Freedom for All

Jul 1, 2019

Dear Sisters & Brothers in Christ,

This week we celebrated, what is for some, a painful holiday. This is only made worse by those who are completely blind to this fact. I have been involved in one aspect or another of social justice all my adult life. I have come to realize that even when we might be very aware of one injustice, we can be totally blind to another. In fact, while we may be victims of injustice in areas, we can easily be perpetrators of injustice in another. If you doubt me, just look at economic injustice. A couple decades ago the United Nations wanted to better define the terms wealthy and poor. Could you put a dollar amount to them? After looking at the state of the world and the average daily income of the world’s population, they came to the startling realization that the division between the “haves” and the “have nots” had reached new proportions. They came to define as “wealthy - anyone who had more than they needed to survive.” As a religious who has taken a vow of poverty, under their definition, I have to define myself as wealthy. Even many of the people that you and I would define as “poor,” are wealthy by this definition.

Year ago, a friend of mine, who is an artist and a religious sister, asked me to photograph a series of her paintings. The paintings were done years ago when Pope John Paul II was speaking in Chicago. During a question & answer period a nun dressed in a pink blouse with a bow stepped up to the mic to ask a question. After introducing herself as a nun, the pope stopped her. He then said, “First go and put your habit on, then I will answer your question.” My friend was so upset over the clericalism that she began to paint. The paintings consisted of a field of clerical shirts with one pink blouse. In the next painting there were two pink blouses. In the next one every other torso was wearing a pink blouse, and then; in what was supposed to be the final painting, they were all pink blouses. She sat back to look at them, feeling that she had vented her frustration at The Church’s clericalism and the injustice of it all, when she was stunned by what she saw. Every torso was “white!” While she was pointing the finger, her own racism became evident. So, she painted another painting of people of varied races, the torsos were topless in order to show the many shades of skin. Again, she lined up the paintings to admire her work only to be shocked once again. The whole time she had been painting all these pieces, she had not once noticed that every single one of them was “young and fit!” Not only had she been guilty of racism, but agism as well. As she showed me the prints, one by one, she asked me what I saw and if I saw any issues. Needless to say, I too, had not noticed that all of the torsos were white, young and fit.        

It is easy to point the finger at injustice. It is also very important that we speak out against it. But in doing so, we need to be constantly looking in the mirror at our own blind spots. While we each want to be respected and treated with the dignity of a child of God, we must be prepared to treat others in the same way. As we celebrate independence and freedom, we must also reflect on the responsibilities that those freedoms impose. Those responsibilities include respecting the rights and freedoms of others. We must see the dignity in all people no matter their race, creed, ethnicity, sexual preference, age, appearance, economic status, mental status, health, intelligence, and the list goes on. Perhaps as you reflect on your own freedoms, and perhaps the injustices that you have suffered, ask yourself if you have been prejudice against some group? ...if you have put someone in a box? ...if you have prejudged someone by their appearance or behavior? Let us make sure that as we fight for our own freedom, we are not treading on anyone else’s.  —  I hope you had a great holiday!

In the Redeemer,

Fr. Rick