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Archbishop Lori: Holy Spirit should shake out complacency over racism

Archbishop William E. Lori harkened back to the first Pentecost when the Holy Spirit shook the house where Jesus’ disciples had gathered and came with a fire of charity to consume every false idol.

“This Pentecost, let us ask the Spirit to shake our house – to shake us out of complacency over the pandemic of racism and to fill us with fiery determination to defeat this heresy and sin, and to do so with the truth and love of Christ, poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit,” he said.

The admonition came in the archbishop’s May 31 homily at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen in Homeland for Pentecost Sunday, considered by Catholics as the birthday of the church. Although some churches in the archdiocese opened for public Masses for the first time since mid-March, the cathedral, located in Baltimore City, was in one of a few jurisdictions that still restricted public worship, so the Mass was livestreamed for viewing.

“During these past weeks, I have referred often to the pandemic that has afflicted so many individuals, families and communities across the globe,” the archbishop said in the homily. “While we hope and pray that the coronavirus will soon loosen its grip upon us, on this Pentecost Sunday we must acknowledge another infectious disease that continues to plague our society, namely, the pandemic of racism.”

He said this pandemic has many symptoms, but is often epitomized by the death of George Floyd while he was being detained by a Minneapolis policeman. Floyd died after the policeman kneeled on his neck for more than eight minutes.

The archbishop said that the events in Minneapolis echo the crisis in Baltimore in 2015 after Freddie Gray died in police custody. He noted that the U.S. bishops, in a 2018 Pastoral Letter Against Racism, said that the interactions of many citizens, notably those who are brown and black, with the police “are often fraught with fear and danger.”

The archbishop acknowledged that those in law enforcement have a difficult job and face significant challenges in their duties. He welcomed the statement of Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael Harrison that “condemned, unequivocally, the killing of George Floyd and pledged to continue local efforts of law enforcement reform and renewal.”

On this feast of Pentecost, the archbishop called on the faithful to “acknowledge that we live in a society torn asunder by racism.”

“Loving others, loving our neighbor, cannot be an abstraction. Can we say that we love our neighbors while remaining indifferent to their plight? Can we say we love others as Christ has first loved us while pretending not to notice the grave inequities that are all around us? If ever we needed a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit, it is now,” the archbishop said.

He noted that the Gospel reading for Pentecost reminds us that before he left the earth, “Jesus breathed on the Apostles, saying, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them and whose sins you retain are retained.’” The love of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit allows victory over sin and death.

“But the reality of that victory does not take hold unless and until we acknowledge our sins and our failures; unless and until we take responsibility, not only for our personal sins, but also for our involvement in and indifference to the engrained injustice that surrounds us,” he said.

The Spirit enables us to be bold in witness to the truth and love of Jesus. No less than the early disciples who received the Spirit, we need to be bold and convincing witnesses of the Risen Lord.

“But our witness to the Lord’s redeeming love will be incomplete and deeply flawed, if it is clouded, wittingly or unwittingly, by racist assumptions, attitudes, or actions,” he said.

He encouraged all to educate themselves about racism, for example, by reading the most recent U.S. bishops’ Pastoral Letter Against Racism, “Open Wide Our Hearts: The Enduring Call to Love,” or the two pastoral reflections Archbishop Lori issued in 2018 and 2019 about the journey toward racial justice.

Video of Archbishop Lori’s May 31 Pentecost Mass follows; story continues below.

“With the help of the Spirit, let us seek to be wise and loving advocates of racial justice,” he added, noting that we must detect the “inflection of racism” in our hearts and ways of doing business.

“Let us not be afraid to ask if we are living up to what the Lord intended us to be. And let us not be afraid to make changes where change is needed,” the archbishop said.

Before the Mass, Archbishop Lori met with members of the local media to discuss the situation in Minnesota and other parts of the country and to talk about the reopening of churches.

He addressed the sorrow, shock and sadness that has gripped the nation over the killing of Floyd. That such injustice can still occur in the United States causes anguish and anger in all of us, especially since it was caused by those charged with upholding the laws and defending civil rights.

“I would say as a religious leader that we cannot espouse our faith, we cannot live our faith without addressing forthrightly the lingering pandemic of racism that is in our society and without defending the rights of the many people who have been harmed, as Mr. Floyd has been harmed,” the archbishop said.

He offered his sympathies to Floyd’s family and promised to renew efforts on his part and by the Archdiocese of Baltimore community “to address the scourge of racism, racism that poisons the minds and hearts not only of individuals, but indeed of our society and our community.

“We also continue to pray for peace in Baltimore and throughout our country. Understandably, there is tension in our city. Understandably, there is anger and there is anguish,” he said.

He commended those who maintain the safety of all as the community grapples with this issue.

“We recognize that the peace we seek demands the ongoing search for justice, and it demands that we, not for a moment, let up on our efforts to address and to eliminate racism,” Archbishop Lori said.

Answering a reporter’s question, he noted that in the U.S., we are free to speak and express our convictions, and it’s a good thing that people can express their thoughts and feelings, he said, “over what happened in Minneapolis and what has repeated itself far too often across our country. My plea is to do this thoughtfully and peacefully without the destruction of property or life – but to do it in a way that will bring about constructive change at all levels of law enforcement and in society at large.”

He also discussed the joy at being able to reopen some of the archdiocese’s parishes for public Mass. Parishes will be allowed to celebrate Mass at one-third of capacity only if the local jurisdiction is allowing religious services for more than 10 people and the parish has taken all the precautions necessary for sanitizing and maintaining social distance.

Noting that state and some regional guidelines allow for religious services at 50 percent of capacity, the archdiocese is being more conservative in its guidelines.

“I think it’s prudent to show extra caution because many of our churches do not allow for flexible seating; we have pews. And I think we don’t know quite what to expect as we reopen,” he said. “So, I think the decision was made that it’s better to open a little smaller, see how it goes. And then as we enter into a second phase, we can accommodate more people in our churches.”

He praised the clergy and religious and their co-workers for helping to keep their communities connected while Masses were suspended and for all the work they are doing to reopen safely.

“Conditions are very different as you move from place to place and parish to parish. What we have to keep front and center in our minds is the health of those we serve. And we recognize that a lot of people who would love to come to church are at risk,” the archbishop said.

He said parishes will be encouraged to continue livestreaming Masses to help reach those who are not yet comfortable returning to Mass, as well as the homebound, and those who may not come to church often even when there are no restrictions. “This is a wonderful way of bringing the Mass into their home. That said, there is no substitute for worshipping in person, no substitute for receiving our Lord in the holy Eucharist,” he said.

He said many people are eager to get back to church and he and his brother priests will be happy to see them.

“I’m very happy to see this day come. … While I certainly am glad to do the online livestream Masses, there’s no substitute for looking out and seeing God’s people, being with them, interacting with them. And, of course, sharing the Eucharist.

“As we move toward reopening, I’m very happy to see this day. But I also recognize there’s a lot of work that lies ahead of us,” the archbishop said.

Also see:

Bishops ‘sickened’ by Floyd’s death, say racism ‘real and present danger’

Email Christopher Gunty at editor@catholicreview.org