Very soon a Black Catholic Bishop named Steib will be coming to speak to my parish about a pastoral letter on evangelization he co-authored titled “What We Have Seen and Heard.” Because my parish is considered to be one of the 800 or so in the country that are predominantly African American, we are reading the letter in preparation for his talk, discussing it and it’s implications amongst ourselves. It has been very fruitful so far and I have been reflecting on it daily. The letter is pretty long so this will be a serial post. Let’s begin.
Part 1 of the letter is titled “The Gifts We Share” and talks about our call as black people to share our gifts. It enumerates them all. The first is our culture.
Black Culture and Values: Informed by Faith
There is a richness in our Black experience that we must share with the entire people of God. These are gifts that are part of an African past. For we have heard with Black ears and we have seen with Black eyes and we have understood with an African heart. We thank God for the gifts of our Catholic faith and we give thanks for the gifts of our Blackness. In all humility we turn to the whole Church that it might share our gifts so that “our joy may be complete.”
To be Catholic is to be universal. To be universal is not to be uniform. It does mean, however, that the gifts of individuals and of particular groups become the common heritage shared by all. Just as we lay claim to the gifts of Blackness so we share these gifts within the Black community at large and within the Church. This will be our part in the building up of the whole Church. This will also be our way of enriching ourselves. “For it is in giving, that we receive.” Finally, it is our way to witness to our brothers and sisters within the Black community that the Catholic Church is both one and also home to us all.
I won’t try to restate this section. It pretty much speaks for itself. A couple of things stand out though. First, its concept of strength from diversity is both prescient (the letter was written in 1984) and speaks to our current situation. “To be universal is not to be uniform.” That hotness, baby! Second its ease with the tension between small and large, individual and group, and one group from another and how there is both continuity and disjuncture in both. And that this means that even those that seem separate can lay direct claim to the whole. In short, a Black Catholic is not a contradiction in terms.