Monday, February 06, 2006

Vanguard Bishop Strikes Again

First off, a Happy Black History Month to everyone.... Not that that's St. Blogs' favorite observance but, then again, tell me something surprising.

Don't be surprised if your local (love-challenged) rightward fringes start viewing Bishop Robert Finn of Kansas City-St. Joseph -- long a Loggia favorite -- with suspicion.

The good bishop's "transgression," you ask? Inviting his flock, and the wider church, to use the legacy and holiday of Martin Luther King as an occasion for examination of conscience.

Horrors, I tell you. Horrors.

(The traditional "orthodox authentic faithful magisterial" response to MLK is, of course, to foam up, grouse that homilies on racial justice are inferior to an extra-advanced run up to Roe Week -- and to completely ignore the King holiday.)

As I was taking a cab in Washington, D.C., recently, the driver - a man from Eritrea who identified himself as Greek Orthodox - saw my collar and asked me why there are not more black Catholics in my church. I was taken off guard by the question, but explained that "historically" more African-Americans belonged to Protestant Christian traditions. I mentioned that there were Black Catholics, and in some areas of the country the percentages are higher than in my own diocese.

I don't know if, in his heart or mine, that really answered the question satisfactorily. I must admit that the thought lingers with me and makes me wonder if we are doing what we can to listen to and welcome more of our African-American sisters and brothers. It may seem at times like a question we - black or white - need not spend time with. We all get busy with our more narrow daily concerns.

We know all too well from our American history that differences between races and cultures have given rise not only to division, but even to subjugation of one people by another.

The most abominable injustices of our beginnings, when the slave was not regarded as fully human, and as the property of another man, have been resolved. Mutual distrust, and many associated injustices linger to differing degrees. Many people still experience discomfort with persons who appear different, sound different, dress differently.

Of course, many self-anointed "faithful Catholics" still experience discomfort with -- or, worse still, mouth-foaming toward -- Catholics who appear different, sound different, dress differently than themselves. But that's another story for another day.

Preach, Bishop, go on....

Our faith, which professes the full dignity and worth of each person, is confronted with what is a learned response to stereotype various groups of people. We remain slow at relearning a natural readiness to accept the God-given goodness of others. To relearn we have to accept the basic challenge and get help with the "coursework." No one passes the test of life without preparation and effort.

We live in a country that has always been rich with diversity. The tendencies of human pride and greed tempt those who "have" to want to hold on to advantage and deny to others the same opportunities we have enjoyed.

We must choose to change this selfishness, and replace any distrust of cultural differences with an openness to the goodness and mystery we know - as followers of Jesus Christ - God has established as gift in every one of His sons and daughters. Human dignity, the sanctity of life, is the fundamental belief and unifying conviction that is capable of animating our choices to live together and love one another.

Like most changes that begin in the heart and eventually have to be chosen again and again in the will, we are in need of conversion. We might consider an honest, private examination of conscience to own the instances of our racial prejudice. Confession may be necessary, and its grace can heal.

Of course, coming from someone who, as a churchman as opposed to an ideologue, is much harder to pigeonhole than either his acolytes or detractors will admit, Finn's words actually have a chance of rattling some cages, as they can't be dismissed as "your usual liberal heterodoxy" by those who simultaneously coddle the most egregious, brazen and unapologetic dissenters of the last two centuries (who, ironically enough, keep their US headquarters in the good bishop's diocese).