Thursday, June 17, 2004

Race & Division in the One Body

I can't stand the politics of racial victimization. That said, there is a real problem amongst a large percentage of so-called traditionalist Catholics when it comes to accepting the possibility that the Eucharist includes me, not even AS an Asian-American, but simply despite being an Asian-American.

This past Corpus Christi Sunday, at my parish at which I have felt profoundly at home liturgically, yet profoundly unwelcome ethnically, one parishioner made it palpably clear to me that I am a non-entity. There I was amidst my faith family as we stood outside praying a series of stations to the Body of Christ. I was empty-handed not knowing there were programs. A woman with several programs in hand began distributing them to other parishioners around me. She first took care of her companions and then turned around to disburse the remaining copies. Practically facing me but looking right past me, she handed the last copies to the people directly behind me. A classic instance of white blindness to the ontological reality of Asians I've experienced quite often.

My first reaction was pure rage. Then the irony of ignoring a co-member of the Body of Christ while celebrating the Feast of the Body of Christ opened a pressure-relief valve. Then came the flood of questions. Was I being petty? Was I being hypersensitive? Was I falling prey to identity politics? Was I totally misreading this lady's behavior? Was I being unfair given the rarity of Latin-loving Asian Catholics? All unanswerable with any conclusiveness. Nonetheless, I left thanking God that I was Catholic, b/c I would never have put up with this treatment, intentional or not, had I remained Protestant.

Sometimes the cushy world of Asian-American evangelical churches with their ethnically-focused ministry models and familiar-faced fellowship is so alluring. Yet the noble testament of Black Catholic fidelity to the Church despite racism throughout Reconstruction and Jim Crow comes quickly to mind and I feel a kinship with them that only the resilience of Eucharistic communion could engender. It's the "long loneliness" of Dorothy Day writ onto the jagged multiethnic world of the modern American Church.

This experience has confirmed for me the weakness of Haugenesque pop hymns like "One Bread, One Body." The warm fuzzies that the melody evokes bears ZERO relevance in a church where there exists real difference. The unity of Eucharistic fellowship cannot be found in any oceanic feeling of rapturous Gemeinschaft--that's simply too static and it empties out the eschatalogical dynamism of Christ's call "Ut Unum Sint." St. Paul insists there is no Gentile nor Jew under the New Covenant but this is not a declaratory statement of a self-evident fact. Rather it is an apocalyptic statement--an unveiling of a cosmic truth that is hidden. The coziness of Asian-American churches and lovey-dovey Volkparishes is illusory. I'll take a slight against my ethnicity even during the Liturgy any day over the seductive bliss of homogeneity.

Praestet fides supplementum sensuum defectui!