The story of Congress XI is one of faith; faith engaged, one that will be told from many different perspectives; one that sets our hearts on fire, which empowers, equips and evangelizes; one that will be told according to the many faces, cultures and peoples that were both present and represented at Congress XI. Mine does not purport to be the best nor the most complete. Neither will any other story or experience. But all of them put together, told in different places, times and styles epitomize the many gifts and talents given to us by the same Holy Spirit. We are all parts of the same Body of Christ, the Holy Church of God. For many years to come, this great story of faith, faith engaged of Congress XI will be told time and again with assorted flares.
One central question remains: "What Have We Seen And Heard"? As Black Catholics in the United States of America, we should all know our history; one that speaks for itself and that clearly indicates that "We have come this far by faith, leaning on the Lord. We are the ones who have followed the sacred footprints of faith of our ancestors who came out of Africa. We are the ones who continue that long march of faithfulness, moving through sacred history and holy times, holding on with great expectancy that our God will lead us to [a] place of spiritual ascension" (Opening Prayer at the May 6, 2010 Catholic Cultural Diversity Network Convocation).
If what we have truly seen and heard is the love story of the birth, life, ministry, passion, death, Resurrection and Ascension into Heaven of Our Lord and Master Jesus Christ, then we can say that since we have come this far by the same faith that kept Our Lord on track, His love then becomes a balm in Gilead for us. It further gives us plenty good room to forgive and accept one and all in spirit and truth as brothers and sisters to us since the Church is One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic. Consequently, with our faith engaged, the Holy Spirit will continuously empower us. Equipped with the armor of love and the shield of faith we will then be able to evangelize and bring the Good News to the ends of the earth.
With our FAITH engaged, we will always remain Fervent in the ways of the Lord thus Aspiring for daily conversion so that Inspired by the Holy Spirit we will carry on the Teaching the Gospel to others by example, Hanging on to Mary through the Rosary for She as the First Disciple, leads us back into the Good Shepherd's fold. What a privilege! This is the feeling I came away with from Congress XI. And I am sure many brothers and sisters in the Lord too did. For me, Congress XI was a first time experience. I likewise met a few first timers too. But the vibration and energy we felt individually and together as a community of worshipers were great.
It goes without saying that there is only one known source for such great force. Think about the impact of a waterfall for a moment. Picture the Victoria Falls on the Zambezi River between Zimbabwe and Zambia. It is indeed the largest waterfall in the world and runs for over a mile. Or better still closer to us, the Niagara Falls in North America. These are considered the most powerful falls in the region. One of the general uses of waterfalls is to produce electricity. But here in this flashback on Congress XI we are talking about a different kind of electricity. It is one that its voltage can never by measured by human standards. It constantly filled that air as soon as we walked into the grand ballroom. Yes, its after effects were even felt across the streets of Indianapolis. You must have guessed by now that we are talking here about the Eucharist. The Eucharist sets our hearts on fire; a fire that consumes us in a different way. This calls to mind Moses' experience at the burning bush in Exodus 3:2-3: "There an angel of the LORD appeared to him in fire flaming out of a bush. As he looked on, he was surprised to see that the bush, though on fire, was not consumed. So Moses decided, "I must go over to look at this remarkable sight, and see why the bush is not burned."
How do we often approach the Alter? Do we often picture the "remarkable sight" of Christ on Calvary Who laid down His life for us? Do we open our hearts to take part in this Sacrifice of the Cross, offered to us on a daily basis? The Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us that "The Eucharist is "the source and summit of the Christian life." "The other sacraments, and indeed all ecclesiastical ministries and works of the apostolate, are bound up with the Eucharist and are oriented toward it. For in the blessed Eucharist is contained the whole spiritual good of the Church, namely Christ himself, our Pasch" (1324). Indeed, Christ is our Pasch!! Each time we encounter Him at the Breaking of the Bread, we share the experience of the disciples on the way to Emmaus: "Were not our hearts burning [within us] while he spoke to us on the way and opened the scriptures to us?" (Luke 24:32)
O yes, each liturgical celebration at Congress XI brought tears to my eyes in a different way. But on the whole, just the zeal and the willingness of the Priests to say Mass for us, the magnitude and enthusiasm of the approximately 2500 people, the fervor of the choir and the storm of graces from Heaven made the Eucharist come alive and so real that one could fill the presence of Christ in each event, even outside of the Mass. If where two or three are gathered, the Lord is always present, what will happen where thousands are assembled? For sure His graces will abound. And they did at Congress XI. This encounter with the divine is so intense such that like Our Lady did in Her Magnificat we give praise unto God for doing something great in our lives (Luke 1:46-56). And like the Ethiopian eunuch our hearts will always be full of joy: "When they came out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away, and the eunuch saw him no more, but continued on his way rejoicing" (Acts 8:39).
This essence of rejoicing that comes with the fullness of the Holy Spirit is beautifully captured by the Congress XI logo. Needless to count the number of times we see the Holy Spirit in action in Scriptures. But the image of the dove stands out to us most of all at the Baptism of Christ in the Jordan reinforced by the tongues of fire at Pentecost. But again, this concept is made all the more meaningful when we turn back to the Old Testament: "In the evening the dove came back to him [Noah], and there in its bill was a plucked-off olive leaf!" (Genesis 8:11) This reminds us of the peace that came upon the renewed face of the earth after the great flood. Noah was empowered to leave the ark and re-engage the world. And like the LORD had told Adam and Eve before, He let Noah and his household to take control of the earth.
