This past week, I was asked to give a talk for the Diocese of Arlington on racism. It was titled Responding to Racism: Understanding, Conversion, Action. The Bishop of Arlington has done a lot of work to try to create greater dialogue within his diocese about the issue of racism. How to understand it and how to fight it. If I have not told you this before, you should know that I hate giving talks. This stems from my childhood insecurities. Even homilies cause me a lot of anxiety. While it is not as bad as it once was, it still strikes at times and leads me to avoid giving talks outside of Mass, unless absolutely necessary. I share this with you so you can pray for me. And to reassure others who, like me, suffer from the same weakness. Yes, I am glad for this, for in 2 Corinthians 12:9 it says, “But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. “
When the head of the Diocese of Arlington Catholic Charities called and asked if I would be willing to give this talk, I felt fear and trepidation well up from within me. Then I heard the Lord encourage me saying that I should give this talk. Just before he called, I had been explaining to some of the summer helpers why so many people were marching, why they were angry, and what we were called to do to fight the evil of racism in all its forms internal and external. So it seemed to me to be Divine Providence that I would then receive a call right after this from a man I did not know, to give a talk in a diocese not my own, on a topic that I have only touched upon in homilies and conversations.
I knew that many who would be watching would personally not be from a minority community. Some were going to attend or watch online so that they might understand better the problems that were causing racism, injustice, and oppression in our society. Others already had their minds made up. They were either very supportive or very angry at what they thought was a non-issue causing unrest. I knew I needed to find a way to address them all and to try to crack open hearts and minds so that the Lord might use me to help them to understand the evil that confronts us as a church and as a society, and how we are all called as brothers and sisters in Christ to shine forth the light to fight it.
I spent time in prayer and study and even got significant aid from a very informed friend. I am not sure how it turned out in the end. I know all 100 seats in the gym were reserved in a short amount of time. And that over 1,100 people watched online. There were so many questions coming in I was told they would have to email me the rest due to the short time allowed for questions. Many came up to me afterwards to comment or to tell me their stories with racism. Some said they understood better. Others said they were challenged to do more, and still, others were happy to hear their own experiences (even in the church) affirmed.
In the end, only the Lord knows how well these seeds will flourish in each of their hearts. All I can do now is pray that I spread them far and wide and that they will find good soil in which to grow and bear fruit. Please pray for this weak vessel of the Lord, that my fears do not keep me back from preaching the gospel in season and out when it is easy and when it is hard. Pray that as we approach what feels like the most contentious election of my lifetime, I will be able to boldly preach the fullness of the gospel and that we all have ears and hearts open to receive it and let it grow within us and bear fruit that will last.
Your Brother and Father in Christ,