Bread in the Wilderness

Father Carl Diederichs

All Saints Catholic Church

The “Church,” over the centuries has viewed the “world” in many different ways: For many, even today, they would see the church as wanting to control the world, politically. They would see the world as a “theocracy” in which their religious views would dominate the society. On the other hand, there are those, even today, who want the church to withdraw from the world and its politics and live a tranquil life away from the issues of the day. This view can often portray itself as being above “dirty” politics. They are fond of calling politicians corrupt.

Martin Luther King spoke about this issue and came down on the side of seeing the church as an active participant in the life of the world. King saw the church as a prophetic voice in a world that is corrupted and geared toward the success of the wealthy and white members of the society. The church, for King, was to work for change with a vision of a just world in which color and class didn’t matter and all God’s children received the same treatment.

Many in the church don’t agree, even today. We need only to look around and see whether or not the church is engaged in the fundamental fight for racial and social justice. I think we can pretty much agree that it is missing in action. As King put it, “All too often the religious community has been a tail light instead of a head light.”

And this reality flies in the face of our biblical vision of the people of God in the world. At the heart of the biblical message is a vision of God who loves the world and wants its healing and transformation.

King spent his adult life working for the transformation of society. He spoke about racism, segregation and poverty and how this was against the very nature of God.

Today it seems like our religious leaders are not leading. How long has it been since our own church has spoken forcefully about Milwaukee’s racial segregation? How long has it been since our religious leaders spoke about the violence and needless death on the streets of the central city? How long has it been since our religious leaders addressed the economic disparity so obvious and so sinful?

I know that the Catholic Church in Milwaukee is mostly a “tail light.” The ravages of poverty and racism ought to be the central focus of our church and it is not. I sometimes say that Pope Francis can’t stop speaking about social justice and others can’t seem to start.

The challenge is for all of us to engage in the struggle for racial and social justice without counting the cost. Our role is to make this city a reflection of the “culture of God.” “I will search for the lost and bring back the strays…but the sleek and the strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice.” (Ezekiel 34: 16).