Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Black Catholic History Month…

I greatly apologize for not posting anything in reference to November being Black Catholic History month, but better late than never!

I would like to begin the postings with posting something that was recently sent to us by a dearly beloved sister in Christ, Mary Leisering of the Office of Black Catholic Ministry in the Archdiocese of Denver, Colorado;

Richness of African American faith heritage is poignantly expressed in song


            November is Black Catholic History month.


By Mary L. Leisring


     One of the significant ways that African Americans express their spirituality is through song.  The characteristic was recognized by Rev. Clarence Rivers, black Catholic priest who paved the way for liturgical enculturation and inspired black Catholics to bring their artistic genius to Catholic worship.

     Archbishop James P. Lyke, O.F.M., did a great service in serving as the coordinator of the African American Catholic Hymnal  "Lead Me, Guide Me," which was published in 1987.  In the preface to this hymnal we read: "'Lead Me, Guide Me' is born of the needs and aspirations of black Catholics for music that reflects both our African American and our Catholic faith."  In the reflections which follow, references are to the hymn numbers in this hymnal.

     The thoughts which follow are inspired by "Black and Catholic: the Challenge and Gift of Black Folk," which was edited by Dominican Sister Jamie T. Phelps. Of special note is Chapter Five, titled "Foundations for Catholic Theology in an African American Context" by M. Shawn Copeland.

     If we go back to the years of slavery, it is remarkable that an enslaved people were optimistic their God would lead them to freedom as he had led the Israelites.  They expressed their optimism in lyrics like:

                        The Lord told Moses what to do

                        Let my people go;

                        To lead the children of Israel through

                        Let my people go.

                        Oh let us all from bondage flee;

                        Let my people go;

                        And let us all in Christ be free;

                        Let my people go.  (No. 298)

     In the midst of overwhelming pain the enslaved found solace as they turned to Jesus, who understands what it is to suffer:

                        In my trials, Lord, walk with me.

                        In my trials, Lord, walk with me.

                        When my heart is almost breaking,

                        Lord, I want Jesus to walk with me. (No. 263)

     Slaves refused to accept their condition.  They knew they were meant to be free.

                        Oh Freedom, Oh Freedom,

                        Oh Freedom over me:

                        And before I'd be a slave,

                        I'll be buried in my grave.

                        And go home to my Lord

                        And be free.  (No. 298)

     When the physical chains of enslavement had been removed, African Americans were still not free.  They knew that the nation where they lived had declared:  "All men are created equal and are endowed by their Creator with inalienable rights."  They continued to sing and pray to God that the rights promised them would truly be theirs.  It took a man of faith, Martin Luther King Jr., to lead them in their journey.  "Freedom Songs" took on new meaning and inspired them to look for a new day. Like King, African Americans looked forward to the "Promised Land" where there would be joy.

                        Come and go with me to my Father's house

                        Where there's joy, joy, joy.  (No. 250)

     There was a conviction that in spite of conditions and prejudice:

                        I've got a feeling, ev'ry thing's gonna

                        Be alright. Jesus already told me, ev'ry thing's gonna

                        Be alright.  (No. 252)


     Even though King was assassinated, they knew that his dream would come to fruition.  Nothing could stand in the way of Christ, the "King of Kings."

                        He is King of Kings,

                        He is Lord of Lords,

                        Jesus Christ the first and last,

                        No one works like Him.  (No. 86)

     In this new millennium there is a conviction that every Christian African American can lay claim to all that Jesus has promised them.  With joy in their hearts they sing:

                        Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine!

                        O what a foretaste of glory divine!

                        This is my story, this is my song

                        Praising my Savior all the day long.  (No. 199)

     Within the fold of the Catholic tradition it is precious to share in the banquet of God's children and sing:

                        One Bread, one Body, one Lord of All,

                        One cup of blessing which we bless.

                        And we, though many, throughout the earth,

                        We are one body in this one Lord.  (No. 139)

     It is such a grace to have faith in Jesus and to walk in his presence.

                        He touched me, O, He touched me;

                        And O the joy that floods my soul;

                        Something happened and now I know

                        He touched me and made me whole.  (No. 167)


     Black Catholics will continue to sing and celebrate their faith as they move forward in a time of hope.



            Mary L. Leisring is the director of the Office of Black Catholic Ministry for the Archdiocese of Denver.



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