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NBCC XIII: LAYING DOWN MY BURDENS


Evang./Prof. Michael Howard, MACS

Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary time

"Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest" (Mt. 11:25-30)


When preparing for my participation at the National Black Catholic Congress XIII, words by Maya Angelou resonated with me regarding my experience with the universal Church, the Roman Catholic Church. Ms. Angelou said, "You may write me down in history/ With your bitter, twisted lies ... But still, like dust, I'll rise." After this contemplation, another poet accompanied me inwardly. Amanda Gorman entered my sacred space, whispering, "We braved the belly of the beast." These extraordinary poets capture my imagination when attempting to write my vision and prophetic call to thrive in the 21st century.


Ms. Angelou's words tell the agonizing truth Black Catholics experienced in the Roman Catholic Church. Hearing bitter twisted lies in this Church all my life makes me wonder how I keep from going under. In her new book, Rachel Swarns said, "Without the enslaved, the Catholic Church in the United States as we know it today would not exist." The sad part of this truth is that the same church authorities who believed God created humanity saw dollar signs, not God's human creation. Enslaved people were objects of valuable property to invest in buying more land. Without Ms. Swarn's research, we would not know the truth about the Jesuits' financial resources that contributed to the development of Georgetown University. In this predominately white campus, the tuition is suited for the privileged.

Ms. Gorman's image of the beast living in one's belly is upsetting. While in a Zoom meeting, a Black priest recently shared his crucible moment - the struggle to find allies in ministry in his diocese. He testified that Black protestant ministers were more neighborly than his White counterparts. This story mirrors Venerable Fr. Augustus Tolton's experience. He, too, found it challenging to find allies after he was ordained a priest. Braving this beast in the belly is troublesome, especially when having to navigate difficult conversations when you are not the dominant race in a meeting. When you are the only Black person in a predominately Eurocentric space, you sometimes feel like a motherless child, all along walking on thin ice. Or worse, you must constantly explain yourself, fearful of hurting someone. It's like a jungle out there, and the anxiety in the belly twirls in many Black catholic priests, religious life, and the laity today. Black Catholics must brave the beast in the belly of the universal Church with limited allies. (For further information involving allies, see the resource below).

For this reason, a profound spiritual examination of consciousness can help me prepare to write my vision for the NBCC XIII because Black Catholics Can Thrive Again. Using the words from the spiritual: I am Gonna Lay Down My Burdens Down by the Riverside, a spiritual movement is present to move us forward. Here, one must recognize or name the burden that creates anxiety in a person's life, lay it down, walk away from it, and embrace the freedom from the separation of that burden. For example, I need to lay down:

  • My distressed spirit while waiting for the Church to canonize the six Black Catholics on the Road to Sainthood when many in the Catholic world see them as Saints now. Saints delayed are Saints denied.

  • My disobedient tongue that attacks Church leaders who fail to dismantle racist practices that fuel White supremacy, White nationalism, and White privilege. I must pray and get into good trouble.

  • My dissatisfaction with the Church's lack of attention to the laity, especially the disregard for black men. In this order, more attention is given to Black priests and nuns, Black women and children, and then the Black man. I am praying that Black men unmute themselves.

  • My disappointment in the parish priests who fail to invest in the parishioners who help keep the church doors open on minimal wages without monetary tips. I pray that God will show me how to best give back to the community with money.

At this point, with a million thoughts flowing in and out of me, listening to Jesus is wise. In today's gospel reading, Jesus invites me to come to Him, "Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest." Here I can lay down all my burdens, spoken and unspoken. I can lay down my distressful spirit, my disobedient tongue, my dissatisfaction and disappointments with the church, and much more by Jesus' side and rest. When rested and free from anxiety and worry, I can write my vision and prophetic call to thrive in the 21st century. My vision statement's first line is, "All my life, you have been good. All my life, you have been faithful. God's mercy keeps running after me."


What should the living complain about? about their sins! Let us search and examine our ways, and return to the LORD! Let us lift up our hearts as well as our hands toward God in heaven! Lamentations 3:39-41


Allies are people:

  • who listen without judgment and are open to continual learning;

  • who are keenly aware of the spaces they occupy, where there should be other voices;

  • who take the time to educate themselves on the issues and do not always place the burden of education on the community that is affected/vulnerable;

  • who learn what is offensive and take action to stop doing offensive things to help others and more dominant groups learn the same;

  • who raise up others from marginalized communities to share their own voices in their own alternate way,

  • who create safe spaces for marginalized groups to vent and share their challenges without repercussions;

  • who believe that the experiences of marginalized groups are genuine and authentic, even though they are not necessarily on their own;

  • who recognize their own privileges but and use it to create opportunities with informed marginalized groups; and

  • who take a stand against racism and other injustices, despite the consequences they may face.

Augustine, Ansel. Leveling the Praying Ground - Can the Church We Love, Love Us Back (Marykoll, New York: Orbis, Books, 2022), 83-84.

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5 Comments


Amen

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So much truth to digest. I want to lay down my lethargic attitude and response to the blatant racism and indifference towards "we Catholics who are darker than blue".

Blessings

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Michael P. Howard
Michael P. Howard
Jul 07, 2023
Replying to

Darlene, you made me go get my "yellow suit." (smile) "Pardon me brother, while you stand in your glory, I hope you don't mind if I tell the whole story." We people who are darker than BLUE!


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Rachel Chung
Rachel Chung
Jul 03, 2023

Thank you so much for this reflection and how to be an ally. Rachel Chung

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Drew Lyke
Drew Lyke
Jul 03, 2023

Ooh, you said it, you truth telling prophet of God! Good trouble may very well be knocking on your door, for the Glory of God.

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