The Challenge is to Silence the Mind

By Deacon Al Anderson, Jr. & Ed Jones

We recently attended the 14th annual National Black Catholic Men’s Conference, held in Miami, FL October 5th – 8th. The conference is presented each year by the Bowman Francis Ministry Project, under the leadership of three Society of Divine Word (SVD) priests: twins Reverend Charles and Chester Smith SVD, and Reverend Rev Ken Hamilton SVD

In answer to the question” Why a Black Catholic Men’s Conference?” the brochure states “We are committed Black men, principally Catholic, who recognize our need for God’s help! We gather in Christ’s presence in an atmosphere of trust, equality and anonymity, to share personal feelings and experiences. We unconditionally accept one another and prayerfully support one another. We feel encouraged by the Holy Spirit to share with one another….. Men to Men!”

The theme of this year’s gathering was “The Challenge is to Silence the Mind”. The goal was to provide a holistic and healthy approach to rid ourselves of the negative “noise” (i.e. self-doubt, low self-esteem, rage, etc.) that inhibits us from successfully contending with the psychological and spiritual warfare that many African American men and boys face in today’s society; to provide tools for effectively dealing with pervasive violence, drugs and mass incarceration.

Fr. Sydney Speaks gave very powerful reflection titled “Authority is in the Air”, at the opening session on Thursday evening. He reminded us that true authority comes only from God and those in positions of authority should use it with a servant’s mentality; glorifying God, rather than themselves. Fr. Sydney also exhorted us to not shy away from the authority that we have been given but to eagerly embrace it; while constantly praying for God’s wisdom and seeking the counsel of our brothers and sisters. He has a very active youth ministry and was the primary speaker at the various youth tracts that were presented at the conference.

Fr. Sydney Speaks

Fr. Sydney Speaks

Each day began with Praise and Worship, led by the dynamic Gospel music group Men in the Fire. Afterwards, there were many excellent workshops and keynote addresses on a wide range of topics including: “The History of Black Catholicism”, by Fr. George Kinitba; “Urban Education in the Black Community” by Dr. Donald Edwards, Ed.D; “All Green/and No Black-Environmental Activism is Social Justice Activism” by Dr. Griena Knight-Davis, LPC; and many, many more (Too many to list here)!

We attended several very good workshops. One that particularly impressed me was titled “The Stigma Associated with African American Male Incarceration” by Dr. Wylie Tidwell, PhD. Dr. Tidwell outlined several root causes, historical and current, of Mass Incarceration in the African American community:

  • Reconstruction after slavery – the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution abolished slavery except as punishment for a crime. Reconstruction also gave birth to Jim Crow laws.
  • Lack of Civic Participation – Placing of barriers, such as gerrymandering, designed to exclude Black folks from participation in the political process.
  • Breakdown of Black Families and Communities
  • Deformation of the Black Church and the rise of impersonal / cold mega churches.

The workshop “Where are all the Black Men”, presented by Msgr. Fredrico Britto addressed concerns faced by many churches regarding male absence from the congregation and church activities.  The presenter stated that the average Black Church is made up of 75% female and 75% elders, which posed the question, “what happened to them?” This spawned a lively and interesting open discussion on possible reasons that may have brought about the lack of participation.  The suggested list of reasons was endless but very insightful and enlightening.   Some suggested approaches to getting them back involved included:

  • Men need to hear other men witness to them about the goodness of Jesus
  • Have men to men support groups that include prayer, Bible study, Men’s Day Program and service to the church
  • Ask them for their help (using their professional skills)
  • Mentoring program, Rites of Passage program

The closing Mass for the Conference was held on Saturday evening at the Notre Dame d’Haiti Mission in the heart of Miami’s “Little Haiti”. Bishop Burchell McPherson, a former pastor of the parish (for 18 yrs.) was the celebrant for the Mass. Concelebrating were many African American and African priest from around the country. Fr. Stephen Brown, SVD gave a rousing homily on the conference theme of “The Challenge is to Silence the Mind”. Men in the Fire provided the music ministry for the Mass. The conference ended on Sunday morning with a Healing and Commissioning Service led by Fr. Hamilton.

We have attended several of these conferences in the past and have always come back renewed and refreshed in the Spirit and given much information and counsel on how to better serve my own diaconal ministry. We look forward to next year!

