Dividing the human family blots out God’s image

“Native students racially harassed, sprayed with beer at Rush game.” This was a headline in the Rapid City Journal back in January — a description of awful racism and a violation of human dignity. My heart goes out to those young people and the adults with them who experienced such behavior aimed at them because of the perpetrator’s ignorant objection to their ethnic background. The actions against these young people were despicable. No one should ever have to experience any form of racism or intolerance.

We can pick up a newspaper or turn on the news daily to find that others have also experienced some form of racism or discrimination, whether that be in South Dakota against the Native American population, across the nation in African-American communities or around the world. This serious violation of the dignity of a human person exists in every part of our world today. There can be no denying it.

Yes, we have come a long way since the days of slavery and the civil rights movement. Progress has been made, but as we have seen, there are still many reminders that our communities have much healing yet to do. There is still a long way to go in eradicating this sin: “a sin that divides the human family, blots out the image of God among specific members of that family, and violates the fundamental human dignity of those called to be children of the same Father.” (Brothers and Sisters to Us: U.S. Catholic Bishops’ Pastoral Letter on Racism, 1979)

I recently read an article written in 1977 by Bishop James A. Griffin entitled, Racism: A Tarnished Reflection of Ourselves. An interesting title – A Tarnished Reflection of Ourselves. Our true selves are hidden when hardened hearts are absent of God’s love, and we are not aware of our true identity in Christ. Racism or any other form of hatred is indeed a reflection of what lies in the human heart. Murder, hatred, malice, envy and pride, among other motivations for evil, have their source in the human heart. This is precisely why Jesus calls us to conversion, regardless of how holy or righteous we may think we are. The heart must be continually purified so that it is no longer controlled by fear or the spirit of domination, but by openness to others, regardless of their race, color, social conditions, language or religion.

In the Catechism of the Catholic Church, we read: “The equality of men rests essentially on their dignity as persons and the rights that flow from it: Every form of social or cultural discrimination in fundamental personal rights on the grounds of sex, race, color, social conditions, language, or religion must be curbed and eradicated as incompatible with God’s design” (CCC, #1935). We must never do anything, as individuals or a society, that is incompatible with the love of God and neighbor. The teaching of Jesus Christ, “you shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Lk 10:25-37), is intended to be inclusive, extending even to those whom we may reject because of their ethnic or racial differences or their nationality.

Our faith teaches us that every human person is created in God’s image and likeness. It is from God that we have received the inherent dignity that is ours — the dignity which no one can take from us. The Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace wrote, “Christians in particular have the responsibility to offer a teaching that stresses the dignity of every human being and the unity of the human race. If war or other terrible circumstances make others the enemy, the first and most radical Christian commandment is to love that enemy and to respond to evil with good. (The Church and Racism: Towards a More Fraternal Society, 2001, September 2001)

As Catholics and responsible members of our society, we are obligated to do our part to eradicate racism in all its forms. But if we are to remove the sin and crime of racism from our communities, we must begin with the self. All social sin begins in the choices of individuals to be unjust and is sustained by our blindness to those choices. Whatever lies in the depth of our hearts will eventually appear in those choices, for good or evil. As St. John says, “If we say, ‘We are without sin,’ we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1John 1:8). We can say the same thing about prejudices. They are a part of all of us, though we may never have faced them honestly.

Yes, it may seem that the world is still far away from eradicating racism. Yes, it remains in need of healing. Now is a perfect time for some soul searching regarding our own prejudices and biases. Perhaps in prayer, we ask Jesus to help us to see the “tarnished reflection of ourselves” so that healing may take place in us first. But he also wants to reveal our true reflection, so that we can see who we really are — someone precious, someone beautiful, someone for whom he was willing to die. If we do not see the true dignity in ourselves, it will always be difficult to see the true dignity in others.

We all know that it is complicated issue. But for true peace among all people to become reality, as challenging as is may be, in order for forgiveness and reconciliation to take place, the evil which has been done must first be acknowledged and, as far as possible, corrected.

A respect for truth is necessary. “Lying, untrustworthiness, corruption, and ideological or political manipulation make it impossible to restore peaceful social relations. Hence the importance of procedures which allow truth to be established. Such procedures are necessary but delicate, for the search for truth risks becoming a thirst for vengeance.

“To the requirement of truth there must be added a second: justice. For ‘forgiveness neither eliminates or lessens the need for the reparation which justice requires, but seeks to reintegrate individuals and groups into society, and States into the community of Nations.’ Such justice must respect the fundamental dignity of the human person at all times.” (The Church and Racism: Towards a More Fraternal Society, 2001, September 2001, n.11)

Reconciliation is also demanded. “No process of peace can ever begin unless an attitude of sincere forgiveness takes root in human hearts. When such forgiveness is lacking, wounds continue to fester, fueling in the younger generation endless resentment, producing a desire for revenge and causing fresh destruction.” (John Paul II, Message for World Day of Peace 1997, n.1)

Regardless of the challenges, the church must continue to proclaim the way of pardon because of her unshakeable confidence in the infinite forgiveness of God. Eliminating racism off the face of the earth may seem impossible for any one of us or even for the whole church. Therefore we place our trust and hope in the Lord. We pray for a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon us, the world and all societies, so that the fruits of the Spirit — joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness — may break down evil and violence, destroying the walls of selfishness, intolerance and hatred, thus building a world we have never seen before — the true Kingdom of God.


