Reflection on Matthew 5:1-12
It has been two weeks since George Floyd died at the hands of another, followed by riots and looting but also peaceful demonstrations and the beginnings of meaningful dialog between members of different races, ethnicities and positions of power. I would like to take a moment and reflect about what our faith has to say about racism, peace and justice.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus gives us the Beatitudes, one of which is “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” (Matthew 5:9). I think we understand what it means to be a child of God, but what does it mean to be a peacemaker? Almost 50 years ago, Pope Paul VI told us “If you want peace work for justice.” (World Day for Peace 1972, http://www.vatican.va/content/paul-vi/en/messages/peace/documents/hf_p-vi_mes_19711208_v-world-day-for-peace.html). The prophet Isaiah tells us “The work of justice will be peace;” (Isaiah 32:17a) These words are beautiful, yet prophetic and challenging, even convicting, because it is also true that where there is no justice, there is no peace, as the signs and shouts of demonstrators have reminded us.
Our Church teaches us that “As a gift from God, every human life is sacred from conception to natural death. The life and dignity of every person must be respected and protected at every stage and in every condition.” (United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/human-life-and-dignity/). “My friends, we cannot tolerate or turn a blind eye to racism and exclusion in any form and yet claim to defend the sacredness of every human life.” (Pope Francis, June 3 General Audience)
Racism is nothing less than the denial of life, dignity, respect or protection of another person we consider to be somehow different than us. I believe that racism begins with the perception that I am different from another, whom I tend to think of as not only different but somehow “less than” me. It includes a judgment that something distinguishes me from the “other,” which can include race, ethnicity, language, religion, economic status, housing (or lack of housing), etc., but fundamentally it is a judgment I make that the other is not worthy of life, dignity, respect or protection.
It is easy for us to offend one another, and I’ll admit I tend to be very sensitive to actions that offend me while I can turn a blind eye to my actions that offend others. For me, it is often my sense of being offended, coupled with my reluctance to forgive, that becomes the foundation that leads to my failing to recognize another’s dignity, which leads to lack of respect and worse. When I add in some outward characteristic in the other that I can identify as different, I am well on the road to racism. One antidote for this is forgiveness. At the depths of His victimization, nearing His own death at the hands of others, Jesus said “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34) My challenge – our challenge – is to forgive, always and everywhere.
Lord, help me to not be offended so much, but when I am offended, lead me to rush to forgiveness instead of rushing to judgment. Lead me to always respect and protect the life and dignity of every person, no matter what. Forgive me when I fail, and help me to learn to love better. Amen.
Wishing you peace, and praying for justice,