Years ago, a friend of my told me that he had always admired the Catholic religion. In my faith tradition, he related, we have Orthodox Jews, Conservative Jews, and Reform Jews-it’s like left, center, and right field at a baseball game. It’s very confusing. You Catholics have one big tent that contains everyone.
That thought has been very reassuring to me over the years. Particularly when entertaining Catholic views that are different than mine.
Lately, I’m starting to wonder just how big our tent can, or should, get. And just that thought alone worries me.
I chair the SVDPUSA Systemic Change Task Force. Last year that group, along with our Multicultural/Diversity Committee, put together a series of webinars dealing with race and the vestiges of systemic disenfranchisement of black communities. The journey through the series began with personal stories and experiences, moved to an examination of conscience, and waded into the difficult issues of how today’s poverty ties back to those original societal sins.
This was difficult material. And it caused great personal pain for many participants-participants of all races and ethnicities. Nevertheless, it was the most well attended series of webinars we have ever held. In total, more than two thousand people participated in at least one of the sessions. Most of the comments offered in the chats were supportive and reflective. But not all.
As you could expect, there were some who allowed their discomfort to become anger. Some were even offensive. My counsel to the team, during the debrief, was that our organization did not have room for people holding those views. Vincentians, in particular, and Catholics in general, should be above the fray. Our teaching on social issues should instill love for each other and not allow us to be dragged into the ideological fears and anger so common in today’s world.
As I reflect on those sentiments, a year later, I ponder just how big our tent should be. Does the Catholic faith have room for people who sincerely feel that the racial problems in our society have already been healed? Who vehemently offer that they are not racist, so there is no problem? That we should not discuss these topics because they make people feel uncomfortable?
In the 2018 document Open Wide Our Hearts: The Enduring Call to Love – A Pastoral Letter Against Racism the US Bishops clearly state, “…too often racism comes in the form of the sin of omission, when individuals, communities, and even churches remain silent and fail to act against racial injustice when it is encountered.”
We all sin. And, thank God, we don’t get thrown out of the tent because of it. We can be forgiven when we confess. But some of us take longer to come to the confessional than others. And, again, thank God, he is patiently waiting for us to come to the reality of our sins.
At another national Catholic event on poverty, a national speaker was seeming to blame the poor for their plight. I couldn’t listen to it and walked out in a huff, bumping into a friend. When I complained about the speaker and the group that brought him to the conference, my friend gave the advice I needed to hear. “God loves him. And he wants you to love him too.”
If Pope Francis says “Who am I to judge?”, shouldn’t I feel that same way? I guess I need to keep praying that my tent can be as big as God’s.