AUZENNE: Difficulties, joy and holiness in community conversations
October 12, 2021
In September 2019, a small group of parishioners at St. Ignatius of Loyola in Spring formed a group for people of faith who wanted to talk about race without fear or judgment. To guide their discussions, they studied the USCCB’s pastoral letter on racism, “Open Wide Our Hearts.”
Thanks to the persistence and persuasion of our group founder, Gloria Aldridge, “Community Conversations” has been blessed over the past two years with scholars, teachers and activists who have shared their expertise on topics such as the history of Chinese immigration in America, housing discrimination and its impact on generational wealth, and the experience of Native American children within the residential school system.
What began as a small group of committed parishioners has become a national, interfaith group of friends committed to authentic encounters. What we have done at St. Ignatius, I believe others can do as well. The secrets to our success:
• We follow in the footsteps of Jesus. The Lord was not afraid to encounter those who were racially, ethnically and religiously different from Himself. During His earthly ministry, Jesus frequently waded into the waters of racial politics: the Syrophonecian woman (Mark 7:24-30), the Roman centurion (Matthew 8:5-10), and the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:4-42), to name a few. In the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus gives His definite teaching on the subject of racial equality: a neighbor is not the one who looks or believes like us, but the one who accompanies those in need. (Luke 10:29-37)
• We got comfortable with being uncomfortable. When it comes to discussing race, most people are convinced that an awkward silence that maintains the status quo is better than a fraught conversation that will only make things worse. Unfortunately, this fear keeps us stuck in the very patterns that perpetuate misunderstanding and division. Avoiding difficult conversations may keep us comfortable, but it will not help us grow in holiness.
• We stepped out ourselves. When we are confronted by someone whose experiences are very different than our own, we are tempted again to see these stories as anomalies or artifacts from ancient history. But as the USCCB has stated in “Open Wide Our Hearts:” “As Christians, we are called to listen and know the stories of our brothers and sisters. We must create opportunities to hear, with open hearts, the tragic stories that are deeply imprinted on the lives of our brothers and sisters...”
• We have learned to listen deeply. Listening deeply is not a show of politeness; it is an act of love. To listen deeply is to open your heart and mind to receive another person’s story. It is to be mindful of the fact that the story has been shaped by experiences that are different than your own. It is to be respectful of the courage the other person is displaying by sharing their story with you.
This endeavor has not been easy. Our efforts have sadly been met with cynicism and suspicion by those who assume any discussion of race is “too political.” To those who have doubts, I quote St. Katherine Drexel, a saint who spent her life working for racial justice: “We must open wide our hearts. It is joy that compels us. Press forward, and fear nothing.”
To see a list of upcoming topics and/or register to join our next conversation, go to www.silcc.org/community-conversations. †
Amy Auzenne, MSW, MACE, is pastoral associate for Formation and Evangelization at St. Ignatius of Loyola Catholic Church in Spring.