I’m going to admit something that makes even me a little uncomfortable in the midst of violence, discussions about racial inequality, and, yes, heated discussions on social media. I’ve never liked framing conversations in terms of “isms”—racism, sexism, ageism, etc. Yes, I am vehemently opposed to discrimination and yes, I know that it exists and results in injustice, violence and death.
Part of my resistance against using these terms is that I don’t want to stop there—with discussing who takes part in these negative actions. To truly address discrimination, I maintain that we must first return to the fundamental truth that, of course, every opponent of the “isms” is trying to uphold: that all human life is equal in value and dignity.
When I think only in terms of discrimination, I feel I can honestly say, “No, I am not racist”. Yet, we are called to do more than simply avoid inflicting injustice, we must also promote justice for everyone, including those who are different than us or just outside the periphery of our neighborhoods and communities.
This may seem like a given. Yet, do we truly believe it? Do we carry out this belief in our actions? For me, it is necessary to challenge myself regularly (and I still fail at times) to uphold these words of Saint Pope John Paul II, “What is at stake is the dignity of the human person, whose defense and promotion have been entrusted to us by the Creator, and to whom the men and women at every moment of history are strictly and responsibly in debt” (Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, no. 47). Because this is more difficult than not just thinking someone of a different race is “lesser than” or making stereotypes about a group of people. It means not just avoiding vice, but striving for virtue.
The first way we can do this, of course, is to follow Christ’s commandment to treat others as ourselves. Or, in the words of the Catechism, we should look upon our neighbor as “another self” (no. 1931). This applies to a myriad of situations—in fact, every situation. How do we treat the marginalized at our parishes—the person who is perhaps suffering psychologically, physically or economically? Do we show respect to the “helpers”, such as policeman, teachers, and nurses, even when they are doing something we don’t appreciate (like giving us a speeding ticket)? Do we teach our kids that differences in skin color, intellectual abilities and economic status don’t change a person’s worth?
Of course, as the Catechism tells us, “The duty of making oneself a neighbor to others and actively serving them becomes even more urgent when it involves the disadvantaged, in whatever area this may be” (no. 1932). This obligation often means stepping outside of our comfort zone, which is, well, uncomfortable.
This call to reach out to others is different for each one of us. Perhaps you decide to be a companion to pregnant women in crisis situations. Maybe, as a teacher, you venture into unfamiliar territory and teach kids in disadvantaged circumstances. As a businessperson you might offer internships particularly to young people whose lives that could be changed by this opportunity. It is certainly true that one person can’t change the tenor of the society we live in, but all together our actions can make an incredible impact.
On a regional or national level, we can work for solidarity, put into context by Pope Benedict XVI: “We need faith in Jesus Christ if for no other reason than for the fact that it brings together reason and religion. It offers us in this way the criteria of responsibility and releases the strength necessary to live according to this responsibility. Sharing on all levels, spiritual, ethical and religious, is part of solidarity between peoples and nations” (Lecture to Campania Bishops Conference, 2002). The Church, in her wisdom, does not advocate for one political system and certainly not for a single political party. We have the responsibility (and the privilege) of becoming informed about party platforms and how particular candidates will uphold life in all its forms—from the unborn to those suffering from discrimination. It is no little task to be an informed voter, but each one of us has the duty to our neighbor to vote with their good, not only our own, in mind.
As we continue to pray for peace and justice, I am reminded that God does not make mistakes. He made us all different for a reason. Different cultures, different talents, different skills, all given so that we might enrich one another’s lives, more fully carrying out God’s invitation to be one Body of Christ.