If we believe God has given us all equal dignity, racism is calling him a liar

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Father Joshua Laws, pastor of the Catholic Community of South Baltimore, holds a “Black Lives Matter” sign before tan interfaith prayer vigil in Baltimore on June 3, 2020. CNS photo/Tim Swift, Catholic Review

I grew up as a seasonal Catholic. My family attended Mass on major holidays or when my Catholic primary school required it. My younger sister and I were two of the four Black people in our entire Catholic school. I rarely felt the sting of microaggressions or blatant racism, but there was always an ache for a community of people that had my same background. I would be remiss if I didn’t say that there were many times I felt like I didn’t belong in my primarily white community. Through the grace of God, I had a reversion my junior year of high school, went to a Catholic college and moved to Denver, where I was a youth director for three years.

Chenele Shaw

Throughout these experiences, and as I continued to grow as a Black Catholic woman, I’ve realized that the ache I felt as a child is more real now than ever. We are now in a time when we are recognizing the blind spot that exists within the Church. We are seeing my brothers and sisters cry out to be recognized and loved authentically — not just as children of God, but as unique and unrepeatable children of God.

Our cultural uniqueness is a beautiful part of the Church’s universality, and it is not only important but necessary. As we grow in recognizing this blind spot, I am grateful now more than ever to be a part of my Catholic community.

This past year has been especially challenging. We have consistently been confronted with violence, politics and confusion.

What is the role of the Church in this? What is our role?

This may be challenging to grasp for some, because we as Catholics too often have aligned ourselves to believe that racism is solely a divisive political issue.

Rather, I would like to propose something else to you. What if racism is a pro-life issue? What if practicing racial reconciliation is not only orthodox but consistently so?

As Catholics, we are called to be zealous in how we defend life at all stages and at all times. It’s not a matter of being liberal or conservative. We are called to defend life because we belong to one another.

I recall one Sunday in 2020, shortly after racial protests began, where I had to excuse myself from Mass. I couldn’t handle it, and it seemed insincere for me to be there. As I sat in the pew at Mass, I was flooded with the stories of Black and brown people who I’ve met. Black and brown Catholics. People who have left the Church, been dismissed, gaslighted and ignored.

I have been feeling my heart break from disappointment, hopelessness, anxiety and rage. Racism is a sin. It deeply offends the heart of God. All of us were given dignity and respect, but racism asserts that only some of us deserve that dignity and respect. Racism is calling God a liar.

Black lives are sacred. Black lives aren’t a partisan issue. Black lives aren’t a trend. Black lives shouldn’t merely be integrated into your parish. Black lives shouldn’t just be a one-day parish event. Black lives shouldn’t just be one speaker you invite for a sensitivity talk.

Racism is a sin where prejudice and power marry. Call out this sin for what it is. Continue. Keep going.

I’m leaning into the hearts of Jesus and Mary and carry those whose stories I’ve heard with me. I pray that I will keep showing up — and that you will, too.

So what can you do to help combat the sin of racism? Diversify your content, invite new voices, and listen. Listen to those around you who live this experience, and pursue a change of heart and practice in your own life. Pursue that change with zeal! I am praying for a revival, and I am grateful to be a part of the conversation.

As a black Catholic woman, I have hope for us as a Church because I know that, in a Gospel sense, hope is all we have. Hope offers us freedom to live life intentionally and live every day with purpose. So I am holding on to it. Please pray for me and my Black and brown brothers and sisters!

We’ve been here. We don’t just merely matter. We are sacred.

I am praying for you!

Chenele Shaw is a co-host of the “Ave Spotlight” podcast for Ave Maria Press.