Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Just Thoughts: Overcoming Prejudice--Can It Be Done?

[This essay will be for the September 27, 2015 bulletin of St. Mary's Church, Painesville, Ohio.]

Just Thoughts: We Can Overcome Our Own Prejudice

Recently Fr. Daniel Ochs, from Upper Arlington’s St. Agatha parish, gave a sermon on prejudice. He began by quoting the famous psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud, who said something to the extent that human prejudice is intractable even in the face of contrary evidence--it can’t be overcome. Then Fr. Ochs systematically and brilliantly dismantled Freud’s assertion and gave practical advice on overcoming our own prejudice.

The sermon reflected statements in that Sunday’s readings by St. James and St. Mark. We don’t have to go to scripture to understand the deep-down prejudice in our bones. I think of my own beloved grandfather who complained about “DP’s” and “n*****s,” though he himself had faced similar prejudice and discrimination. His parents were both “DP’s”--Displaced Persons. One came over from Ireland, escaping famine and desperate poverty; the other from Germany, escaping the constant wars and chaos in the area. They lived in the poor sections of Cleveland, with very little money or security. They were treated by some as less than human. They were excluded from many aspects of Cleveland life.

One doesn’t have to look hard to see prejudice in ourselves. Just below the surface bubbles anger, fear, and prejudice. But we don’t have to just accept that. Prejudice is stubborn, but it can be overcome. Freud was wrong; Jesus is right.

One way is to take our own personal and familial suffering and experience being discriminated against--and then turning that on its head so that prejudice becomes empathy and understanding of those excluded from our society.

To do this we need to acknowledge and gently confront prejudice when we see it, in ourselves, our family, our friends. The Gospel is about welcoming the sinner, the outcast, the stranger--whether that outsider is ourself or others. That approach is at the center of our Catholic Christianity.

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