By Sister Janet M. Peterworth, OSU

As I write this, I am sitting on the balcony of my apartment. It is peaceful here, even pastoral. But my soul is not peaceful. My heart is breaking! Breaking over all the things going on in our country and city and community. My heart breaks for the loss of four of our sisters. My heart breaks because we cannot celebrate their lives as we usually do. It breaks because their families and friends—many former students–cannot hear the stories we tell both funny and touching. Neither can we hear what our sisters meant to them in other settings. It breaks my heart.

My heart is breaking for the frail Sisters at both Nazareth Homes who cannot have visitors and who have been displaced from the familiar places and routines that give them comfort. One day bleeds into the next, and they all seem the same … and are the same. This isolation is debilitating and depressing. The sudden moves to hospitals and new rooms did not even allow time to gather necessities or reading materials or music. It had to be quick and efficient.

My heart breaks because we cannot participate in our “Liturgy and Lunches” or “Mass and Meals” or community conversations or Taizé Prayer. We cannot get together for potlucks or birthday or holiday celebrations.

My heart breaks for over 100,000 people in the United States who have been lost to this unprecedented plague. It has left me confused and sad and uncertain. How can this be in our day? Yes, it happened in history books long ago. I’ve read about plagues in Saint Angela Merici’s day, in Charles Borromeo’s day, even in our country in 1917-18 with the flu pandemic and 1940 with Polio, but it seems that plagues should be impossible now.

My heart breaks over my own sin of racism… our sin of racism… my country’s sin of racism. How could this have happened right under my/our nose? Why did I not realize? How many African-America women and men must die before our collective consciousness is raised? I ask myself now, “What can I do? How can I be a part of the solution rather than the problem?” Listen to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ words:

“Racism has rightly been called America’s original sin. It remains a blot on our national life and continues to cause acts and attitudes of hatred, as recent events have made evident. The need to condemn, and combat, the demonic ideologies of white supremacy, neo-Nazism and racism has become especially urgent at this time. Our efforts must be constantly led and accompanied by prayer—but they must also include concrete action.” 

These last words challenge me and call me to figure out what I can do. I feel so powerless. Recently, I participated in a day of prayer and the facilitator gave some questions for reflection. These two were important to me:

Is there a root of racism within me that blurs my vision of who my neighbor is?

Have I done enough to inform myself about the sin of racism, its roots, and its historical and contemporary manifestations?

I was raised in Louisville, the “Gateway to the South.”  During my formative years, segregation was something that I took for granted. I grew up in a segregated world, and I saw it simply as the way society was ordered. I know now that my family was shot through with racism. It is humiliating for me to own that. But it is real, and I must admit it. It breaks my heart and I must ask for forgiveness. I want to hear Jesus say, “God, forgive her for she knew not what she was doing.”  But now I know. Now I must act. I cannot plead ignorance anymore. Now, I must ask, together with the rich young man in the Gospels, “Master, what must I do?” And then I must listen… with my broken heart for His answer!