The Official Newspaper of the Diocese of Little Rock

Jesus Christ expects the Catholic Church to be inclusive

Published: February 1, 2023   
Bishop Anthony B. Taylor

I was ordained a transitional deacon in 1979 and spent the following summer serving at a parish in the highlands of Kenya. 

As a deacon I could celebrate the sacrament of baptism and so the first 49 baptisms that I ever celebrated were in Kikuyu, the local language. I would pour the water and say, “Ninakubatiza na r?twa r?a Ithe, na r?a Mwana, na r?a Roho M?theru” and then the catechist would say everything else. 

While there I had a powerful experience which was for me a great epiphany. I discovered that though Kenyans were black, they acted very differently from African Americans. This opened my eyes to racial expectations I was still carrying around inside me. Also, living in our area was an African American from Holly Springs, Miss., who had come to Africa to find his roots, and by the time I met him was dealing with the same reality. He had a lot more in common with me than he did with people who looked more like him but were completely different culturally. And I had more in common with him than with the Italian and Spanish priests I was with. We were both Americans.  

This epiphany helped me to begin to think differently, which is the purpose of any epiphany. Once the early Christians understood what John the Baptist meant in today’s Gospel when he called Jesus “the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” they realized that to follow Jesus, we've got to think differently, becoming ourselves an epiphany of Jesus’ ongoing reconciling presence in our world. And as Catholics we are well positioned to do just that. 

"This human dimension is what is missing in our national discourse, especially given the hateful sentiments and fearmongering that have so poisoned our national discourse these last couple of decades."

For one thing, we Catholics expect people of different ethnicities to be able to worship together routinely without it being a big deal. We do not always live up to the best that is in us, but we do know that Jesus expects us to include everyone because we are a single family of believers. All are welcome.

Jesus is calling us to do everything we can to open the eyes and hearts of our nation. And the best way to do this is by putting people in touch with the human side of the issues we face, which is the approach that Dr. Martin Luther King took. It is one thing to talk about racism in the abstract, but quite another to go to the museum at Central High School and see photos of grim-faced teenagers enduring taunts as they tried to go to school and photos of terrified adults being attacked by dogs in Selma. By putting a human face on these events, these photos appeal to our hearts, which is where conversion occurs. 

The same is true for other issues we face. Take the refugees and asylum seekers at our southern border and the inhuman conditions that our country forces these people to endure — people desperate to find a way to protect and provide for their families. We are the richest country in the world, and we have a shortage of workers and many jobs available. 

Moreover, most Americans are the descendants of immigrants, many of whom came here in desperate circumstances, and now we would deny others entry? Most African Americans did not immigrate voluntarily, but for that very reason know a lot about injustice and desperate circumstances and lack of respect We all know what Jesus would say about these things. And for that matter, Dr. King! This human dimension is what is missing in our national discourse, especially given the hateful sentiments and fearmongering that have so poisoned our national discourse these last couple of decades. 

By putting a human face on the injustices people suffer today, especially the racial disparities in every measure of wellbeing, which the Black Lives Matter movement emphasizes — we can enable the teaching of Jesus, and the teaching of Dr. King, to continue to make a difference today. Our country is shrouded in a darkness of spirit more cruel than that of the society 2023 years ago into which God has sent us a Savior to break the power of sin and death. This Savior now invites us to pour ourselves out completely, like he did to continue his as-yet-unfinished work of building his kingdom of truth and justice, in our world today.

Bishop Anthony B. Taylor delivered this homily Jan. 14 for the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Mass in Little Rock. 

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