Diversity on Display: Catholicism in the African-American Community

The Archdiocese of  Washington enjoys a rich diversity of  parishes, many with a cultural distinctiveness. Among God’s gifts to this Archdiocese is a vibrant African-American Catholic heritage. Just over a dozen of our parishes are predominantly African-American in membership. In terms of liturgy and parish life, this most often means that the liturgies feature significant amounts of Gospel Music, vibrant preaching, and celebratory worship. My own Parish, Holy Comforter–St. Cyprian, traces its roots back to 1893 when former slaves founded a parish (with Cardinal Gibbons’ permission) to serve the needs of African Americans. The parish remains to this day a place where the Catholic Faith is celebrated with great vitality. If I do say so myself, we have one of the best choirs in the Archdiocese! And the preaching isn’t bad either :-).

I will also say that, among African-American Catholics, there exists a variety of tastes regarding Church life. Some of our parishioners love the vibrant Gospel Music, others prefer the quieter more traditional liturgies in our parish. Bible studies flourish alongside traditional novenas. Incense and rosaries are just as present as the joyful praise and hand-clapping of the Gospel Mass. Our choir can sing from the Vivaldi Gloria just as from one of the great old Gospel Hymns.

Many of our parishes with predominantly African-American membership are served by our own diocesan priests. Some of the parishes however are served by priests of the Josephite Order, an order traditionally dedicated to serving the needs of African-American Catholics. The following video, produced by the order, gives something of a sense of the flavor of African-American parishes.

Spread the word about the diversity of our Catholic Church. We have one faith, but a beautiful tapestry of expression. In future posts I hope we can show you other diverse expressions of the one and true faith we all share.

Confession is Biblical

Catholics get a lot of questions about Confession, and Catholics themselves have a lot of questions about this Sacrament. The usual discussion centers around, “Why should I have to tell my sins to some priest? Can’t I just talk directly to God?”

 

The fundamental answer to these questions is that the Lord Jesus himself set up the Sacrament of Confession for us. There are many biblical roots to this Sacrament detailed in the paragraphs below.

 

Shortly after his resurrection from dead, Jesus appeared to the Apostles and said to them, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” (John 20:21-23). In the first place, we should note that this passage does not make a lot of sense if it is always sufficient for us merely to confess all our sins privately to Jesus in prayer. Why would Jesus give the Apostles the astonishing power to forgive sins unless he expected people to come to them and benefit from this ministry? And how could they exercise this ministry if they did not “hear” confessions? Hence, the Bible does not teach us that all we must do is tell our sins privately to Jesus in prayer. Rather, since Jesus gave the power to forgive or retain sin to the apostles, it is implicitly clear that he expected people to speak openly of their sins to the Apostles.

 

There are other passages indicating that the practice of the early Church was open declaration of sin. Many also of those who were now believers came, [to Paul] confessing and divulging their practices (Acts 19:18). So it is evident that Scripture attests to the practice of the early Christians of going to the apostles (the first priests) to confess their sins. Here is another example from the Letter of James: Is anyone among you sick? Let him summon the presbyters of the church, and they should pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer of faith will save the sick man, and the Lord will raise him up. If he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects. (James 5:14-16). Thus the general biblical teaching, while not excluding personal confession of sins to God in prayer, emphasizes that we also must regularly confess our sins one to another, and more specifically to the “presbyters” (priests) “of the Church.”

 

Hence Confession is a biblical sacrament and to be a “Bible-believing Christian” is to accept the place of Confession in the life of the Church and the life of the individual.

 

I have included these reflections and developed them more fully in a two page flyer that you can view HERE.

There is also an interesting post, and a discussion on confession, on Fr. Zuhlsdorf’s site. After reading a brief discussion of the Sacrament and its beauty, you get the chance to “vote” by recording the frequency with which you receive the Sacrament. The full thread, including the voting results, is HERE.

Catholic Evangelizers

We had a post in which someone asked “How can I give witness to my faith?” Since this is without doubt one our top ten favorite questions, with a nod to David Letterman, I present the Top Ten ways Catholics evangelize.

 

10. Learn the Church’s history and teaching see www.adw.org/education , click on adult religious formation and see http://eps.trinitydc.edu

 9.  Get comfortable talking about why you love being a Catholic.

 8.  Around the water cooler or lunch table, say something like “My pastor made a really interesting point in his homily on Sunday” See what happens!

7. Join the Catholic Legislative Network.  It sends alerts when we need Catholics to contact our elected officials and weigh in something before our legislators. www.adw.org, click on service and justice.

6. When a neighbor, co-worker, or friend shares a concern or bad news, offer to pray for them and for the need. I’ve never been turned down for the promise of prayer.

5. Read your Bible.

4. Invite someone to join you at Mass, at a parish activity, or for a lecture.

3. Pray for a deeper faith, for the needs of the Church for the needs of the world.

2. Be a person of hope, be grateful for all that God gives you…People notice that.

 

And the number 1 way to witness to your Faith

 

1. Live your faith fully. Actively participate in weekly Mass. Receive the sacraments regularly. Make a regular retreat. People will want what you’ve got.

