ROCHESTER — Catholics from a number of different cultural backgrounds gathered at St. Monica Church in Rochester Nov. 12 to celebrate their own diversity as well as the contributions black Catholics have made to Catholicism. The church hosted the 6th Annual Black Catholic Enrichment Community Mass and Dinner in honor of Black Catholic Month in November.
“Most people think, and rightly so, that (Black Catholic Month) is about celebrating the contributions people of color have made. It’s also a celebration of diversity,” said Maxine Childress Brown, chairperson of the Black Catholic Enrichment Committee, which planned the event.
Childress Brown noted that about half of the people at the celebration were not African-American.
“It’s a wonderful celebration of diversity and working together with the Holy Spirit,” she said.
The theme of the evening was “Come Celebrate Our Spiritual Soul,” and the celebration included gospel music, a performance by Immaculate Conception Parish’s liturgical dancers and a Gospel reflection by Diana Hayes, an associate professor of systematic theology at Georgetown University. Hayes, who has earned a law degree from George Washington National Law Center as well as bachelor’s and licentiate degrees in sacred theology from Catholic University of America, was the first African-American woman to earn a Pontifical Doctorate in Sacred Theology from Catholic University of Louvain, Belgium.
The Black Catholic Enrichment Committee selected Hayes to speak at the Mass because of her academic background and “the way she carries the Holy Spirit about her,” Childress Brown said.
Although the liturgy’s readings at first glance appeared to have little to do with each other or the black Catholic experience, they were indeed connected, Hayes said. The first reading from Proverbs listed the qualities of a good wife and can be seen in relation to the strong foremothers of African-American Catholics, whose faith helped them persevere through hard times, Hayes said.
The second reading came from 1 Thessalonians and stated that the day of the Lord would come like a thief in the night, and the Gospel reading from Matthew told the story of the master who gave his servants talents, or coins. Several of the servants used and multiplied their talents, while another buried his talent in the ground and gave it back to the master when he returned.
“We in the black community, just as in other communities, have been showered with grace from God. God has distributed his wealth, his grace among all of us, and he waits patiently to see what we will do with the graces we have received,” Hayes said. “What matters is not how many we received from God, but how we use them. The gifts of God are given freely, but it is our responsibility to use them wisely.”
God wants his people to use their gifts to establish friendships and to build community rather than fragment it, she added. In this way, people will end up with more gifts than they originally received. When we refuse to see the face of God shining out of others who are different from us, we in effect bury our God-given gifts, she said.
“The day of the Lord … will come like a thief in the night, and that’s all the more reason that we use the gifts and talents that have been showered on us so freely. We know not the day or the hour of the coming of the Lord, so should we not choose solidarity over disunity?” Hayes asked.
Solidarity does not mean assimilation, however. Catholics of any group do not have to give up their own history and traditions in order to fit into the larger church, Hayes said. The black Catholic community has its own unique gifts and qualities, and these should be shared with the rest of the Catholic community. Many of the early fathers and martyrs of the church were African, and their contributions have helped the church survive and “become the body of Christ that it is today,” she said.
“To be black and Catholic is to be fully aware of our deep and faith-filled, abiding presence in the Roman Catholic Church,” Hayes noted.