The “Catholic response” to racism, climate change and other societal injustices — including those plaguing Hawaii communities — must be one centered in faith-based action that “ought to discomfit the comfortable, humble the powerful, and lift up the oppressed,” said noted author and speaker Fr. Dan Horan during a recent talk at Chaminade’s Mystical Rose Oratory for the Marianist Lecture series.
Horan, acknowledging his own status as a “temporary guest” in Hawaii, added that people in the islands must seek to learn from indigenous communities and understand their unique ways of knowing the world so they can help craft holistic, place-based responses to the greatest crises of our time.
The engaging talk on September 26 comes as the Marianist Lecture series celebrates 25 years of promoting Catholic responsibility and service, and launches a new honor — the Mackey Award for Catholic Thought — to recognize leaders advancing the Marianist spirit and educational mission.
Horan, a columnist for the National Catholic Reporter whose most recent book is titled A White Catholic’s Guide to Racism and Privilege, was the inaugural recipient of the Mackey Award. In his lecture, Horan unpacked the writings of scholar, social activist, and monk Thomas Merton (1915-1968).
Merton may not be a household name. But in 2015, Pope Francis highlighted him as one of four “representatives of the American people” who fought for equal rights—alongside Martin Luther King, Jr., Abraham Lincoln, and Dorothy Day. Horan said Merton’s writings from the 1950s and 1960s offer important lessons for modern America, including about the importance of respecting others.
“Merton was attuned in an unusual way for a white man of his time to the failure to honor the wisdom, heritage, beauty, value and dignity of culture, traditions and religions that are not part of a Euro-American hegemony that came with the colonization to these lands,” Horan said.
He added that Merton offers “timely insights” and opportunities for further reflection on Hawaiian history, colonialism, and the “local response to both systemic racism and climate change.” Perhaps a key point of inquiry, he said, is Merton’s belief that the “spirit of God draws near not just to human beings but to the whole family of creation. Everything that exists reflects or points back to the Creator.”
In other words, Horan said, Merton would have “nodded along approvingly” to indigenous understandings of nature as not something that is separated or distinct from human existence but as central to life, familial relationships to and to society. “The global response to climate change … can only take place with the privileged species, humanity, embracing a sense of creational humility,” he said.
Horan also elucidated three points for white Christians seeking to respond to racial injustice.
He said those in positions of privilege and power because of their race must focus on diagnosis and criticism, “embracing a spirit of praxis and engagement.” They must also step back, listening to those in diverse communities rather than seeking to prescribe solutions. And they must “get out of the way,” Horan added. “They need to follow rather than lead. They need to listen rather than instruct.”
Horan sought to do just that in his own talk, opening his speech by noting that aloha is “not to be granted but always earned” and allowing time after his lecture for a question-and-answer dialogue with the audience. “As a guest, I seek to support the various strategies that the indigenous peoples of Hawaii are using to protect their land and their communities,” Horan said, near the start of his speech.
“I come to this land with a deep respect in a spirit of openness — and with a desire to learn.”