West River Catholic: February 2015

Enjoy the February edition of the West River Catholic!

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Open your heart to Jesus, he will do the rest

As (Jesus) drew near, he saw the city and wept over it, saying, “If this day you only knew what makes for peace — but now it is hidden from your eyes” (Lk 19:41-42).

These words make very real the heart of the season we are now entering. The words of Jesus can be very poignant as we pause for a moment and take in a glimpse of the world around us. What does Jesus see that would make him weep today? To name a few — a nation and culture which rejects God; violence of all kinds, often times in the name of religion; the great diminishment of the value of human life; the degradation of marriage in the culture

attempting to redefine it; a contraceptive culture; the great decline of traditional moral values; the millions of people who have rejected or walked away from the Catholic faith; and in so many ways, an indifference to religion and faith altogether. The list can go on. Ultimately Jesus weeps because, like during his time two thousand years ago, people of today have given up seeking a life of holiness.

Jesus wept over the tragedy of a lost opportunity. The people of the holy city of Jerusalem missed the opportunity to be saved because of their foolish decisions and their indifference. Their Savior came to their city, but they would not believe him nor accept him and all he was offering them. Today the time in history may be different, but is the attitude any different?

This is why each year the church, in this season of Lent, offers her people the opportunity to return to the Lord with our whole heart in a very intentional and deliberate way. This “Season of Grace” speaks to how much God favors us among all his creatures. As throughout all of human history, God tenderly seeks us out, invites us and gently admonishes us, all the while patiently awaiting our return to him wholeheartedly. He continually invites us into a close friendship — one like no other. In fact, Jesus literally “thirsts” for us.

This was the message given to Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta. The meaning of the words which Jesus spoke from the cross, “I thirst,” was revealed to Mother Teresa in September 1946, a message which was meant to be shared with the world. In a book written by Fr. Joseph Langford, M.C, he says, “Mother Teresa’s understanding of the thirst of God was entirely simple, yet, deep, powerful, and engaging. She learned that God not only accepts us with all our misery, but that he longs for us, thirsts for us, with all the intensity of his divine heart, no matter who we are or what we have done,” (“Mother Teresa’s Secret Fire” pg. 51)

For Mother Teresa, God’s thirst for us signifies a deep, intense desire for us. Since God lacks nothing, his “divine thirst points to the mystery of God’s freely chosen longing for man. Simply put, though nothing in God needs us, everything in God wants us — deeply and intensely, as he shows throughout Scripture.” (“Mother Teresa’s Secret Fire” pg. 51)

As we begin the season of Lent, perhaps it can be a time for all of us to reflect upon how much God desires us. Many do not know of God’s desire, of Jesus’ thirst. Jesus spoke to Mother Teresa in 1947, “They do not know Me — so they don’t want Me,” Fr. Brian Kolodiejchuk, M.C., (“Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light,” pg. 77) This could easily be said of people in today’s times.

In Mother Teresa’s “Varanasi Letter,”she wrote, “Not only He loves you, even more — He longs for you. He misses you when you don’t come close. He thirsts for you. He loves you always, even when you don’t feel worthy. Even if you are not accepted by others, even by yourself sometimes — He is the one who always accepts you.” (“Mother Teresa’s Secret Fire” pg. 55)

This perhaps can be the message of Lent to be shared with others. Talk about Good News! Mother Teresa shared, “My children, you don’t have to be different for Jesus to love you. Only believe — You are precious to Him. Bring all you are suffering to His feet — only open your heart to be loved by Him as you are, He will do the rest.” (“Mother Teresa’s Secret Fire,” pg. 55)

Blessed Mother Teresa, through her life and writings, invites all of us to believe in a God who never tires of seeking us out and forgiving us. If Lent is the “Season of Grace,” what better message can we reflect upon? What better message could be shared with others who have chosen to not be a part of our Catholic faith community?

During this season of Lent, I challenge the whole Catholic community to invite someone they know back to the place where Jesus is most present, the Eucharist. Jesus is weeping over the loss of their presence among us, and is waiting with open arms and a desire to love them. Yes, he thirsts for them in the same way he thirsts for us. Please share this Good News with as many as you can! It may change their life and yours! May you have a blessed Lenten season!


West River Catholic: January 2015

Enjoy the January edition of the West River Catholic!