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My Roman Rite

Written by: Daniel Rice, Seminarian

This summer I have had a great deal of exposure to a vast range of cultural traditions, especially with regard to the way in which a large diversity of cultures worship God within His One Church. I have met many people of great joy and devotion to our Lord, people whose differences are good to experience. Yet they are also people whose differences are not as great as their similarities, for we all share one human nature and, on an even deeper and more profound level, are adopted sons and daughters of God, brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ. How amazing that, as baptized Christians, we can call God our Father, Abba (loosely translated: dad), through the Holy Spirit, Who has been given to us. In the words of St. John the Beloved and Evangelist, “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are” (1 John 3:1). Truly, we are all one in Christ.

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This summer has been a fruitful one. I hope that my testimony of vocation has been beneficial for my brothers and sisters in Christ. I know that the experiences I have shared with them have been fruitful for me. One profound way in which this was so is that their various cultural traditions have made me reflect upon my own and grow in my love for it. I am an English-speaking Roman Rite Catholic, and what a blessing to be one! I love the English language, the Roman Rite Mass, and the unique spirituality and spiritualities of Western Catholicism. God has indeed set my heart aflame for the beauty, goodness, and truth of Himself, the Catholic faith, and the Roman tradition.

One amazing part of our liturgical tradition is our amazing sacred music. Our vast array of sung music ranges all the way from Latin chant to English hymnody. One piece of music in particular caught my attention this summer: If Ye Love Me, by Thomas Tallis, a 16th century English composer. I invite you to find the best speakers you can, follow the link, sit back, and listen to this amazing piece of music, reading along with the lyrics:

“If ye love me, keep my commandments, and I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another comforter, that he may ‘bide with you forever, e’en the spirit of truth.” (John 14:15–17)

During my third time listening to this in the office, Kelvin gave me a look and said, “Is that you [playing the music]?” I replied, “Yeah.” He added, “Oh, I thought the angels were coming to get me.”

That’s it right there. This piece of music and so many more draw the heart, mind, and soul to their Creator. Their beauty is apparent, but is not their own. Borrowing several words of St. Augustine, “Their beauty is their confession of God.” They are expressive and formative, giving voice and elegance to our prayer to God as well as teaching us about God. After all, the words in Tallis’ piece are from scripture; they are the words of Christ Himself.

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Mural of (top to bottom) Christ the High Priest, the virtues, several Saints, and the minor orders.  St. Turibius Chapel at the Pontifical College Josephinum.

We also see this beauty in our sacred art and architecture. Seminarians of the Pontifical College Josephinum, the first time they walked into the newly completed St. Turibius chapel, said that it was as if they “had stumbled into paradise.” I was blessed to complete my four years at the Josephinum by seeing the restoration, renovation, and re-dedication of that chapel. It did indeed seem like a sort of paradise, and all of the art intentionally drew the connection between the sacred space, the Mass, and Heaven. It is upon the altars of the Church that we are united to the Pascal mystery and sacrifice of Christ. It is upon the altars of the Church that Heaven and Earth kiss.

There is much more to my cultural tradition than its music, art, and architecture. I feel at home in the structure, prayers, smells, dress, and actions of our liturgy. I experience the words of Scott Hahn, who named one of his books, Rome Sweet Home. Hopefully we may each begin to plumb the depths of the rich faith that has been handed down to us, each through our own cultural traditions.

Thank you to the Office of Multicultural Ministries and all who welcomed me into their communities this summer.

Holy Trinity, One God, have mercy on us.

Our Lady of Lavang

Written by: Daniel Rice, Seminarian

On August 5, I went to Saint Veronica’s for Mass with Our Lady of LaVang Catholic Vietnamese Community. I was able to serve at the Mass, and the five altar servers guided me with regard to the particular way of serving in that sanctuary. This was quite helpful, for while every sanctuary ought to have the same key features and some similar qualities, each has its own particular character.

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Written in gold half way up the sanctuary wall: “Consider how Veronica saw Him so afflicted and attended and wiped His most holy face.”

At the end of Mass, Father let me speak for a minute or two. I encouraged all present to entrust their vocation to Mary, and (after the inspiration of Pope St. John Paul II) not to be afraid to open wide the doors of their heart to Christ, not to be afraid to follow him on the amazing adventure He has planned for them, not to be afraid to become who they were made to be. After all, God doesn’t just make a person and then draw a blueprint for his life, telling him to follow the directions. Rather, God’s Will, which is Love and Mercy itself, is written on our hearts, is inscribed into our very being. That is the vocation, the calling, that we discover. Your vocation is not what you do, but who you are.

Our Lady of LaVang, pray for us.