The year 2020 is turning out to be a year like no other in recent memory. As Catholic Christians, it is not difficult for us to descend into the vast abyss of constant social media consumption and never-ending news cycles telling us that every city in the country is being looted and is on fire because of racial injustice. They also tell us that our faith and the word of God should be kept out of the discussion and that we as Christians, especially Catholics, should simply be quiet because we have our own problems that are not pretty to look at. Even so, God has placed each baptized Christian in the world to be salt and light. Our divine assignment upon the earth is to speak with hope (in the person of Jesus) and to walk with purpose!
A worldwide pandemic has revealed fissures — cracks that heretofore were unseen — in our supply chains. This has broken open for all to see the inerrant weaknesses in our economy that are tied to the global economy. All of this has left many in the Body of Christ anxious and unsettled.
It can be a bit overwhelming for anyone, including people of faith. Even though many of us are still at home, some of us are busier than ever and have more stress, anxiety and depression now than before the pandemic. In addition, we are facing racial unrest and tensions precipitated by the unjust taking of the life of a black man named George Floyd in the streets of Minneapolis.
It is important, as people of faith, that we do not have our heads in the sand. We must resist the urge to take the position that as long as the pandemic has not touched me or my family or as long as the racial strife does not affect or threaten me or my family, I do not have to engage anyone about race or wearing masks or not wearing masks. We are compelled as Christ’s hands, feet and mouthpiece to stay informed and prayerful so that we are ready, as St. Peter instructs us: “Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope” (1 Pt 3:15).
A potential counterbalance to doing nothing is to take this moment of racial polarization and strife and do a review of our own views, attitudes and life posture in regards to race and race relations. A good exercise would be to look at our top 10 contacts and ask ourselves: Do all of my top 10 friends look like me? Do I belong to any clubs or organizations that have an unwritten policy or understanding that black and brown people are not welcome? It is good to cultivate a diversity of friends, for the Scripture is clear that Jesus was no respecter of persons. “There is no partiality with God” (Rom 2:11).
Second Chronicles gives a message of hope and good instructions for the People of God when they have serious things going on in a nation as we do today. This Scripture is God’s response to Solomon’s request to instruct him on what the people should do when they are in a bad situation. This Scripture is balm for us overwhelmed Catholic Christians today who struggle to know what to do. Here are God’s instructions for us in plain language: “If then my people, upon whom my name has been pronounced, humble themselves and pray, and seek my face and turn from their evil ways, I will hear them from heaven and pardon their sins and heal their land” (7:14).
The final Scripture to help us as the Body of Christ during these unprecedented times and to cause us to not lose hope while we do our part to work for justice and peace in our nation is Jeremiah 29:11-14. This Scripture is one of the foundational Scriptures of our ministry, Hope and Purpose Ministries. This Scripture summarizes the response of God (through the prophet Jeremiah) to the People of God when they cried out to God. They had not heard from God in more than 400 years. They were asking God, “Have you forgotten about us?” With so many things going on, we as God’s people want to cry out and ask God, “Where are you in all that we are going through in America right now?”
God says the same thing to us in the middle of this pandemic, in the middle of racial strife and in the middle of the nonstop news cycle telling us all of the bad news. He says to us what he said to our Jewish brothers and sisters in their time of travail. “For I know well the plans I have in mind for you … plans for your welfare and not for woe, so as to give you a future of hope. When you call me, and come and pray to me, I will listen to you. When you look for me, you will find me. Yes, when you seek me with all your heart, I will let you find me … and I will change your lot.”
Deacon Larry Oney is a permanent deacon for the Archdiocese of New Orleans and founder of Hope and Purpose Ministries (hopeandpurpose.org).