As you walk around neighborhoods these days, it’s not unusual to see yard signs noting the resident’s support for various causes – even after the election season is over.
Signs note that the residents are “proud grandchildren of immigrants” or honor graduates in the home. “Black lives matter” placards are still common.
But a new sign the other day caught my eye while taking the dog for our early-morning walk. With hands of different races wrapped in the shape of a heart, the sign said simply, “Matter is the minimum.”
The point was made during protests last summer after the death of Black persons at the hands of police that “Black lives matter” – the sentiment, not the political movement – was putting an emphasis on lives that were at high risk. Sherita Thomas, interim director of the archdiocesan Office of Black Catholic Ministry, noted the “house on fire” analogy: If the firefighters come to my home because it is actively burning, their assistance to me does not mean that your home does not matter. It means that my home is at risk right now and needs attention right now.
In a similar way, after a string of attacks on Asian Americans last fall, many noted that the lives of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders were particularly at risk. Others have pointed out that unborn children have been legally at risk since the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision in 1972. Violence against first responders brought out “Blue lives matter” banners.
And so, some people bristled at those saying certain lives matter, responding with “All lives matter.” And, of course, all lives do matter.
But in their 2018 pastoral letter against racism, “Open Wide Our Hearts: The Enduring Call to Love,” the U.S. bishops noted: “Every racist act – every such comment, every joke, every disparaging look as a reaction to the color of skin, ethnicity, or place of origin – is a failure to acknowledge another person as a brother or sister, created in the image of God. In these and in many other such acts, the sin of racism persists in our lives, in our country, and in our world.”
If we truly believe as the church teaches – and as we know in our hearts – that every person is created in the image and likeness of God, then the sign in my neighborhood has it right: matter is the minimum.
We need to cherish and embrace all our brothers and sisters. In his 2019 pastoral reflection, “The Journey to Racial Justice,” Archbishop William E. Lori said, “Now more than ever, we need to be the servant leaders Jesus calls us to be, by acknowledging and sharing the burden of those who have for too long suffered from the sin of racism, as we move forward on this journey together.”
That’s the next step in the process toward healing, as the archbishop has established a coordinating council to spearhead implementation of recommendations to fight hatred and racism and prioritize equity and inclusion. Led by Bishop Bruce A. Lewandowski, C.Ss.R., the council will look at the work against racism in the archdiocese through the lenses of Catholic education, formation for priestly ministry, finance and parish life, for example.
The bishop notes, however, that such a process is not a quick fix. Racism has been woven into the fabric of our country for centuries; that’s what makes it “systemic.” Addressing the problem requires thinking creatively and praying unceasingly.
It includes talking to some of the people and organizations that have already been working on this problem, who have seen the “blessings” and “blunders” of such efforts, Bishop Lewandowski said.
None of this is possible without first acknowledging that people more than matter. God did not send his Son simply that we would exist, he “came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly” (Jn 10:10).
Abundant life is the minimum for which we should strive.
Email Christopher Gunty at editor@CatholicReview.org
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