When Joseph E. Kurtz first became a bishop in 1999, he chose for his episcopal motto “Hope in the Lord,” a phrase from Psalm 31.
The archbishop brought that motto with him from Knoxville, Tenn., when he was named to lead the Archdiocese of Louisville in 2007. He chose that same motto to be the title of the regular columns he publishes in The Record.
The full motto is this: “Be strong and take heart, all you who hope in the Lord.”
Archbishop Kurtz’s choice has proven to be a wise one. And the words from that Psalm are perhaps as meaningful to our lives and faith today as they’ve been at any time in history.
Hope has lingered in the wake of the recent decision by a jury in Minneapolis. Jury members found a white police officer guilty in the death of an unarmed black man, and in the wake of that decision, people have time and time again said they now have cause for hope. Hope that the nation might have taken a path toward ending racial injustice.
Hope that the idea of racial harmony isn’t the pipe dream that it’s been since the nation’s birth.
Hope that the promise of equality proposed in the Constitution can indeed become a reality.
But one jury’s decision doesn’t necessarily mean a change in national direction. It doesn’t mean there has been an awakening to the evils of racial intolerance.
It is only a start. Yet it may well be a cause for hope.
Last year, as people in this city protested police violence against Black Americans, Archbishop Kurtz said he was praying that God “will give us the grace to change hearts.”
The sin of racism, he said, must be condemned by each of us.
A lot of people are hoping that the archbishop’s words will be taken to heart, not just in Louisville but across the nation. People such as Nakami Green of Minneapolis, whose picture appeared on The Catholic News Service recently.
Ms. Green, shown on the cover of The Record with tears streaming down her face, noted that she was one of those “feeling a lot of hope” in the wake of the jury’s verdict.
There is cause for caution, of course.
Clarence Page, a columnist for The Chicago Tribune, wrote that “it’s easy to be optimistic if you keep your expectations low.”
Page noted that the relationship of Black Americans and the police is fraught with distrust.
“We want effective police protection when we need it,” he wrote after the verdict, “but trust in the police is so low in some communities that many are reluctant to call even when they need it.”
“No wonder so many law-abiding citizens have lost hope,” he said.
But here is where Archbishop Kurtz’s motto — and our faith — should come into play.
People who at the core of their being “hope in the Lord,” should feel a sense of optimism. Our faith should allow us, as the Psalm says, to “be strong and take heart.”
We can take refuge in knowing that our faith shows us the right thing to do. Despite all the cross talk and clutter of social media; despite all the pontifications from people who, if allowed, might tear the country apart, we can find cause for optimism.
The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once wrote that while law may not change the hearts of men and women, it can change their habits. And when the habits are changed, he said, “pretty soon the attitudes and hearts will be changed.”
It may be that we’ve reached a turning point on racial justice and equality, or perhaps that idea is but the vision of a fool.
This much is certain, the way forward will be much easier, much more positive if we are guided by our faith, if we but “hope in the Lord.”