Our long, difficult summer in this country seems to continue without end.
Even as the violence of Charlottesville and its aftermath still weigh heavy on our hearts and minds, this past weekend we saw the outbreak of new violence and racial tensions in St. Louis.
We have come a long way in America — but we still have a long way to go.
We are still a nation divided by race in many ways. There are too many young black and Latino men dying in the streets or spending their best years behind bars. Too many of our neighborhoods in too many cities remain “lonely islands of poverty,” where people are perishing — just as they were a generation ago when the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke those words.
Racial healing and reconciliation do not happen when we pass a law. Laws are important. Laws can correct injustices and signal moral intentions. But laws alone cannot change people’s hearts and minds.
Every day, we see evidence that racist thinking and racist practices continue to haunt American attitudes and policies. It is sad to say, but, too often, the “color of our skin” still matters more than the “content of our character,” to quote Rev. King again.
The other day, I received a letter from a good friend. He is a black Pentecostal minister. For more than 30 years, along with his courageous wife and children, he has been ministering and working with young people in gangs in inner-city Boston.
My friend was writing to remind me that next April will mark the 50th anniversary of Rev. King’s assassination. Hard to believe that 50 years has passed and we are still struggling for the same things he struggled for.
My friend’s letter was an appeal. He wants religious leaders to sign a statement affirming our continued commitment to Rev. King’s principles of nonviolence.
I signed the statement right away — joining some of the leading Catholic bishops in the United States.
Racial justice and reconciliation is an ongoing, urgent priority for the Church, and the bishops have a special task force devoted to promoting peace in our communities, and recently established a new ad hoc committee on racism. We understand that forming committees is not a “solution,” but a means to begin a conversation that will lead to solutions.
We face the same choice faced by Rev. King and the civil rights movement. The question is: How will we struggle against the injustices we see in our society, what means will we use?
I am worried about the easy resort to violence that we are seeing once again this summer, in cities all over the country.
Even the rhetoric we are hearing sometimes in some corners inside the Church — there is an anger, an almost personal bitterness against those who oppose us or disagree with us. I am worried that the “logic” of aggressive resistance leaves us with no alternatives to physical confrontation and violence.
We need to return once more and draw from the wisdom of Rev. King and others like him — Dorothy Day and Cesar Chavez — the spirit of peacemaking and the search for nonviolent solutions.
No one is born hating another group of people. Hate is something that is learned. And so it must be “unlearned.” That means we need to become teachers of love.
Love is the heart of Rev. King’s vision of nonviolence. We love — not because those who oppose us are “lovable” or even likable. We love those who oppose us — because God loves them. And by our love, we seek their understanding and conversion, not their humiliation and defeat.
Love does not mean forgetting or excusing injustice. Peace does not come by ignoring what divides us or pretending everything is OK. We are called to “make” peace — it is an action.
This is our Christian duty in these times when our society is so divided. To be healers and peacemakers, reconciling people to one another and to God.
We are called to confront hatred — not with more violence and retaliation, but with love. We are called to overcome evil and lies not by more of the same — but with works of truth and goodness, with acts of sacrifice and love.
And only through love can we help our society to recognize that beyond the color of our skin or the condition of our lives, we are all children of God, created in God’s image and likeness.
Pray for me this week, and I am praying for you. And let us pray for a new spirit of love in our country.
Let us ask our Blessed Mother Mary, the Queen of Peace, to help us to keep believing in the power of love.