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Dwell In My Love
A Pastoral Letter on Racism
by Francis Cardinal George, O.M.I.

1. Introduction: Dwelling Together

If you dwell in me, and my words dwell in you, ask whatever you want and you
shall have it. This is how my Father is glorified; you are to bear fruit in plenty and so be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you. Dwell in my love. If you heed my commands, you will dwell in my love, as I have heeded my Father's commands and dwell in his love. (John 15:7-10)

In this first year of the third millennium, we are called again by Pope John Paul II to open wide the doors to Christ and to the people of God in our midst. Acknowledging our sins, we continue the journey of conversion and reconciliation, which prepared the great Jubilee of the year 2000.1 As the Church, we are filled with the sanctifying love of the Holy Spirit; but, at the same time, we are a community, which "clasps sinners to her bosom, at once holy and always in need of purification."2 This pastoral letter will address one of the many sins which affect our relationships among ourselves and infect, as well, institutions within the Archdiocese of Chicago and in our society: the sin of racism.3

To address something, to speak to it, we have to recognize it. Growing up in Chicago, I first began to think about racism when, as a young boy, I left Chicago for a summer in Memphis and in Nashville, Tennessee. My parents permitted me to spend time with a Franciscan priest stationed in Tennessee, a priest who was not African American but who served black Catholics as their pastor.

The children with whom I played that summer were good companions and we became friends. Within the parish complex and the immediate neighborhood of my new friends' homes, only the priests and the sisters and I were white. The difference that skin color makes struck me forcibly, however, only when my friends took me to downtown Memphis. In Chicago, when I took the bus with my friends, we always rushed to sit in the very last seat, the long seat that permitted us to look through the back window of the bus as we moved forward. Although we would not have been able to explain it, we created our own space and had the feeling of surveying the bus and the street from a privileged vantage point. We struggled and jostled to sit in that last seat.

Sitting in the back of the bus had a very different connotation in a southern state governed by "Jim Crow" laws. When my friends and I got on the bus in Memphis, I rushed to the back of the bus, only to be told by the conductor that I could not sit there. What was worse, however, was that I could not sit with my friends anywhere on that bus. Thoroughly embarrassed, I did not much enjoy that afternoon in downtown Memphis and never afterwards got on a bus there. That evening, the Franciscan priest, who was so kind to me and such a good pastor to my friends, explained the "social customs" in Tennessee. For me, it was not so much an experience of inequality as of forced separation. For my friends, it was "the way things are."

When I got off the train in Union Station, arriving home from my summer in Tennessee, my parents asked me many questions about my weeks away from Chicago. When I talked about my experience on the Memphis bus, they explained that "Jim Crow" laws were wrong. They treated other people as inferior, and God made us all equally valuable. When I asked why we did not have any "Negro" friends, the answer pretty much was the equivalent of "that's the way things are." Both my father and my mother had African American acquaintances from work and other circumstances. They spoke well of them, but we never visited each other's homes nor went to one another's family celebrations or wakes. Nor was it any more thinkable in Chicago than in Tennessee that we would live in the same neighborhood. The teaching in my home and in my parish was good; the experience just didn't match the teaching. That gap is called "sin," sometimes personal and social, sometimes institutional and structural, sometimes all of these.


Before continuing with this letter, I would encourage each reader to ask when he or she first became aware of racial difference and of how they reacted to it. A Chicago businesswoman told me once, as a simple matter of fact, that she never wakes up in the morning without realizing immediately that she is a black
woman. How should the rest of us react to that fact of her consciousness? Why does our faith tell us that we are to "dwell together"?


God, the Creator
The book of Genesis reveals God as the Creator of a vast universe teeming with a rich diversity of plants and animals, surrounded by the sea and sky. The rising and setting of the sun and moon marks off the rhythm of creation's life. A God who's own being and goodness generated more being and goodness called creation into being separate from himself and yet intrinsically dependent upon him. United in the dynamics and mutual self-giving of their life as God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit create out of infinite love the universe and all that fills it. According to the book of Genesis, the culmination and high point of God's creative energy is the creation of the human race on the sixth day:

The 1979 U.S. Bishops' pastoral on racism teaches that "racism is a sin: a sin that divides the human family, blots out the image of God among specific members of that family, and violates the fundamental human dignity of those called to be children of the same Father."

God created man in his own image; in the image of God he created him; male and
female he created them…and God saw everything that he had made, and it was very good…(Genesis 1:27; 31).

Though God intended that all creation live in the harmony and love that unites it as one, human beings, exercising their free will, defied the will of God and replaced the divinely planned harmony with division, the divinely willed unity with conflict, the divinely intended community with fragmentation. One form of human division, conflict and fragmentation is racism: personal, social, institutional and structural. Racism mars our identity as a people, as the human race made in the image and likeness of God (Gen. 1:27).


Jesus, the Lord
Jesus, the incarnation of the eternal Son of God, entered human history two millennia ago. When Jesus came into the world, his people, God's people, the Jewish people, were a conquered people, often despised by their foreign rulers. Jesus gave us the means to find our way back to his Father, whom he taught us to call our Father. Jesus, the new Adam, went to his death on the sixth day to recreate us by redeeming us from sin and Satan. We are again to walk in unity, as one people enjoying the variety of plants, animals and human cultures, which constitute the world redeemed by Christ. Through his preaching and healing, through the pattern of discipleship he called people to follow, through his bodily resurrection from the dead, the Lord Jesus literally embodies for us a new way of life, which conforms to the will and reign of God. Jesus transcends, challenges and transforms everything that divides the human community (Gal. 3:28). He calls us back to a communion with one another, a unity, which reflects the communion of God's own Trinitarian life.


May they all be one as you, Father are in me and I in you. So also may they be one in us, that the world may believe that you sent me. The glory which you gave me I have given to them, that they may be one, as we are one; I in them and you in me, may they be perfectly one. Then the world will know that you sent me, and that you loved them as you loved me (John 17:20-22).

Racism, whether personal, social, institutional or structural, contradicts the purpose of the incarnation of the Word of God in the womb of the Virgin Mary. Racism contradicts God's will for our salvation. We cannot claim to love God without loving our neighbor (Mat.22: 34 ff.). Since racism is a failure to love our neighbor, only freedom from racism will enable us to be one with God and one another.5


The Holy Spirit
The vision of a community dwelling in God's unconditional and universal love may sound like an impossible dream, but in God all things are possible (Mark 10:27). The radical conversion needed to overcome the sin of racism is made possible by the Holy Spirit. Sent by the risen Christ, the Holy Spirit dwells in our hearts and in our midst to empower us to live truly as God's people. By the power of the Holy Spirit acting in us, we can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine (Eph. 3:20). Jesus assured his disciples that the abiding presence of the Spirit would empower them to be faithful:

When the Counselor comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father-the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father-he will bear witness to me. And you also are witnesses, because you have been with me from the beginning (John 15:26-27).

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