Saturday, January 28, 2023

Fr. Frank

Last night I saw “To Kill A Mockingbird”, the new stage production by gifted writer Aaron Sorkin. This timeless classic resonates 60 years after the novel and movie came out. The story unmasks the brutality of racism that is embedded in our culture, a culture coming to grips with how deep are the roots of racism that empowered slavery for centuries. This is a time  of reckoning that will never simply be over and done with. It is going to take much “time” to unmask and bring to light the darkness of this insidious evil.

As I watched the play unfold, Sorkin reworked some of the characters, particularly Calpurnia, the “servant” of the Finch family, to give them more voice and depth. She challenged Atticus to allow himself to be angry and show anger at people who act in such evil ways. Atticus was always trying to see people as inherently good, but this can so easily give rise to passivity and inaction. Righteous anger is good and holy. Unlike the novel and movie, the Atticus I saw onstage evolved, changed, in allowing his rage to surface, albeit without violence. Jesus expressed anger….

And in the news, once again, we face the horrific reality of a young Black man, Tyre Nichols, brutally being beaten by police officers. It doesn’t matter what  the race of the  police is, the unjust and violent use of force can never be tolerated. Righteous anger is necessary in confronting another incident of police brutality. The life of a young man, whose life was  just beginning to unfold, came to a violent end.

My uncle was a Chicago police officer for decades and I always thought of him as a good and outstanding police officer. He was. He put his life on the line during the 1968 riots that broke out after the assassination  of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the rioting during the Democratic convention. He was shot at and wounded. We need our police officers for they are called to protect us. The vast majority are wonderful examples of men and women who daily put their lives on the line.

But this doesn’t mean we turn a blind eye to the  brutality caused by those called to the noble profession of being a police officer. Transparency is needed, not a cover up, think of the clergy sex abuse scandal that keeps rearing its ugly head. When leaders in any walk of life abuse their power and position, trust is broken. For that trust to be restored, ugly truths must be exposed and justice be given the upper hand.

How does one respond to violence, abuse and racism? How would Christ respond? For every person is a unique response: protesting peacefully, praying, organizing politically, writing novels and plays, expressions of poetry, music with or without words, gathering at the Eucharist, conscience facing in Confession and dialogue. I would add something that John Lewis stressed: study and education; learning history, delving into the past, reading the works of people who have experienced the brutality of racism and any form of hatred; appreciating and critiquing artistic expressions.

Let us respect each other in how each one of us responds creatively in facing injustice. How one responds to social injustice emerges from one’s personality, inner disposition and values. May we not judge another’s response but our own. We need many different and life giving ways to root out and face social evil.  But we MUST respond in some way and not look the other way. Justice, rooted in truth, gives birth to peace and beauty.