I pray that this letter finds you all in good health and in the friendship of the Holy Spirit.
This is a difficult message for me to share with you, not because of its content, but because of its limitations. Before I began to put these thoughts into words, this began with my own conversation with Our Lord as I begged for His wisdom and His truth and to make me a better servant to both. I share with each of you this dialogue of my heart acknowledging its imperfections and beg of your charity. I hope that you might receive these limited words as the beginning of something new and not judge it for what it lacks, because it lacks a lot.
Before anything else, I wish to speak directly to my parishioners of color. Let me begin by acknowledging and owning my failure to minister to you, many of whom have been suffering for a long time. There have been many missed moments, as your pastor, to acknowledge your pain and suffering, or to provide you support, especially when your dignity as a child of God is threatened, abused, or neglected. Allow me to take this moment to unequivocally communicate what has been on my heart:
I, as your pastor at Our Savior Parish & USC Caruso Catholic Center, stand in solidarity with our families of color. Your struggle is my struggle. I firmly believe in the dignity of God’s children and in the truth of the utmost value of life. All lives matter when Black lives do. I see you. I hear you. I love you.
Help me to see better, listen better, and love better.
During my examination of conscience, the Gospel passage that focused my thoughts was Jesus’ teaching about The Good Samaritan. When I saw the recent murder of George Floyd, as horrific as it was, I became afraid. In my irrational fear, I became the very priest and Levite that Jesus spoke out against. Then I began to recall the very long list of brothers and sisters who died undeservedly. Let me say their names—not simply because they are people, but because their deaths serve as a reminder of the dark areas of our humanity:
George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Sandra Bland, Eric Gardner, Freddie Gray, Botham Jean, Atatiana Jefferson, Sean Bell, Amadou Diallo, Tamir Rice, Ahmaud Arbery, and the list goes on.
We must be better. We have to.
I have always preached about the Good Samaritan, but rarely about the priest and the Levite who looked away. We look away when it becomes too difficult or when we don’t know how to deal with it. I am beginning to absorb the difficult reality that silence, like that of the priest and Levite, is abuse. I will paraphrase what Dr. Martin Luther King once said: “the greatest tragedy of this period… is not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.” Whether it’s the silence of racial injustice, sexual abuse, or the vast atrocities against our human family, we must not be silent any longer.
Where do we go from here?
I’ve got to be honest: no one has all the right answers and no one has a crystal ball that sees into the future. But let me offer a few thoughts from my meditation.
I firmly believe that we must treat people like people and not as a collection of issues that need to be “addressed.” St. Pope John Paul II the Great reminds us: “We are not the culmination of our sins, but the culmination of the Father’s love.” Because of this, our starting point should not be from the mindset of a cold “organization” or “institution.” We are more than that. We are a family. God changed the course of human history, not as an organization, but as a family—the Holy Family—with just three people. I think the wisdom for our journey forward lies in strengthening the bonds of our family with all of its diversity.
One of my roles is to be a father, not only a pastor. I have forgotten at times to simply be there with my children—to first and foremost acknowledge their pain or the injustice that has happened. It is never undignified for a father to sit with his children who are crying to comfort them right where they are. I am striving to be a better father and pastor and it is my hope for all of us to be a better family, together.
Families live life together starting from the basics: Love, patience, forgiveness, and understanding. It would be better to be renewed by our commitment to authentically live these virtues than to think we must move beyond them.
This requires hard work, discipline, and a firm commitment to one another—not for a goal or a destination, but for the journey of the entirety of life no matter where we find ourselves. This begins our life of faith—faith in God and in one another. This is heaven: life with God together as a family, not the triumph of individual effort.
I want to challenge myself and encourage our community to offer the gift of time and compassion to one another to each person’s capacity.
I thank you for taking the time to read this message. I want to be better—a better pastor, a better father, a better priest, and simply a better neighbor, but I need your help and prayers. Please be assured of mine.
With God’s blessings and every fatherly affection, I am
Sincerely Yours in Christ,
Fr. Richard Sunwoo Pastor, Our Savior Parish & USC Caruso Catholic Center