What is the American Dream? To live a good and comfortable life. To own a home. To have the freedom to learn, to worship, to make an adequate living, to have good health– Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
Not all Americans, including those who want to be legal Americans, have enjoyed the American dream equally. And as we are learning now a large part of our population has suffered red lining and discrimination, sometimes subtle and at times not so subtle. And some leaders want to interpret the message that “Black Lives Matter” as a symbol of hate.
The Covid-19 pandemic shows us that while we all might be vulnerable, we are not equally vulnerable. Blacks, Latinos, and Native peoples are the vast majority of those infected and killed.
As a young black grocery clerk shared, “Essential is just a nice word for sacrificial. Sacrificial for the comfort of those who can isolate and work from home, who are disproportionately white.”
Father Bryan Massingale, a black priest and a theology professor at Jesuit Fordham University in New York wrote the article, “What To Do About White Privilege” in the last issue of the National Catholic Reporter.
He suggests that white people can do five things to even the playing field.
- Begin to understand the difference between being uncomfortable and being threatened.
- Sit in the discomfort this hard truth brings.
- Admit your ignorance and do something about it.
- Have the courage to confront your family and friends.
- Be unconditionally pro-life. St. John Paul II declared Racism a pro-life issue.
- Finally, pray. “At the deepest level,” Fr. Massingale writes, “racism is a soul sickness… a profound warping of the human spirit that enables human beings to create communities of callous indifference toward their darker sisters and brothers.”
Here’s the question, Fr. Massingale writes “The real meaning of race comes down largely to this: Is this someone I should care about?”
Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness does not belong to everyone until we answer that question.
At the heart of racism is a deep and learned distrust of someone I do not know or have learned to dislike through misinformation or ignorance or in-bred discrimination.
That is not how Jesus worked, or thought. He had this deep sense that we are all children of God and that God gave us the world and all its experiences to share equally.
Jesus spent his life and time on earth trying to show people that trust was more important than being insecure and seeing everybody else as the enemy.
Eighty percent of human beings say they believe in God, but do they believe in the God of Jesus who did not have a racist bone in his body. And when he tried to have one, a Syrophoenician woman, told him that even dogs ate at the same table as the Master.
It is very clear in today’s Gospel that Jesus did not come to threaten people. Throughout the history of the world and its peoples, having power, brandishing a weapon and threatening people was held in high esteem and feared. Many people still do that to this day.
The prophet Zechariah criticized the leaders and rich of his day who were so into self-protection and self-sufficiency and who were happy to rebuild a Temple after returning from Babylon but who did not care to worship in it — that there would be a future king who would not look anything like what they were used to, that he would really be “just” a Savior, meek and riding a donkey — no chariot, no horse. His message would be peace and how to achieve it.
That king came 2000 years ago, and he says to us today that the “little ones” know what life is about and how it works. You may be worldly wise and smart, but you will not succeed if you do not have a humble and open heart.
The question of the gospel is whether or not Jesus has spoken to our heart and taught us about what God knew works in life and whether or not we are open and humble enough to learn, to change, to soften, to walk in the shoes of others.
Shouting at one another, cursing the pandemic, hoarding resources and protecting them at all costs hardens our hearts and does not draw us closer together. We say we believe “In God we trust,” “E Pluribus Unum, we are one from the many.”
Picture what Jesus is describing : “Come to me, all who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart.”
Imagine the yoke, a wooden harness over the shoulders of two oxen, walking beside each other, the better and faster to plow.
Jesus carries one side of the yoke, we carry the other. Together, we get the work done by walking with each other and plowing the fields of life together.
God never intended that we be stubborn individualists, but that we live together in solidarity, harmony, and peace. The sin to be totally independent from each other and from God is the sin of Adam and Eve in the garden, and of Cain and Abel, and the Tower of Babel.
Now is the time to reset the button of history, to envision a better, more imaginative, and inclusive United States of America.
At this very moment, many are trying to return to a former “normal” to which we cannot return. Discrimination is not over, but it is on its way out. It is clear that more inclusive economics needs to be constructed that will be better for all, inclusive for all, sustainable for all with the social, moral, and religious values that come from the Wisdom and love of God– not just from pure greed and disadvantage.
Jesus says today that his yoke is easy and his burden is light. It is the working together that makes it easy and light. It is listening to and supporting of each other that makes it light and easy.
We are not celebrating our independence from each other but our gift of freedom together to build the kingdom of God here on earth. It is much more than firecrackers, hot dogs and apple pie.
And so, if what I have shared today makes you feel uncomfortable, remember what Fr. Massingale cautioned in Step 2: Sit in the discomfort of this hard truth.
Slowly, what is discomforting becomes comfortable. Slowly what is comfortable becomes a new truth. And what becomes a new truth creates a new day, a new possibility and a new hope: “In God we trust. From the many, one.”