Readings (Year A):
Reflection: Keep the hope
The month of November is Black Catholic History Month. Just this past weekend in the Archdiocese of New Orleans, we had our annual Black Saint Celebration. We started with a joyful parade through the neighborhood where the prayer service was held and concluded with a prayer service at one of our Black Catholic parishes in the city. We also recognized many leaders from our parishes and the community for the gifts and services they have given and continue to give to our community. The work that we do to help one another is so important.
As I was looking at our readings today, several things stood out to me. The responsorial psalm says: “my soul is thirsting for you, Oh Lord, my God.” When I reflected on that psalm, the question came to me: do we still thirst for the Lord? Many times, in our country and even as Catholic people, we get comfortable and take for granted what we have, as far as parishes and places where we can worship safely in our society. And we must remember that what God is calling us to do may mean getting uncomfortable in a world that’s filled with darkness. In a world that’s filled with pain and hurt, God continues to challenge us to step out.
And that’s what I feel happens in our world, especially with our Black Catholics, those who were older and did so many great things. Especially during this Black Catholic History Month, I would like to take the time to honor our six African Americans on the road to canonization.
Unfortunately, given the reality of the church and its history, we have yet to have a Black African American capital-s saint who walked on the continental United States. But we have six on the road to canonization. But when we look at our second reading, it reminds us that we are called to have hope. In the gospel, too, it talks about the ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom, as church folk are called to stay vigilant, even amid our trials and troubles, and go out to meet Jesus when he returns. The end of the gospel reading says: “stay awake for you neither nor the day nor the hour.”
So let me begin with Father Augustus Tolton. Tolton is the first recognized Black Catholic priest for the United States. He had to go away to study in Rome because there were no seminaries that would take him here. After he was ordained, he thought he was going to Africa, but they sent him back to Quincy, Illinois to minister. And he was a popular minister. Unfortunately, he died of loneliness. But despite the laws of the time, he stayed faithful to what God was calling him to do, and he kept hope, even knowing that he might not receive his blessing here and now.
Venerable Pierre Toussaint was born into slavery in Haiti, then moved to New York by those he worked under. He became a master hairdresser, donated generous amounts of money to those in need, and helped build the original St. Patrick’s Cathedral. He is the only lay person buried under in the present St. Patrick’s Cathedral, in midtown Manhattan. And if you’ve heard of Catholic Charities, this is the man who created that process, because of his generosity.
During that same time, Julia Greeley, who was born into slavery and, after her liberation, moved to Denver, Colorado, did many charitable works despite her status in society. She gave out of love to those who were in need, using her little red wagon to bring food, clothes, and other necessities to poor families. Mother Mary Lang, from Baltimore, founded the Oblate Sisters of Providence, who do many charitable works still. She founded St. Frances Academy in Baltimore, a very prestigious school.
My personal favorite, not to sound biased, is Venerable Henriette Delille, who’s from my neighborhood here in New Orleans: Tremé, the oldest black neighborhood in the country. She founded the Sisters of the Holy Family, of which I’m an associate member. And in her work, she stepped out in faith to create this religious order to minister to those that were in need, both enslaved and free people of color. She created orphanages and nursing homes to help those that were in need and even defied the law during that time, teaching people of color how to read, which was illegal here in the south.
And finally, Servant of God, Sr. Thea Bowman, who many people alive today had a chance to interact with and know. You can see Sister Thea on YouTube videos, addressing the USCCB. In the video she says that the Black Catholics of this country are a gift to the church.
So, in these times of judgment, in these times of division, in these times of racial discrimination, people kept hope. And we are called now to keep that same hope. Whether you’re Black or not, no matter your situation. Just as our gospel readings say, we are called to stay vigilant and stay awake for we know neither the day nor the hour. But as people of faith, we know God is coming back and we are called to give our lives to God and share that hope we have as people of faith, to those that are in need. Keep hope and understand God loves you and is working through you to make the world a better place.