Racial Justice reflection series – Chapter 5 “…Speaking Truth to – and from – Two Traditions”

“The will to persevere stems from a core conviction that I am called to the Catholic community because that community needs me and my voice if it is to be “catholic” in reality and not simply in rhetoric.” p.167

In Chapter 5, Fr. Massingale shares his particular experience both as a Black American and a Black Catholic. He explains how his experience as a member of this “community-in-struggle”, as he terms the Black American community, has impacted his vocation as a Catholic theologian. The difficulties that Black Catholics face as a marginalized group not just in American society but within the Catholic Church itself are layed out. “We are faithful, but alienated; faithful, but excluded; faithful, but hurt; faithful, but our culture is not welcome.” p.170 And the responsibility of the Black theologian to “speak the truth about their tears and give voice to their pain” is a sacred trust that Fr. Massingale feels that he has been given.

I looked up the term “catholic”, and found: universal; all-embracing; inclusive, inviting; having broad interests or wide sympathies. Is that the type of Church that we experience? More importantly, is that the Church that those who feel excluded from our secular culture experience? Is it reality or simply rhetoric?

When I first came to St. Mary 20+ years ago, I was drawn in by the dynamic community that I met here. I felt welcomed and loved. I found that I could use my gifts in service to the community. I still love this community deeply but through interactions with Catholics of Color and through reading books and articles by Black authors, I have begun to look more critically at our Church which excludes, many times unconsciously, our Black Catholic sisters and brothers. When I look around St. Mary, unfortunately, I do not see many expressions of the Black Catholic contributions to our faith. I do not see visual representations in the stain glass windows, nativity sets or statues. I do not see Black faces in the pictures on bulletins or flyers. Although I hear hymns about inclusivity and welcoming, I do not hear Black songs and spirituals very often, if at all, during our liturgies. At St. Mary, sometimes I do hear prayers and homilies mentioning marginalized communities but rarely does the sin of racism seem to be an urgent topic of concern in our community as a whole. I know that this is not purposeful exclusion but it comes from a lack of awareness, a lack of consciousness which still causes pain and alienation.

As white Catholics, Fr. Massingale’s book is a wake up call. A call to listen with an open heart and mind without defensiveness. A call to look beyond our white normative Catholic experience, and to see if what we say, do and present as Catholic is truly “universal” or just rhetoric. My hope in reading and discussing this book as a parish is that we can begin this transformation from rhetoric to reality here at St. Mary. What might each of us do to help Black Catholics and other marginalized members of our Church to feel less alienated, excluded, hurt and not welcome? Put in the positive, what might we do to help all God’s children feel included and welcome here?


Lisa Hirsch 

Lisa is a resident parishioner and has been involved with social justice ministry at St. Mary for 20+ years. She and her husband are also Eucharistic Ministers and lead the Flint Family Service Trip. They have 3 children and enjoy hiking, camping and traveling together.