Editor’s note: This week at the University of Notre Dame, representatives from the nation’s Black sisters, clergy, religious brothers, deacons, and seminarians gathered for their annual Joint Conference, celebrating the legacy of Black Catholicism in the US and planning for the next year of ministry.
The year’s theme, “Walk Together, Children,” concerned resilience in trauma and guided the various events, including a Jubilarian Mass on Monday, July 25 at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart. The newly ordained Fr Carl Gales, SVD preached on 2 Corinthians 4:7-15. His homily is reproduced here with permission.
I would ask you to please repeat after me: We remember them.
If you close your eyes, I believe that you can travel far back to a time where you can see a land, fertile and rich. A heat so intense and yet all-embracing. You can look out and see rivers, and on the banks of the rivers, you can see diamonds pushing themselves out of the sand. You see children playing with rocks… diamonds. There are untold riches in this land.
You see people, Black, proud and beautiful, full of the treasure of a deep and lasting history, with the support of community and ancestral ties that connect themselves to each other and to the earth. Now open your eyes and look around you and say to each other: We remember them.
Bear with me just one more time: We remember them.
Now close your eyes. In your mind's eye, feel the ocean rocking a ship. You feel bruised and battered. There are sobs and wailing all around you. You open your eyes to see darkness. You smell death all around you. You cannot wipe your face for you are shackled. You cry out in your own language, but you hear foreign tongues answer you. Imagine this lasting for two whole months.
And you are released from these chains. You walk off the ship with new chains, shackled. And you see black bodies, bent, warped, unrecognizable. Bruised and humiliated. Now open your eyes and tell the person or persons around you: We remember them.
Deep within our DNA, a story is buried. It’s a story that we don’t realize that shapes every thought, every decision, every life choice we make. People would like to erase this history. And you could, perhaps, erase it from our books, but not from our DNA. And even if you try, your body will not let you forget.
It is this DNA—this memory, this remembering—that gives us an untold potential that this world will do whatever it can to make us forget.
It’s not lost on me, the irony. The irony that I have been tasked to give a homily on this occasion celebrating our brothers and sisters that have served so long in ministry to God’s people. A baby religious, just fresh in perpetual vows and ordained religious priesthood, to talk and preach to those seasoned in the works of God.
But having lived 40 or so years in this skin, I believe that what we share is what I’m called to bring to attention. That because of you all, it has been made possible for me to be here today. Because of your “Yes” to serve, you have enabled us to stand on your shoulders. Because of your telling the story, you have passed on the story to us. And this “Walking Together” couldn’t have come at a more important time. With so many things—COVID pandemic, White Supremacist political agendas, parish closings, people feeling alienated from the Church—“Walking Together” is something that is crucial to our future.
For we are faced with three options: We can stand still, we can “Walk Together, Children,” or we can fall apart.
And If you believe that God is not through with you, if you believe that God is still calling you to serve the people of God, if you believe that although the Church seems to be closing parishes without thinking of the parishioners, and you have the mission to gather what has been scattered, then we must “Walk Together.” Because it’s not over.
There are too many people who don’t know. There are too many people who have forgotten. There are too many people who have been made to forget the treasure that their skin contains! And they don’t love the skin that they’re in.
They have not been told what our ancestors went through. They have been fed lies by an erasure of history. They have been told that a Catholic church shouldn’t sound like a Baptist or Pentecostal church. They have been told that Black Catholic worship is entertainment. All of these things are aggressions against our Blackness.
Don’t tell me what Catholic Church should be like. I’ve seen the Catholic Church in the Congo. The exuberance, the life, the shouting to the top of their lungs. Such a tremendous spirit and enthusiasm by all in attendance that would put a Pentecostal church to shame. Don’t tell me we can’t be fully alive, fully us, fully free in a Church that is all about setting people free.
It’s not over. We all have work to do. There is treasure in our skin, and we have the mission of remembering, of telling our story to break the chains of denial, oppression, and years of passive-aggressive silence.
It’s not over. This is why we “Walk Together, Children,” because we have people in our midst that have forgotten their DNA. The DNA that cries out for justice. The DNA coursing through their veins that seeks resurrection. Yes! “We hold this treasure in earthen vessels…” This treasure of dying, only to rise again.
For just as the blood of Abel cries out from the ground demanding justice, so too the innocent blood of millions of our ancestors cries out in this land. And it will not be denied. We “Walk Together” because our ancestors did not die in vain. We “Walk Together” because their blood demands remembering. We “Walk Together” because the death that is at work in us will, through Jesus Christ, be raised to glory.
It is not over until we as a people—Black Catholics—can stand in our Truth and just be. Just… be, unapologetic in our Blackness. It is not over until we as a people—Black Catholics—can, through Jesus, bring resurrection to our ancestors’ memory through our worship in spirit and in truth. It is not over.
Our Black Catholic ancestors have suffered too much for us to fall apart. Our Black Catholic ancestors have struggled too much for the freedoms we all enjoy today. We owe it to them to “Walk Together, Children.”
They’ve been through too much for us to stop now. They’ve been humiliated too much for us to stop now. They’ve faced too much rejection and persecution for us to stop now. Because we refuse to stand still. We refuse to fall apart. We walk side by side. We lock our arms to withstand every attack of the enemy. To withstand every agenda that is meant for our downfall. To withstand every aggression that seeks to divide and conquer. We “Walk Together, Children.”
We “Walk Together, Children” because we remember and we won’t forget our shared DNA. Our shared exuberance! Our shared joy of living! Our shared passion for greatness! Our shared heritage of soulfulness! Our shared values of putting your best foot forward! Our shared beauty that can only be described as, “That is sooo us.”
We have been through so much and we are still here. Amen?
“I am troubled, yet not distressed,
perplexed, but not in despair.
I’m a vessel full of power,
with a treasure, none can compare.
Persecuted, but not forsaken,
cast down, but not destroyed.
I am a vessel full of Holy Ghost power.
I’ve got a treasure from the Lord.
Bruised and battered, but not broken,
born in sin, but from sin set free.
I’m a vessel full of Holy Ghost power.
I’ve got a treasure hidden in me.
Thank you, Father, for your power.
It has resurrected me,
oh, from painful circumstances
that my poor soul could not flee.
I’m a vessel full of power.
God has resurrected me.
You’re a vessel full of power.
We’ve got a treasure from the Lord”
(“The Corinthian Song” by V. Michael McKay)
Fr Carl Gales, SVD is a Divine Word Missionary. He was ordained on May 28, 2022 at Our Lady of Africa Catholic Church in Chicago and serves there as associate pastor.