There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is not male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28)
A few weeks ago my sister told me about an incident near her old neighborhood in Baltimore. A young woman was walking home when a man in a baseball cap exposed himself to her. Luckily she was pretty close to her house, so she ran inside and locked the door. Not much later, the same man was at her back screen door, still exposing himself and pushing himself against the glass. She went on to the neighborhood page on Facebook to post a warning, and to see if anyone else had any information about the man - perhaps there had been prior incidents. At first, the responses were what you would expect. People were checking to see if she was ok, asking for a more detailed description, seeing if she had called the police, and offering up descriptions of similar experiences.
Then the responses took a darker turn. Young men, specifically white men, started commenting on her post in order to make jokes about what had happened. They made light of her fear and the concern showed by others. They took a serious and terrifying incident and exploited it with what they thought was humor. When others started to call these young men out on their error, the young men responded like a jock in an early 2000’s movie: “Why can’t you just take a joke? We’re just trying to lighten things up. You’re all just a bunch of whiny snowflakes. Nothing even happened to her anyway.” My personal favorite (read with light sarcasm) was a gentleman who decided that he should tell everyone about the time that he was walking home and happened to be walking behind a woman who was also headed home and lived in the same area as him. The woman turned around and yelled at him to stop following her. He offered up this story as proof that everyone was just “overreacting” and needed to stop being so sensitive.
A number of things caught my attention as my sister and I read through the comments on the post. I noticed how the young men making jokes refused to listen to any women who called them out, and instead they responded to these women with more intense mockery. When men called them out, they accused these men of just wanting to show off to get more "chicks" to like them. The entire thing, which was supposed to be a warning to the neighborhood and an opportunity for the neighborhood to come together and make their home safer, descended into something like insanity. I wish I could say it surprised me; I wish that the words of those young men shocked me, but they didn’t. I’ve come to expect things like this, and though I’m always horrified or disgusted, I’ve seen it and experienced it too many times to be taken aback by it anymore.
On a basic, universal, human level, this kind of behavior should be alarming. If a fellow human being comes to us with a matter of great concern, the correct response should be to take that matter seriously, and to respond to that person who has come to us with assurance and support, and there were so many people on this Facebook post who did exactly that. But the problem wasn’t just that these young men were treating the situation so callously - it was that they were disregarding the personhood and dignity of the victim and as a Catholic, that disregard for the dignity of the person was what infuriated me the most.
For a Catholic, it isn’t enough to respond to moments like this with the basic, universal, human response. We are called to respond in a higher and uniquely Christ-like way. And honestly, it is so easy to type that sentence, but it is so much harder to apply it in real life. In this particular instance, though, all I could think of were Paul’s words in his letter to the Galatians - that we are all one in Christ. I don’t take those words lightly or with any kind of sentimentality. To me, Paul’s words go hand in hand with something Mother Teresa once said: “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.” Paul is reminding his Galatian audience that after Christ, all people belong to each other. So when those young men treated this woman and what she had been through as a joke, I took it personally, not because I was being too sensitive, but because that woman belongs to me and I belong to her. Christ has made us one, He has united us, and so I care about what she experiences and how it affects her.
In this particular situation, there wasn’t much I could do since I’m not part of the neighborhood page and I couldn’t comment on the post. But this situation is just one of thousands I, and others, will face throughout our lives and each time we will have a choice to make. We can put on blinders and refuse to see the injustices happening around us. We can choose to see injustice but do nothing and be a spectator, telling ourselves that it isn’t our problem or that someone else will come along and do something. Neither of these are what it looks like to be Catholic, though. My faith calls on me not only to see injustice, but to act when I see it, because it is my problem. And I don’t want to make it sound like I think I’m perfect at doing this, because I’m not. Oftentimes I don’t pay as much attention to others as I should, and when I do actually notice something wrong I don’t always respond in the most prudent or charitable way. But my Catholic faith continually inspires me to try as hard as I can to regard others with mutuality and love because I truly believe that in Christ, we are all one.