“You have been told, O mortal, what is good, and what the Lord requires of you: Only to do justice and to love goodness, and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8).
This verse from the Book of Micah has always been one of my favorite Scripture passages. It describes, in a nutshell, how we should live our lives: God wants us to be in right relationship with others, to do the right thing and to listen carefully to what he is teaching us so we can better discern his will for our lives.
The U.S. bishops believe this passage also offers a framework for addressing one of the most persistent evils in today’s society: racism. They included the verse in their pastoral letter “Open Wide Our Hearts: The Enduring Call to Love,” which they approved last November at their fall general meeting. The letter perhaps didn’t get as much attention as it deserved at the time because of the focus on the clergy abuse crisis, but it offers a valuable reflection for Catholics about the problem of racism, its history in the U.S., and the need to convert hearts and minds to eradicate this evil.
“Open Wide Our Hearts” makes clear that racism is a sin. It erodes the sanctity of human life and fosters social injustices. It promotes “prejudice and fear of the other, and — all too often — hatred.” While racism has sadly been part of the African-American experience since our country began, other groups also suffer its effects. This includes “rising anti-Semitism, the discrimination many Hispanics face today and anti-Muslim sentiment.” The letter also devotes a section on the experience of Native Americans, who suffered greatly from colonial expansion and then later from unjust government policies.
To “do justice,” as the prophet Micah envisions, means recognizing that all of us — no matter the color of our skin or our ethnic heritage — are created in the image and likeness of the same God. It means engaging our sisters and brothers on the peripheries, attempting to understand their experiences as individuals and as a community, and working to correct institutional injustices.
To “love goodness” requires us to examine our own attitudes about race. “When we begin to separate people in our thoughts for unjust reasons, when we start to see some people as ‘them’ and others as ‘us,’ we fail to love,” the bishops wrote. “Yet love is at the heart of the Christian life.” The command to love “requires us to make room for others in our hearts. It means that we are indeed our brother’s keeper.”
And we do all of these things while walking humbly with God — listening carefully to the voice of God in Scripture and prayer and by forming our consciences in the light of the Church’s teachings. Do we put God’s will above our own and let our faith — instead of our politics, our limited viewpoint or our fears — guide our attitudes and actions toward others? Have we ever been complicit in perpetuating the evil of racism?
“Examining our sinfulness — individually, as the Christian community and as a society — is a humbling experience,” the bishops wrote. “Only from a place of humility can we look honestly at past failures, ask for forgiveness and move toward healing and reconciliation.”
I believe that if we heed Micah’s prophetic voice, we will go a long way toward healing this terrible wound that still festers in our nation.
The full text of the letter, along with links to educational and parish resources, can be found at: https://bit.ly/2bRijUK.