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Why traditional marriage and families are important

The Sunday following the celebration of Christmas usually brings us the feast of the Holy Family. This feast gives families the opportunity to reflect upon the beauty of traditional marriage and the family as God has created it to be. The Son of God was born into a human family consisting of a loving mother and a dedicated father, a model for all family life since the beginning of time.

As we all know, family life, especially in the United States, faces many challenges today. Our secular culture unfortunately promotes many different forms of family life, oftentimes to the detriment of the children involved. But the church has always upheld the traditional family as the normative place for children to attain their fullest potential as human persons.

Pope Francis, in his Encyclical Letter, Lumen Fidei, writes that the Christian family is founded “first and foremost on the stable union of man and woman in marriage. This union is born of their love, as a sign and presence of God’s own love, and of the acknowledgment and acceptance of the goodness of sexual differentiation, whereby spouses can become one flesh (cf. Gen 2:24) and are enabled to give birth to a new life, a manifestation of the Creator’s goodness, wisdom and loving plan. Grounded in this love, a man and a woman can promise each other mutual love in a gesture which engages their entire lives and mirrors many features of faith. Promising love forever is possible when we perceive a plan bigger than our own ideas and undertakings, a plan which sustains us and enables us to surrender our future entirely to the one we love” (LF #52).

In the Instrumentum Laboris, the document prepared for the III Extraordinary Synod of Bishops, entitled “The Pastoral Challenges of the Family in the Context of Evangelization,” states that “one of the great  challenges of the family today consists in attempts at its privatization, running the risk of forgetting that the family is the fundamental cell of society. The (traditional) family is the source of the essential virtues for a life in community. Without the family, a person is unable to emerge from his individualism, since it is the only place to learn the power of love to sustain life, keeping men and women united,” (#33).

Recent studies show that almost all Americans honor the ideal of traditional marriage in theory but have become increasingly tolerant of departures from this ideal. This comes from a kind of “expressive individualism” that seeks both to give American adults utmost freedom to pursue their own desires and to enforce a public ideal of “tolerance” for family-related choices. This mindset has the greatest consequences for less-educated Americans, who according to studies are less likely to have a “marriage mindset” and live by norms that lead to strong marriages.

Studies also show that the outcomes in families with two married parents are better than those with only one. In

comparing children raised in single-parent families, children in families with two married parents are significantly more likely to steer clear of events that limit their future economic opportunities (i.e. criminal activity) and they flourish more in today’s labor market. A higher percentage of college graduates come from intact families where mothers have received degrees in higher education.

Paul Amato, president of National Council of Family Relations, notes, “Studies consistently indicate, however, that children in stepfamilies exhibit more problems than do children with continuously married parents and about the same number of problems as do children with single parents.”

We all realize that today cohabitation has become an increasingly common venue for bearing/rearing children. More than 40 percent of children will spend some time in a cohabiting household and 21 percent of children are born into cohabiting unions. Cohabiting families are most common in Middle

America and in poor communities. Studies clearly show that children do not fare as well in cohabiting households as they do in married families. Cohabiting unions tend to have less commitment, trust, sexual fidelity, more violence and less parental supportiveness than married unions. Cohabitation is now a bigger risk to children in the U.S. than divorce.

How does faith play a role in keeping marriages and families strong? Studies show that men and women who share a common faith are more likely to succeed in their marriages. God as the center of one’s marriage is the best religious predictor of marital quality. Those who attend church regularly are 35 percent less likely to divorce.

Faith, lived intentionally, opens one’s heart to the greater meaning of life and love as defined by Christ and his church. “The truth of love between a man and a woman,” according to Pope Benedict XVI, “can be only understood in light of the love of Christ crucified. Marriage based on an exclusive and definitive love becomes the icon of the relationship between God and his people and vice versa,” (Final Report of the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the Family, #19).

Pope Francis, in treating the connection between the family and faith, writes: “Encountering Christ, letting themselves (young people) be caught up in and guided by his love, enlarges the horizons of existence, gives it a firm hope which will not disappoint. Faith is no refuge for the fainthearted, but something which enhances our lives. It makes us aware of a magnificentcalling, the vocation of love. It assures us that this love is trustworthy and worth embracing, for it is based on God’s faithfulness which is stronger than our every weakness,” (LF #53; Instrumentum Laboris, #7). When faith is weakened, the foundations of life, family and society are weakened (LF #55).

Much more can be said regarding why traditional marriage and family express the mind of God and are at the very foundation of what makes up a good society. But lack of space for further reflection in this edition has won out. The family has often been referred to as a “domestic” church. As we begin a new year, perhaps all families can take the time to reflect upon their own family life from this perspective, praying the words of Pope Francis, “Holy Family of Nazareth, reawaken in our society (and our families) the awareness of the sacred and inviolable character of the family, an inestimable and irreplaceable good,” (From a Sunday Angelus in St. Peter’s Square, Rome).

May God richly bless your marriages and families.