Social Justice: In Christ there is no East or West
By DeKarlos Blackmon
Many decades ago, so many “church-going folks” supported segregation and Jim Crow laws during the Civil Rights movement. Unfortunately, in this contemporary age, in this great country, we sometimes find each other wrapped around the rhetoric of “who belongs” and “who does not belong” among us. The wrangling of government officials and political pundits over immigration policies has come to polarize communities to the point that some people appear to have lost the concept of what it means “to do justice and to love goodness, and to walk humbly with God” (Mi 6:8).
Since my arrival to the Diocese of Austin, I have had the distinct privilege to participate in liturgies and celebrations at various parishes that exemplify great richness of different cultures and that illustrate impressive diversity among the people of God. We are called to bring alive the challenge of the Gospel that all may be one, which is especially important for the church in the U.S. as it prepares for the Third African National Eucharistic Congress, V Encuentro, and the National Black Catholic Congress XII. St. Paul reminds us succinctly, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is not male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:28).
I love the old hymn, “In Christ There Is No East or West” because it conveys a truth that secular society sometimes persuades us to forget. The hymn identifies us as “one great fellowship of love throughout the whole wide earth.” And the Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us and emphasizes that we cannot belong to Christ without being a part of the whole Body of Christ (166). As followers of Christ, we have a moral obligation to dedicate our lives to employ the eternal teachings of Christ to resist and counter the very social sins of prejudice and racial discrimination. The Gospel demands that we care for and stand with newcomers (Faithful Citizenship, 81). We are called to “welcome the stranger” in mercy and love.
Ministry is definitely not convenient, and sometimes our ministry may not be as pleasant and as easy as we would like, but Christ never said taking up the cross and following him would be easy. Still, we must endeavor to seek to triumph over the adversity presented to us by the world by standing for all that is right and just for all people. We must extend the right hand of fellowship and support to all persons without regard to race, ethnicity, age, or gender. We must continue to bring about those real moments of encounter in a spirit of hospitality, humility, love, mercy and service.
I will close with comments from one of my heroes in pastoral ministry and liturgy, the late Franciscan Sister Thea Bowman. As a small child, Sister Thea planted some seeds in me that have made an enormous impact on my life — and my own exercise of pastoral ministry decades later. Sister Thea reminds us of our responsibility to each other through the following words:
“The quest for justice demands that I walk in ways that I never walked before, that I talk and think and pray and learn and grow in ways that are new to me. If I’m going to share faith with my brothers and sisters who are Chinese or Jamaican or South African or Winnebago Indian, I’ve got to learn new ways, new means, new languages, new rituals, new procedures, new understandings, so I can read my brother’s heart, so I can hear my sister’s call, and I can live justly.”