Black Catholic Spirituality

Full of the Spirit
Five spiritual gifts of African American Catholics
By C. Vanessa White

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Black people are a Spirit-filled people. This religious nature of black people has been, as theologian Gayraud Wilmore has written, “an essential thread in the fabric of black culture.” It transcends regional differences and socioeconomic backgrounds. It is our sense of this Spirit that has helped us to survive centuries of oppression, alienation, flogging, lynching, discrimination, murder, and human devaluation. To understand us, one must understand our spirituality, which has African roots. The ways of searching for God and experiencing God’s presence in our lives is not done within a vacuum but in a cultural context. Black spirituality, the late Sister Thea Bowman said, is a response to and a reflection on black life and culture. It is rooted in our African heritage and is colored by our Middle Passage from Africa to America, slavery, our Caribbean and Latin experience, segregation, integration, and our ongoing struggle for liberation. But how exactly is black spirituality defined and expressed? Here are five key characteristics:

God on our mind   •   People of the Book   •   Joy, wholeness, and contemplation   •   All are welcome   •   Called to do justice


Theologian Sister Jamie Phelps, O.P. argues that the absolute criterion of the authenticity of black spirituality is the following: “Do the actions of the community lead to right relationships? Does the person act right and call others to be right? Does the person and the community struggle for the liberation of oppressed persons, races, and nations?” A person and a community imbued with the life force at the center of black spirituality-with the Spirit of God-is willing to struggle for this liberation from sin and its effects.

As we enter this new millennium, black Catholics are being called to be attentive to the Spirit that is urging them to move. It is our spirituality, embodied within the person of African descent, that is moving the community to fight for freedom and live in God’s ways. Amen, praise God, thank you, Jesus!?


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