The Lord comes to meet us with his promise: I will send you the Spirit, the Comforter, the One who speaks to you in the depths of your being. I will send you the Holy Spirit. This is obviously an unfathomable mystery. All we need to know is that the Spirit exists and works to save and sanctify us.
— Solemn Celebration in Preparation for Pentecost
Homily of Pope Saint Paul VI
Sunday, May 26, 1968
“The Spirit exists and works to save and sanctify us.”
How true these words are. How true they have been since the Holy Spirit descended upon the Apostles on the first Pentecost.
It’s early in the evening on Pentecost Sunday. I’m writing this from my house in the Maryland suburbs on a quiet street. I look out the window to the front yard, where there’s still sunlight and my kids are playing.
The pandemic has barely touched me or my family, while my neighbors in the majority-black community where I live have been ravaged by the disease. The death of another black man killed by another white policeman has caused the tension to boil over as African American people have risen up to shout “no more.”
Yesterday, we re-published the 1968 statement of the first meeting of the National Black Catholic Clergy Caucus, written in the wake of the assasination of Martin Luther King. Their language is strong—probably jarring for many of our readers—but since we posted it, many in the African American Catholic community have praised it in comparison to the comparatively weak language of more recent statements on race by Catholic leaders.
This is, I believe, the heart of the statement:
“Because of its past complicity with and active support of prevailing attitudes and institutions of America, the Church is now in an extremely weak position in the black community. In fact, the Catholic Church is rapidly dying in the black community. In many areas, there is a serious defection especially on the part of black Catholic youth. The black community no longer looks to the Catholic Church with hope. And unless the Church, by an immediate effective and total reversing of its present practices, rejects and denounces all forms of racism within its ranks and institutions and in the society of which she is a part, she will become unacceptable in the black community.”
What has really changed?
While there certainly are real signs of life in the black Catholic community—I’m thinking especially of the strong African-American legacy of my own Archdiocese of Washington and a few other places around the country—black people make up only 3% of the US Church, while they are 12% of the overall population of the nation.
Even more scarce are African American priests. The recent resignation of Youngstown’s Bishop George Murry means there is one less active black bishop in the country. While certainly it isn’t all about numbers, these numbers are certainly evidence that our effectiveness has been lacking. Clearly we as a Church haven’t risen to the challenge that those gathered black clergy gave to us five decades ago.
I hope we can all recognize there’s a problem. I think it’s pretty safe to say that we have yet to solve it. This Pentecost, the best advice I can give is to do three things (and repeat as many times as necessary): listen, pray to the Holy Spirit for guidance, and then act. The Spirit exists and works to save and sanctify us.
To jumpstart the “listening” part, I’d like to share the recent words of some people who are certainly more qualified than I to speak about these times:
“Let us ask ourselves: are we prepared to welcome the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives, to listen to the call to mission, whether in our life as married couples or as consecrated persons or those called to the ordained ministry, and in all the everyday events of life? Are we willing to be sent forth at any time or place to witness to our faith in God the merciful Father, to proclaim the Gospel of salvation in Jesus Christ, to share the divine life of the Holy Spirit by building up the Church? Are we, like Mary, the Mother of Jesus, ready to be completely at the service of God’s will (cf. Lk 1:38)? This interior openness is essential if we are to say to God: “Here am I, Lord, send me” (cf. Is 6:8). And this, not in the abstract, but in this chapter of the life of the Church and of history.“
— Message of Pope Francis
World Mission Day 2020
“As a society, we must find ways to understand and to respond to the pain of our brothers and sisters. We see racism destroying the lives of Jewish, Muslim, and Christian people because of their religious and ethnic heritages. Racism triggers the divisive and xenophobic attitudes of nationalism. It also targets people because of their cultural traditions or physical appearances and it threatens immigrant people who seek nothing more than the opportunity to improve their lives and the lives of their children.
We pray for a new Pentecost: a renewal of love, justice and truth in our hearts. We are called to do justice and love goodness in order to walk humbly with God.
Since we are confident that the Father always hears our prayer for reconciliation, together, we join in peaceful, non-violent protest, action, and prayer for the balm to cure all forms of racism starting today.
Please join me in asking Our Father for the balm of love, justice, peace, compassion and mercy to end racism and hatred now. Come, Holy Spirit, come.”
— Archbishop Wilton Gregory
Statement on death of George Floyd and
the aftermath of the nationwide protests
“Many black and brown Catholics are turning to the church for solace, only to find, at worst, silence, and at best, a delayed response. As of noon on Friday, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops had not yet released an official statement on any of these deaths, though several individual church leaders had made public comments.
Every day, black women and men are faced with the reality that in America, all it takes is one person to see your body and the color of your skin as a threat. These thoughts are ever-present, not only when images of black death go viral. Black people are routinely viewed by white citizens and police as suspicious, dangerous and unworthy. Once again, black Americans must confront the dangers of being in a black body while wearing masks in public spaces.
Black people are suffering. How can the church show that it is listening?”
“As the saying goes, if you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention. What did we expect when we learned that in Minneapolis, a city often hailed as a model of inclusivity, the price of a black life is a counterfeit twenty-dollar bill? When we added another name to the list of those murdered for being black or for caring about the marginalized?
We need to take up the hard work of healing the deep wound that has afflicted our people since the first slave ships docked on this continent. And we need to start today.”
— Cardinal Blase Cupich
Statement on the murder of George Floyd
and its aftermath
[Added 6/1/2020 — ML]
Blacks are constantly begging for oxygen, a gift that God granted everyone. Centuries of systemic racism, such as redlining and gerrymandering, have rendered a long litany of resources unavailable to the Black community.
Air should not be added to the list.
It is hard for Black people to have to ask for their humanity to be recognized while also asking for breath.
— Patrick Saint-Jean, SJ
After George Floyd’s Suffocation:
A Litany for Oxygen From a Black Jesuit
The Jesuit Post
I ask, if possible, that you please read each of the above statements in their entirety. (Links are provided.)
Come, Holy Spirit,
Save and sanctify us!
Renew love, justice, and truth in our hearts.
Guide and heal your Church from the sin and scourge of racism and racial injustice.
Help us to be sources of solace to those who suffer injustice.
Inspire us to to take up the hard work of healing the deep wound of racism.
Give us the wisdom and courage to answer the call in this chapter of the life of the Church and of history.
Come Holy Spirit, come!
Emphasis in the quotes is the author’s.
Image: Adobe Stock.