The National Black Catholic Congress (NBCC) XIII recently announced the theme for our gathering, Write the Vision: A Prophetic Call to Thrive, coming from the Book of Habakkuk. The focal passage is: "Write down the vision; Make it plain upon tablets, so that the one who reads it may run" (Hab. 2:2). In the handout, the Congress planning team asked the community to share reflections, blogs, and ideas to promote the NBCC XIII. My experience with this inspiring book encouraged me to share insights into the Book of Habakkuk.
Beginning with chapter one, Habakkuk asks several questions while surveying the land. Stumped by his intelligence, the sage searched for an understanding of the theodicy of God. Deep within, he desires revelatory knowledge of the goodness of God, simultaneously staring at evil. The seer asks God, "... why do you simply gaze at evil? Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife and discord. This is why the law is numb, and justice never comes ..." (Hab. 1:3-4).
Unfortunately, Habakkuk's sentiments resemble Venerable Fr. Augustine Tolton and those in our contemporary world.
Fr. Tolton asked Fr. Richardt, "Why are we too often given the lowest jobs, the poorest pay, the worst homes, and the most unsanitary living conditions? Why can't we go to Catholic schools and churches without being insulted? ... Father Richardt, can you tell me why white people hate us?" (From Slave to Priest - The Lesson, pg. 109).
Bishop Fernand J. Cheri asked, "Where is the church? How do we stop the killing of Black/Brown people? Racism promotes violence. Hence, the violence on Black bodies is okay."(Let the Church Roll On, Aug. 6, 2020) Here we see that the pursuit of understanding evil in the face of God's goodness continues as a mystery. Like the prophet Habakkuk, our laws are numb, creating a world of delayed justice.
This verse in chapter one complicates things for the reader: "For now I am raising up the Chaldeans, that bitter and impulsive people, Who march the breadth of the land to take dwellings not their own" (Hab. 1:6). The Chaldeans, under God's direction, are the individuals responsible for demolishing the land. The Chaldeans, or in other translations, the Babylonians, are notorious for terrorizing other nations. They mirror the United States and other countries which took dwellings not their own. Similarly, the Chaldeans can be our governments, churches, groups, or individuals whose actions are "terrifying and dreadful; their right and their exalted position are of their own making. ... All of them come for violence, their combined onslaught, a stormwind to gather up captives like sand" (Hab. 1:7, 9). These actions perpetuate the institutional racism that we live in today. Chapter one ends with Habakkuk's exploration of faith in God and reasons to understand God's goodness in the presence of evil.
Chapter two opens with a verse we must not overlook. "I will stand at my guard post, and station myself upon the rampart; I will keep watch to see what he will say to me, and what answer he will give to my complaint" (Hab. 2:1). The prophet courageously waits for God's answer. The spiritual movement of standing, looking, listening, and waiting, places Habakkuk in a position to hear the oracles of God. Before writing a vision for Black Catholics to thrive, we must stand, look, listen, and wait.
Talking with the Divine before writing one's vision and creating a unified one is critical. We, by faith, know that God speaks to us individually, which is crucial. Accepting that God will give us a vision that matches our spiritual gifts is essential here. Remember the phrase! "God doesn't call the qualified, God qualifies the called." And St. Paul said, "To each individual, the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit" (1 Cor. 12:7). No one benefits if God gives us a vision, and we don't have the spiritual gifts to thrive in that vision. This thought is spiritually insane. God blessed us "in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavens" (Eph. 1:3). Here, we must stand, look, listen and wait, mirroring the prophet. More importantly, when writing our vision, we must also listen to each other's vision, "striving to preserve the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace" (Eph. 4:3).
At this crossroads of Habakkuk, many people stop reading and start writing their vision. We must avoid this practice. Further reading shows the visionary's maturation in faith, discerning God's actions in his life. The prophet was emotional, hurting, and confused, but now, after standing, looking, listening, and waiting, he received a message from the Holy One. God said, "See, the rash have no integrity; but the just one who is righteous because of faith shall live" (Hab. 2:4). Here, the seer is called to have integrity, act justly and live by faith. Prophet Jeremiah, Habakkuk's contemporary, said, "Do what is right and just. Rescue the victims from the hand of their oppressors. Do not wrong or oppress the resident alien, the orphan, or the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place" (Jer. 22:3).
The most arduous spiritual walk we will encounter in our lifetime is to do what is right and just, especially when we know that the oppressor will never let the oppressed free. I envision that after Habakkuk saw the Chaldean's terrorism, he perhaps wanted to ask God a more straightforward question echoing the disciples in Luke's gospel. "Lord, do you want us to call down fire from heaven to consume them?" (Lk. 9:54).
Fortunately, Habakkuk avoids this behavior. He sees a bigger picture. His vision imagines that "the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the Lord's glory, just as the water covers the sea" (Hab. 2:14). Habakkuk sees beyond the ruin and sees God's justice reigning. Like the Psalmist, "Love and truth will meet; justice and peace will kiss. Truth will spring from the earth; justice will look down from heaven" (Ps. 85:6-7); justice is on the horizon.
Chapter three climaxes with rousing praise to God. "Yet I will rejoice in the LORD and exult in my saving God. GOD, my Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet swift as those of deer and enables me to tread upon the heights" (Hab. 3:18-19). Habakkuk took us from sorrow to praise, from cloudy eyes to hope against hope. Habakkuk has a joyful heart in understanding the theodicy of God. Our God gives us the strength of a deer to tread upon the heights and to see in the darkness. With God, there is more favor with us than evil against us. Habakkuk's vision