Fr. Mike Schmitz sits down with Fr. Josh Johnson to discuss racial division in the Church and how Catholics can strive to restore unity in the Body of Christ. Fr. Josh emphasizes that he is not infallible, so it’s okay to disagree with anything he says that doesn’t lead you closer to Christ, but he hopes this conversation bears fruit in your walk with Jesus and within the body of Christ.
Many members of the Church want to know what they can do during these turbulent times. Fr. Josh gives four practical pieces of advice: listen to learn, use specific language when speaking with each other, act as one Body in Christ, and join in the suffering of Jesus to make reparation for others’ sins.
Listen to Learn
“Know this, my dear brothers: everyone should be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath …”James 1:19
Seek out other members of the Body of Christ who, perhaps through policy or common practice, experience discrimination, and intentionally listen to them. Fast from speaking. We were given two ears and one mouth. Listen not only to those around us who are willing to share their experiences, but also listen by consuming published works. Read books, watch documentaries, and listen to podcasts to better understand the history of racism in the United States (or your country). Take diligent notes, even if we may not agree with everything we see, hear, or read. Then, take the notes to prayer and apply the steps of lectio divina. Lean into these relationships intentionally, consistently, listen well, and then act together after listening.
Use Specific Language
Fr. Mike asks, as a person who doesn’t like to bring stuff up, is it rude or too risky to say to someone, ‘Hey, let’s talk about race and racism?’ Father Josh responds no, but points out that language is important. Choice of words makes a difference, and it’s more important to speak with truth than to speak in euphemisms. He gives the example of southern plantations that have been presented as places of beauty and repose. While one might be tempted to say, “what a beautiful plantation,” it would perhaps be more true to point out, “No, it’s a slave labor camp.” We don’t go to Auschwitz and say it’s beautiful, we call what happened there evil. By calling it what it is, we are reminded to decry and repent for the evil actions that happened in those places.
Fr. Josh points out his belief that racism has a demonic stronghold in the United States, and that it’s impossible to beat an enemy that hasn’t been exposed to the light. We can’t heal wounds or overcome evil by using generic words. Using specific language enables us to name the wounds, claim them, to then heal them through Jesus.
Ultimately, when speaking about race, we might say the wrong thing and offend someone, but it’s okay. It is better to try and to fail, taen to have never tried. If we mess up, we can repent and apologize. Jesus us wants us to be one. If we never speak up, we will never be able to bring about the unity which he died for.
Unity in the Body of Christ
“That they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”John 17:23
“If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.”1 Corinthians 12:26
We need each other. We have to be able to look at someone and say, “That person is the Body of Christ.” If you struggle, pray the Litany of the Body of Christ, especially towards the people with whom we struggle. “[Insert name] is the Body of Christ.”
When we pray in this way, we then change the way we look, hear, and treat each other. When we recognize we are all the Body of Christ, we then have to reverence and do everything we can to be in right relationship with each other, just as we do Jesus.
Join in Christ’s Redemptive Suffering
“I am now rejoicing in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church.”1 Colossians 1:24
We are invited as Catholics to make reparation for each other. There can’t be reconciliation without repentance and reparation. Fr. Josh states, “I want to make it right so Jesus Christ can experience consolation in his heart. He will only experience [consolation] when we imitate him and take on stuff we never did for the sake of the Body of Christ being restored, renewed, and reconciled.” We are not powerless, because we can always join in Christ’s redemptive suffering. This also reminds us that this isn’t someone else’s problem, and that we are united as one body.
As intentional disciples of Jesus Christ we need to pray, fast, listen, and collaborate. We need to imitate Jesus and invest in relationships with others, especially those who are not like us. As we grow in listening, relationship, unity, and redemptive suffering, we can then use our charisms (supernatural gifts given at baptism) to transform minds and hearts through the Sacred Heart. Through transformed hearts and minds, we can work to change the world in which we live.
Meet Fr. Mike Schmitz
Fr. Mike Schmitz serves as Director of youth and young adult ministry for the Diocese of Duluth and as chaplain for the Newman Catholic Campus Ministry at the University of Minnesota-Duluth.
Meet Fr. Josh Johnson
While Fr. Josh was raised Catholic, he didn’t like the Church growing up. Then, one day in adoration, he fell in love with Jesus and received the call to become a priest.
Now, Fr. Josh is the pastor for Our Lady of the Holy Rosary Catholic Church in Louisiana, and he is a presenter in three of Ascension’s programs: Altaration, YOU: Life, Love, and the Theology of the Body, and The 99 as well as the author of Broken and Blessed: An Invitation to My Generation.