Racial Reconciliation: Sundays, from 4pm until the Line Ends.
Since moving to the DC area, I have been going to mass at a Church that is at least half Hispanic. Many parishioners don’t speak English as a primary language, if at all. Since I don’t attend services in Español—despite two semesters of Spanish, I am about as ignorant of the language as is humanly possible—I wouldn’t normally notice this fact. After all, I am nothing if not unobservant.
But confessionals can make it hard to avoid.
As I enter into the darkness of that imposing, creaky wooden box, and kneel down on the less-than-comfy pad next to the veil, I hear the priest on the other side greet me. Of course, he can’t see my Anglo-Saxon features. Even if there was no veil, the darkness alone would make it difficult to make out my race. So the words that meet my ears are utterly incomprehensible.
Suddenly I become aware of the sign above my head, one that I can just make out, that reads: “Spanish only.” I’m embarrassed, but also slightly confused; then I remember that this parish has a Hispanic priest whose English is still quite shaky.
“Um, I only speak English… is that okay?”
After a thickly accented voice haltingly reassures me in English that it won’t be a problem, I proceed with my confession. It has been too long since my last Reconciliation, and the encounter forces me to be vulnerable to a man that needs me to slow down, and even repeat, some of the things I would least like to dwell on.
What seems like an eternity passes before I have finally listed the last of my sins. A couple seconds of silence follow. I always feel a little uncomfortable at this point, but the experience of repeating and explaining (in more simple terms) my failures has made the process especially mortifying.
Then the familiar words come: “God, the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of his Son has reconciled the world to himself…” Suddenly all the guilt and embarrassment melts away, and all that is left is a deep, inner joy.
Well, one other thing is left. I can’t help but feel a connection to the man on the other side of the veil. For a moment, he became Christ to me. And that fact makes me feel something that is beyond friendship, or respect, or gratitude. In a strange way, I have a claim to his soul now, and he has a claim to mine.
I have no special knowledge regarding the recent rise in racial tensions. I do not know what it is like to be discriminated against because of my race. I have never had to navigate the fine line between enforcing the law and overstepping my authority. The last several weeks have been shocking, sorrowful, and frankly, incomprehensible to me.
However, maybe I found a small part of the answer the other day. In reconciling myself to God, I found a connection to a man that crossed racial and cultural boundaries. It was a little humbling, to be sure. Confessing sins—even under the seal of the sacrament—gives another power over you.
But perhaps that is exactly what we need to do. If there is one thing that has characterized political reactions to the shootings in Minnesota, Louisiana, and Texas, it is defensiveness. Each side is afraid that the other party will use these incidents as weapons against them. What if, instead of warily eyeing our opponents when these awful incidents occur, we admitted our brokenness and imperfection? What if we willingly gave others that power over us?
We might be disappointed, let down, or rejected instead of forgiven. So be it. Provided that there is something worth mourning about, it is better that we mourn without comfort than not mourn at all. And, given our human frailties, there will always be reason to mourn.
However, if we can find that connection, if we can find someone who will listen and forgive, then we will have forged immutable bonds between ourselves and our brothers and sisters of other races. In the sacrament of confession, we may have to haltingly and slowly explain our faults. We certainly have to expose ourselves. But we find a grace there that can obliterate our differences. Perhaps by imitating this process we can find reconciliation, not only with God, but with our fellow men.
Endnote: Background image found here.