Msgr. Ray East, pastor of St. Teresa of Avila Church in Washington, speaks during a prayerful protest after the death of George Floyd. CNS photo/Bob Roller

Luke Stocking: The mystical body needs anti-racist action

  • June 26, 2020

The killing of George Floyd by a police officer and the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement to end white supremacy and systemic racism led me to reflect on an early memory I have from my journey of work towards being an anti-racist Catholic.

When I was in Grade 10, I travelled to Hartford, Conn., on a Habitat for Humanity trip with my high school, St. Mary C.S.S. The project sites we volunteered at were in the impoverished north end of the city. The population was pre-dominantly African American.

Our own group of students reflected the diversity of our school, located just east of Toronto in Pickering, Ont. There was not the dynamic of white youth “serving” people of colour. However, the dynamic of predominantly middle-class youth volunteering in an American inner city was something I felt, and it made me feel uncomfortable.

My response to that discomfort was to try and pretend the dynamic did not exist. I remember bristling a little bit at safety measures our teachers implemented (like not being able to wander away from the worksite during break time). I found my journal from the trip and discovered this passage: “Sometimes I felt like we were penned in. Yes, we worked together. We taught each other. We learned and we helped — from the safety of our pen. I don’t disagree that there could be danger. But what about them? What do they think looking at us? Can they feel the energy that seems to say ‘hey look, we built you a house! don’t hurt us alright? We want to help but we are a little afraid of you  OK?’ ”

My chaplain helped guide me through some of these feelings in our group discussion. He also invited a man named Chris Doucot from the Hartford Catholic Worker to meet with us. His community is part of the Catholic Worker movement started by Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin.  It describes itself as “a lay community of Catholics, and like-minded friends, living in the north end of Hartford, working and praying for an end to violence and poverty.”

He spoke to us about the mystical body of Christ. This was something that as a cradle Catholic I had either not been told about or had not paid attention to when I was. He spoke at length about the importance to the mystical body of Christ of those who suffer impoverishment and oppression. He spoke about a God who not only cares for the poor and oppressed, but who actively identifies with them and takes their side in their struggles.

My defences flew up. “What about me?” I thought. Rather than listening and seeking to understand, I immediately made it about myself. I raised my hand and challenged him, “Are you saying that because I am not poor and oppressed that I am not as special to God? Aren’t I a part of the mystical body too? Isn’t God on my side too?”

In answer to my challenge, Doucot confirmed that yes, I was part of the mystical body. He explained that it is precisely because of this fact that I had an obligation to side with the poor and oppressed in their struggle for justice. Therefore I must strive to end my own complicity with injustice.

If we are part of the mystical body of Christ, how can we reject or ignore a part of our body when it is suffering? If something is wrong within the body, why would we not seek to heal it? St. Paul says, “If one member suffers, all suffer together with it” (1 Cor 12:26).

The message struck deep enough that I ended up spending time at the Hartford Catholic Worker that summer and the Catholic Worker movement became a major source of my spiritual development.

When I think about the immaturity of my initial response to Doucot, it reminds me of the immaturity of those who respond to “black lives matter” by protesting that “all lives matter.” As one meme on the Internet aptly points out — no one said “all lives matter” before someone said “black lives matter.” It is a purely defensive reaction that refuses to listen or understand.

Following Jesus towards anti-racism requires white Catholics in particular to drop the defensive weapons they hold onto when they are challenged. These weapons that only serve to perpetuate the status quo of white supremacy and systemic racism.

In 2017, Doucot co-authored a book entitled No Innocent Bystanders: Becoming an Ally in the Struggle for Justice. To encourage people to persevere in the often difficult work of becoming an ally, he explained the reason for doing so. “It is not for the approval of friends or family. It is not for the approval of people who are marginalized! Rather, it is a faithful turning toward the call of God. It is a turning toward who we, ourselves, are called to be.”

(Stocking is Deputy Director of Public Awareness & Engagement, Ontario and Atlantic Regions, for Development and Peace)

Comments (0)

There are no comments posted here yet

Leave your comments

  1. Posting comment as a guest. Sign up or login to your account.
Attachments (0 / 3)
Share Your Location

Please support The Catholic Register

Unlike many media companies, The Catholic Register has never charged readers for access to the news and information on our website. We want to keep our award-winning journalism as widely available as possible, which has become acutely important amid the ongoing COVID-19 crisis. But we need your help.

For more than 125 years, The Register has been a trusted source of faith-based journalism. By making even a small donation you help ensure our future as an important voice in the Catholic Church. If you support the mission of Catholic journalism, please donate today. Thank you.