a hold of our hearts, we are free to allow the wounds of hidden sin to surface, so that sorrow for the sin can begin the healing process. I can’t count how many times I have heard people say in the Confessional, “I really don’t have any sins to confess since I’m basically a good person.” How can I be forgiven if I don’t see the sin? Who wants to face ugly truths that lie in the heart? But we must if we are to follow Jesus and his Beatitudes: “Blessed are the merciful....those who thirst for righteousness... the single hearted.... the peacemakers.”
God so loves us that he wants us to be free, to be a living, human witness to the power of love. But this must begin with a sincere examination of, not only conscience (actions), but conscienceNESS (attitudes, biases). I pray that the movement sweeping our country to confront racism will take root, and develop deep roots of justice, giving birth to a lasting peace.