Once in a while several related things enter one’s life simultaneously, and it therefore seems difficult to imagine that their convergence is mere chance. Recently we celebrated the holiday dedicated to the memory and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.; more recently an in-service was held for the faculty on issues of race as they relate to our school setting; and most recently all Theology classes prayed the rosary together for all the victims of abortion on the 45th anniversary of the 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision.
One would have to be willfully blind not to see the connection between the various evils in our culture that do violence to the dignity and life of the human person. The inspirational words of Dr. King on the issue of racial justice are just as applicable to the unborn, the physically and mentally handicapped – born and unborn, the elderly, immigrants and refugees, and the homeless. They also apply to those without adequate work, education, and health care no matter what the color of their skin might be.
Sadly, the distinctly Catholic vision of social justice is one that gets ignored in a nation of binary political affiliations; a nation where thoughtful Catholics are painfully aware that they are, as St. Peter calls the members of the early Church, “aliens and sojourners.” The “both/and” vision of Catholicism flies in the face of the prevailing vision of “either/or;” while the Catholic “neither/nor” caveat is incomprehensible in a nation where avoiding both sides of the Enlightenment coin – liberal and the conservative – is tantamount to being unpatriotic.
Catholics are among the few who would have both been inspired by listening to Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech in Washington, D.C., in 1963 and who would enthusiastically stand up for the unborn in our capital’s annual March for Life. In the Catholic mind support for racial justice as well as justice for the unborn are cut from the same cloth. To see their connection is also to be led to the realization that there is a great deal of racism involved in the abortion industry. You don’t have to be an African American conspiracy theorist to be disturbed by the fact that three-fourths of Planned Parenthood’s facilities are in minority communities and that the one-fourth of Americans who are “non-white” account for one-half of all abortions. We are presently more than 16 million African Americans shy of where we would be without Roe v. Wade, and it is all too true that the most dangerous place in any urban neighborhood is the womb.
And speaking of “non-white” Americans, maybe one reason why Catholics are sensitive to these statistics is because we aren’t technically “white.” As someone who has both a Celtic and a Slavic heritage I belong to two groups who were routinely discriminated against by “white” America. My paternal grandfather’s Boston, for all of its Irish veneer, was outspoken in its “Irish need not apply” sentiments. The thoughts of many Catholics regarding, for example, DACA and other immigration issues harbor not only a sense of justice, but more viscerally they harbor a sense of solidarity with this generation of Catholic (mostly Hispanic) immigrants as well as a sense of their own ethnic memory.
Handouts from Friday’s faculty in-service provided a good deal of interesting information, not least of which was the several instances where the whole idea of “race” was brought into question. It was described as both a “socially constructed category” as well as a “specious socio/biological classification.” Historically, it is difficult, if not impossible, to separate the promotion of the idea of race from the promotion of racism; and like so many lies, if it is told enough it becomes embedded in the collective psyche.
Saturday Night Live once did a brilliant skit that pitted Julian Bond against Garrett Morris centered on the absurd conclusions made on the basis of skin pigmentation, which, going back to antiquity, is the foundation of all racist claims. While discussing the idea of white superiority based on IQ test results Bond (a lighter skinned African American) says to Morris (who has much darker skin), “descendants of the lighter-skinned African tribes are more intelligent than the descendants of the darker-skinned tribes. Everybody knows that.” When Morris askes Bond to explain his theory, Bond responds, “There's very little to explain - it's just like I told you.”
Taken to its logical conclusion, this is the ultimate destination of race theory. As opposed to the determinism of the racist, the Catholic believes that who a person is hinges instead on the human will, especially in any and every individual’s ability to choose good over evil and ultimately to choose the Good, the Incarnate God known as Jesus of Nazareth.
The word “catholic” means “universal” and is the name given to the Church from Her earliest days. There is not an English God or a Dutch God or an African God or any other kind of God; there is simply God, the universal or catholic God. For those who turn to Jesus and His Church, all talk of race is antithetical to the universal message of the Gospel. The love of God calls us instead to cherish and celebrate the ethnic and cultural diversity of each individual, a diversity that enriches our lives and collectively helps us to have a better understanding of the universal Lord Who unites us all.