A Catholic Monthly Magazine

“And in what
I have failed
to do …”

By Bridget Taumoepeau

The “I confess ...” at the beginning of Mass reminds us of our sins. Maybe, as we grow older, the likelihood of ‘sins of omission’ is higher. During lockdown I became aware of the kindness of those who phoned, e-mailed, Facebooked etc., and also aware of my failure in those activities. For me the lockdown was a time of relaxation; of relief from some obligations; of quiet solitude; of catching up with well-overdue tasks. It was easy to slip into a selfish frame of mind, and to feel safe in my ‘bubble’, not caring as much as I should have done about others, who may have felt lonely or unsafe.

Since then, we have seen the terrible events of police brutality in the States, which has exposed the long history of racism in that country. Even that comment illustrates the fact that I, and many others, have not turned our minds to the obvious discrimination that has existed, and continues to exist. We should not have needed the death of George Floyd to remind us of this. Fr Matt Malone SJ, the Editor of America Magazine, wrote a very telling piece recently about the way that white people, while understanding and sometimes witnessing the blatant negative stereotyping of black people by many different agencies, have not acknowledged the other side of the coin – the fact that white people receive privileged treatment; that they do not have to fear being approached unfairly; asked to leave a hotel or restaurant; being challenged about why they are in a certain place; being stopped by police for trivial, or non-existent, traffic offences; of being manhandled and threatened, or of being shot while themselves unarmed. These examples are clearly from the States, but the principle applies to us here in Aotearoa/New Zealand.

Have we been judged, favourably, not by our character, but by the colour of our skin, as Martin Luther King expressed? Do we remain silent when we hear a friend or relative expressing derogatory comments based on colour or ethnicity? Do we still hold to the impossible idea that Jesus was white? Do we welcome the migrant and refugee with open hearts? Do we see beyond external appearances to the beauty of the person? Do we tend to generalise characteristics to everyone of the same race, just because we had a bad experience with one person?

So many questions to answer and our conscience to examine for what we have failed to do. Have we failed to remember that all are God’s children and loved by him; failed to welcome the stranger; failed to be open to the beauty of other cultures and traditions; failed to acknowledge that others’ ways of doing things may be as good, if not better, than our own; failed to judge others by their character and worth, rather than by the colour of their skin?  

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