 

What did I forget? Post a comment

Ask a Question

Some folks who have been away for a while have questions and concerns to express. (Even Catholics who have never been away have many questions!) Please feel free to use the comments section of this blog to ask questions and state concerns. All of us who contribute to this blog are pleased to answer questions and address your concerns. Your questions will help this blog to get its wings and really fly. Ask and ye shall be answered!

40 Reasons for Coming Home

A friend of mine recently challenged me and the other authors of this blog to set forth 40 reasons for coming home to the Catholic Church. Since there are forty days for Lent, we should set forth a new reason each day. Well, since Lent is seven days underway as of tomorrow you can see we have some catching up to do! So, to begin here are seven reasons briefly stated and described:

  1. No one can take your place.T his may seem an odd place to begin but the simple fact is that God has summoned you for your own sake. No one can pray like you do. No one can praise God like you. No one has the same combination of gifts, talent and personality. You are an unrepeatable, irreplaceable member of God’s family and all of us are impoverished by your absence. God misses you personally when you are not present at the the Mass and are absent from the life of his Body, the Church.
  2. You need to eat. Jesus says that his flesh is real food and his blood is real drink. He also says, “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.” (Jn 6:53) Simply put you and I starve if we do not regularly receive Holy Communion.
  3. Guidance– the Catholic Church offers over 2000 years of experience and wisdom to us. For these two millennia members of the Church have meditated on God’s Word, lived through life’s joys and difficulties, and, through it all, recorded a rich tradition and teaching that helps us navigate life’s unpredictable paths. There is a rich tradition of teaching, the examples of the saints, the catechism and the steady proclamation God’s word that are here to guide you and me on our journey. 
  4. Stability – St. Paul told Timothy to preach the Word, in season and out of season, whether popular or unpopular. The Catholic Church is sometimes criticized for being “out of step” with modern times. But in a way, this is a great compliment since it indicates that the Church is willing to preach God’s Word in terms of what we need not merely what we want. We don’t  always want to hear that we should turn away from sin but we need to hear this. Individual members of the Church may not always  live perfectly the teachings of Christ, but the Church has never failed to announce Jesus Christ and his teachings even at great cost. The Church is often hated today for insisting on God’s Moral Truth and the dignity of human life.
  5. Mercy – At the heart of Catholic practice is the “difficult” Sacrament, Confession. It is difficult because most of us struggle to really like going to confession. But truly there is great peace in hearing the Lord encourage us and absolve us through the words of the priest, “I absolve you of your sins in the Name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”  Great peace is experienced in those words and Confession well prepared and celebrated is a wondrous experience of mercy.
  6. Rich diversity – The Catholic Church extends not only back in time two thousand years, but also to every land, language and culture. The Church exists on every Continent and currently has more than 1 Billion members. This gives the Catholic Church a rich diversity. In this Archdiocese Mass is celebrated in 11 different languages. Latinos, Africans, African Americans, Asian and Europeans and many others of diverse background enrich this Archdiocese with rich liturgical experiences and a beautiful tapestry of Catholic life. United in one faith but diverse in the cultural expression of that faith your Catholic Home is filled with many and varied gifts.
  7. All Seven Sacraments. The Catholic Church celebrates all seven Sacraments of the Christian Tradition. Strangely, the majority of the Protestant denominations dropped many of the Sacraments such as Confirmation, Confession, Communion, Anointing of the Sick, Holy Orders etc. These sacraments were dropped by them despite the fact that they are well attested to in Scripture. The Catholic Church, (along with the Orthodox Churches), continue to celebrate all seven Sacraments. Maybe a way to think of this reason is that God has given us certain medicines to heal us. If I am going to the doctor I want to be sure that the Doctor makes use of all the helpful medicines necessary for my healing. The Catholic Church, like a good doctor and a good mother makes sure we get all our medicines. Life is much better, more spiritually healthy with all seven sacraments and this a very good reason to come home.

Please feel free to comment on these first seven reasons for coming home. You may have doubts, concerns, questions or even rebuttals to what I have written.  Please feel free to weigh in!

The Beauty of the Mass

The following video is a brief but beautiful tapestry of the Mass.

The video invites you to visit the website www.catholicmass.org, which contains inspriational and instructional material on the Holy Mass.  A full DVD can also be purchased, and it is a wonderful resource for those either returning to the Mass or wanting to learn more of the Sacred Liturgy.

Ask a Question

Some folks who have been away for a while have questions and concerns to express. (Even Catholics who have never been away have many questions!) Please feel free to use the comments section of this blog to ask questions and state concerns. All of us who contribute to this blog are pleased to answer your questions and address your concerns. Your questions will help this blog to get its wings and really fly. Ask and ye shall be answered!