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Opening our eyes to the sin of racism

Archbishop Paul S. Coakley

 At the climactic moment of the Risen Lord’s appearance to his downcast disciples on the road to Emmaus, Saint Luke writes, “With that, their eyes were opened and they recognized him” (Luke 24:31).

 The gift of faith, so intimately linked with Baptism, enables us to see with new eyes. As the Church celebrates Baptism at Easter, welcoming the newly baptized and inviting all Christians to renew their baptismal promises, we acknowledge that Baptism brings us only to the threshold of new life in Christ. It sets us firmly on the path. The process of conversion, sanctification and transformation continues throughout a lifetime of discipleship in the Church.

 Sin blinds us. Faith enlightens. Our honest reflection reminds us that even though we have been enlightened by the gift of faith, the effects of sin have left us with certain blind spots and weaknesses.

 One of the blind spots that the Holy Spirit seems to be calling to our attention today is racism. Racism is not merely a social ill. It also is a sin against God and the human family. It is a sin that lodges in human hearts and corrupts cultures and societies. It is a sin that blinds us to the fundamental equality of all human beings and the God-given dignity of each and every person created in the image and likeness of God.

 Racism is what led to the horrors of the Holocaust in Nazi Germany. It was institutionalized in Jim Crow laws following the abolition of slavery. Racist attitudes and blind spots continue to create intolerable situations around the world, especially where migration brings together peoples of different colors, creeds and ethnicities. It usually goes unacknowledged as a contributing factor in our inability to remedy the immigration crisis that seems so intractable in our nation today.

 We recently have witnessed latent racial tensions erupting into massive demonstrations and even violence around the country. We were surprised and embarrassed by the ugly racist slurs chanted by some fraternity members at our own University of Oklahoma. Many of us are shocked when we see these scenes of racial intolerance, bigotry and violence, which we naively had consigned to the past.

 We live in an era in which it is hard to keep up with the rapid pace of scientific, technological and digital advances. We have bought into an evolutionary worldview and assume that material progress is the inevitable trajectory of human history. But, there is really no such parallel to progress in the moral universe.

 Human nature has not changed or evolved in any fundamental way. We still struggle with the effects of sin, among them a darkened intellect and a weakened will. We are not as wise or as strong as we think we are. We still fall prey all too easily to spiritual pride. Human nature, though fundamentally good, is fallen.

 We are all still sinners. Our faith professes that we have been redeemed by the blood of Christ who died and rose for all of us. But, we cannot bank the faith and virtues of past generations and count on these to sustain us in the future.

 We are just as susceptible to sin, including the sin of racism, as were those who went before us. We can learn from history, but we also are capable of repeating its mistakes. As we come to grips with the troubling evidence of racism in our society, we all must examine our consciences, including our own blind spots as the Holy Spirit reveals them to us.

 How is the Lord calling us to affirm the dignity of every person and reject every manifestation of racism that divides the Body of Christ, diminishes the promise of our great nation, and weakens the human family?

 As we celebrate the victory of the Resurrection, we pray that our eyes will be opened to recognize and respect the presence of the Lord in each of our brothers and sisters (cf. Lk 24:31).