More Spiritual Reflections

Spiritual Reflections


Ash Wednesday Lenten Evening of Prayer for Racial Healing

Sr. Jane Snyder, IHM
IHM Center, Scranton, PA
February 21, 2007

Ash Wednesday Lenten Evening of Prayer for Racial Healing

"Be reconciled. . . Now is the appropriate time." "Be reconciled . . . Now is a very appropriate time."

Sisters, friends, today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of a season of reflection, repentance, and redemption. And the Scripture call is to be reconciled. ~ But reconciled to what or about what.

To be reconciled means to cause a person to accept something not desired. If that is so, and I believe it is, then this Lenten season calls us to think another way, to embrace discomfort, and to remain open to the healing God alone can do within us.

Today our congregation promulgates a statement against racism. In this, we stand shoulder to shoulder with our Oblate Sisters from Baltimore and IHM Sisters from Monroe and Immaculata in saying that racism is a sin and that racism is embedded in our congregation histories. We decry the division that sin created for nearly 150 years of our existence.

If we wish to embrace this statement and truly commit ourselves to the work of undoing racism, then we must first accept the single premise that racial healing cannot happen "out there" in our social work systems or judicial system or government / until racial healing happens "in here," in our hearts, our minds, our words, our actions.

Personally and corporately, we need to be truthful with ourselves. To be white in the United States is to benefit from a system of power and privilege. Whether we ever uttered a racist comment or held a racist thought, as white persons in this country, we have automatically benefited from the many racist practices that pervaded the founding of our country. The subjugation of Native Americans and the enslavement of kidnapped African peoples did, in the long picture of history, benefit whites that live here today.

I am sure you have said some of the same things I have said. "Color doesn't matter to me," "I treat all my students alike," "I don't notice color." / Sisters and friends, I am deeply challenged by the idea that my lack of consciousness is a real part of what fuels racism. Men and women of color "notice" their color every hour of every day. Their color does matter to them because too often it dictates the response of employers, salespeople, and co-workers.

There are a million sickening stories and photos to remind us of how ugly racism is. Actually, one of the prompts to writing the Statement against Racism came when the Oblate Sisters were offered the principalship of a consolidation of three schools in Baltimore that would be re-named Mother Lange Academy. What exhilaration they felt at this honor in spite of the fact that they no longer have many sisters who can take on such strenuous assignments. That joy was short-lived when they were confronted by parents who withdrew their children so they wouldn't be taught by "those nuns." And by a diocesan education office that reduced funding which has overburdened this important initiative. But what do we do, how do we respond when we hear our Oblate sisters recount stories that tell of being denied admission to religious congregations of the sisters who had taught them in elementary and high school because they were black, being offered burial property in the back, undeveloped sections of Cathedral Cemetery in Baltimore, or being demeaned by the comments of visitors as they sat on the porch of our own Marian Convent.

Let me suggest a starting point for all of us. Assume that racism is everywhere, everyday.

  1. Listen for it in your conversation or the conversations of others. How do you describe encounters with persons of color? Why do you think it is important to note that the person you dealt with was a person of color? ("Today, I was waited on by the loveliest black woman?" or "I saw the cutest little black boy!" Would you also say you were waited on by the loveliest white woman? Or "I saw the cutest little white boy!") 
  2. Check your feelings when you see a black man and white woman walking down the street hand-in-hand. What is the script running through your head?
  3. When you look at a piece of art that depicts Jesus or Mary as black or Asian, can you enjoy that expression of spirituality or do you feel it is diminishes some notion of what the sacred looks like?
  4. Have you given thought to the 700 mile fenced proposed for the U.S – Mexico border that is supposed to curb illegal immigration? Is it racist to make one ethnic group bear the onus of our broken immigration system because Latinos can be identified by skin color or facial properties? Are we just as concerned about the thousands of undocumented persons who look more like us?

Once again, let me emphasize, racial healing does not begin "out there;" it begins "in here." The late sixties produced this maxim: If you're not part of the solution, then you're part of the problem." Engaging in racial healing is, I suspect, a lot like recovering from alcoholism or a drug addiction. We need to admit our biases and humbly ask God to give us the courage to remove this fault. Chances are good that we will always be "recovering racists," struggling to be free of racist thoughts, abstaining from racist behaviors and taking opportunities to speak and act against racism. If we do not want to be part of the racism problem then we need to be part of the racial healing solution. Step One is self-awareness, which leads to repentance for past attitudes and the redemption of our very spirits, our souls.

Now is the appropriate time! Now is the time for us to unite our hearts and wills in confronting racism: our own racism, our IHM history's racism, our community's racism, our nation's racism. Now is the appropriate time to read more, learn more, hear more of the corrosive effects of racism. I would strongly urge anyone who hasn't been able to take advantage of the Oblate.IHM Reflective Workshop, "Reconnecting the Journey," to consider this alternative this summer. If you listen to the real stories of the Oblate sisters, your heart will be forever changed. On your Lenten reading list, you may want to include re-visiting a literary classic like To Kill a Mockingbird or read the newer novel, Secret Life of Bees to help measure your feelings about race. Or how about Eric Law's The Wolf Shall Dwell with the Lamb to gain some insight on power sharing in multicultural settings. Maybe it would be a good time to rediscover Margaret Gannon's Paths of Daring, Deeds of Hope, to reflect on some of the very poignant letters written by Theresa Maxis on her longing for reconciliation with the congregation, a move that was hindered by the fact that she was a woman of color. Or, if you prefer a video and you haven't watched the movie "Crash," see it. What a commentary on the good and bad in all of us.

There is no tomorrow on this, sisters and friends. If we are to reconcile our hearts, to accept the uncomfortable position of standing with and for those oppressed because of race, if we desire to move toward repentance of and redemption from our racial prejudices and biases, "Now is the appropriate time."