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What are Black Catholics saying about Theological Reflection?

Michael P. Howard

Recently, I facilitated a group of Black Catholics on the process of Theological Reflections (TR) for their ministry. Using the University of Dayton’s Virtual Learning Community for Faith Formation (VLCFF), this on-line course generated a learning environment that was very rewarding. This class had discussions that centered on what is TR, understanding certain Catholic practices and how to capture personal spiritual growth in ministry.

Fr. Pedro Arrupe, a Jesuit has been credited with coining the term TR in 1970. Fr. Arrupe explained this spiritual exercise to his community as “rethinking” the issues of their day to think evangelically and theologically, to capture a “Divine solution” to the problems of this society. Therefore, here we are called to reflect on our experiences in life and seek the Lord while he can be found (Is. 55:6).

A common mistake that many people make in understanding TR is to compare it to a Bible Study. When attending a Bible Study, the participants expect that they will study a particular passage or theme in the Bible. Scripture is the focus in this small group sharing. With TR, the facilitator may prompt the discussion within a group with a question or an event that recently occurred. Therefore, one’s personal reflective experience with God is the catalyst for sharing stories. A scripture reference may be later incorporated in the discussion to acknowledge God’s action in one’s life, this is the theological component. Finally, in the end participants are called to action, we must “Be doers of the word and not hearers only” (Ja. 1:22).

During this course some participants expressed their understanding of TR after the assignment in this manner, “I feel that I have been doing this for a long time and didn't know I was doing it.  I also felt a cultural significance to this in that the contemplative and wholistic aspects of African American Spirituality is expressed in this same way.  In so much as our ancestors possessed the ability to see the godly connection of all things and see God in all things…To me, this is the same thing as TR.  I know I do it all of the time.” Another added, “I also agree that most of us have been doing this without knowing it for most of our lives. I think that there is something in our ancestral archetype that connects us to God and asks us to attend, assert, and process our experiences in that light.”And finally, “I am being challenged further with TR to go beyond the surface and dive deeper to look into the heart of the Bible and see things as God sees. In addition I have to share and reflect with other people. Doing this TR course has enabled me to see the integration of my experiences and those of others with our African American culture along with the strong tradition of the Church since coming to the church of St. Teresa of Avila.”

This course allowed us also to reflect on the sacrament of reconciliation and to grapple with being faithful to “Tradition.” Using an article by St. Anthony’s press, the class reflected on God’s forgiveness as a celebration of God’s love towards us. One participant shared this thought: “I actually learned a lot about reconciliation, more than I ever knew. The most important thing about confession is, "What Jesus does for us."  In reference to being faithful towards Tradition, each participant shared some moving insights to their understanding of the Church’s teachings.

In the end, personal growth is truly the objective in this course for individuals. After sharing their story and seeing God in their life, everyone came to understand a fundamental truth echoed through-out this course, “The more you see, the more you’ll see.”

TR engages its participants to see God in their story by reflecting on events that inspired them to trust in God. You may hear them say, “After my car accident, I trusted in the Lord and he showed me the way.” TR then moves one to hear a Word from God which is revelatory. Here God speaks to them; they recall God’s grace in their stories. A story like, Mary and Martha, Two sons, Good Shepherd, etc., may call the individual to trust God more deeply.God’s word appears as a reflection that leads to a revelation to make one to think theological. Finally, through TR everyone is directed to a prayer life that is transforming, a life that is called to action in our church and community. As doers of the word, God calls all baptized Christians to serve the hungry, the poor, the naked, the disenfranchised,the sick and everyone else who has failed to experience the double love commandment, the love of God and love from their neighbor.

Michael P. Howard, Pastoral Staff for Doctors Community Hospital; Facilitator for Dayton, Ohio, VLCFF;  Founder Eat the Scroll Ministry.

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