It is often said that faith can move mountains. We become empowered to spread the Word of God and bear fruit that will last. For Christ Himself says: "Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever believes in me will do the works that I do, and will do greater ones than these, because I am going to the Father" (John 14:12). It is in the context of one of the Last Supper Discourses that the Lord makes this affirmation knowing that His Body and Blood are the source of our strength. There is every reason for us then to not let our hearts be troubled. We should have faith in God and in Christ (John 14:1). Noah's act of faith is a total fulfillment of Christ's foregoing assertion. The Holy Spirit then, represented through the appearances of the dove and fire is our source of peace and faith in the Almighty Father. God's covenant with Noah after the flood is clear. This renewal of the face of the earth prefigures the flow of blood and water from the side of Christ on the Cross that likewise renews us. This notion comes across in every celebration of the Eucharist. In the same light then, one can perceive Congress XI as a time of renewal brought alive in a different way in all the Eucharistic celebrations that took place during the Congress. For me, each Eucharistic celebration reveals a new aspect of our salvation history. A new inspiration always comes through, be it in the readings, the homily, the songs or via the person next to us. The waterfall of Christ's love never stops overflowing.
Wherever It is said, the Mass is always very engaging. It is a participatory mystery since Christ offered the one perfect sacrifice so that we too can now offer it with, through and in Him. In order to be redeemed, we must join in. That is why we must be practicing Catholics. Faith has no vacation. We cannot take the weekend off or a couple of days to not practice our faith or to do it only when we feel like it. It's either we are hot or we are cold; be for the Lord or against Him. We have to choose one! The Mass, in all Its ramifications, gives us access to God's grace - our testimony to faith in God and the power of prayer that makes us do all things in Christ. Most importantly, we take our rightful place before the LORD. It is often said that he who sings praises twice. For me the liturgical hymns at all the Congress Masses convey a special message. We are blessed to have the Mass booklet for the rest of our lives as it should always serve as a source of meditation and inspiration.
As Black Catholics, at Mass we bring our gifts and talents to the Altar and to the Church. This is expressed through our unique style of faith and worship that speaks unending volumes of who we are. Generally speaking, our Black culture is best expressed through song and dance: emotions, joys, sorrows and so on. The call to worship song, "This Little Light of Mine", for the opening Congress Mass reminds us of our nothingness before God. We are His little children adorned with the grace of humility. Since we are configured to Christ in Baptism, our light can only shine through Him or as a reflection of His. He is in fact the Light of the World. This perception comes to reality every Holy Saturday night when we light our little candles from the Paschal Candle. Visualize for one moment the brightness of 2500 candles in one gathering. Convert this by human standards into grace. Envision 2500 streaks of light from one source, a little bit like the graces Saint Catherine Laboure saw coming from Our Blessed Mother's hands. What a multitude of graces!! After all, a city built on a hill cannot be hidden. Our faith is built on the rock of Calvary. It must shine through by hook or by crook, through the cracks of this broken world, thus bringing the warmth of love, peace and hope to so many - the call to evangelize. With this spirit of humility and preparedness, we become ready at every single Mass to adore God. Hence, the song "Come, Let Us Worship the King" becomes an open invitation to all to come and behold the goodness of Christ Who gave His life for us. That is why "So Glad I'm Here" reveals the inner joy we feel at each celebration of the Eucharist as we prepare to witness to the risen LORD and encounter Him at Holy Communion. We are so glad to be in His presence and we pray for one another, ourselves and for peace in the world. We continuously pray in Jesus' Name! Because "Jesus Is Here Right Now" at each and every Mass in Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity, we are able to receive Him, and let Him touch us in a special way for He remains in us all the time. "O Taste and See" engages us to open our hearts to the goodness of the LORD, so that we become equipped with the Bread of Life and are able to proclaim far and near that "I Received the Living God", food for life's journey. We can only be redeemed by the Precious Blood of Jesus. By singing "Stain Me" we invite Jesus to pour our His love through us. The stain of love then becomes the visible sign of inward grace; our faith engaged that empowers us to go great works of charity and mercy as Jesus is now with the Father. Thus, with our faith engages in first gear, we are able to "Go Now" through the concluding song and bring the Good News we have just witnessed to at Mass to the ends of the earth. Once more we celebrate our joy like the Ethiopian eunuch did.
Already so energized on day one, the congregation, full of vigor can only but chant on day two: "I'm So Glad, Jesus Lifted Me". Day two is no less intense. Jesus lifts us up every day because He has ascended to the Father. His promise to be with us till the end of time is renewed at each Eucharistic celebration. By being lifted on the Cross of Calvary, He died so He could lift us out of sin. On the third day He rose from the dead; a sure sign of our own resurrection. Through our Baptism, we are lifted to the family of God so that we too can be sent into the world to proclaim the Good News. By so doing, we are constantly lifted out of our own self-interests so we can better serve the LORD and His people without any distractions. Because we have been lifted by Jesus, we have every reason to cry out for the world to hear: "You Saved My Life"! Yes, being the people who we know that we are, we have been saved, not only from our sins but most importantly, also from the sins of man's inhumanity to man. The struggle as Blacks and especially as Catholics has not been an easy one. Hence, "We've Come This Far By Faith". The LORD has been and is our support, guided by His holy Word. At all times He makes a way where there seems to be no way. To remain in His love then, we have to relentlessly "Taste and See" to keep our faith engaged; to proclaim "What We Have Seen and Heard". There is nothing to fear since "The Lord is My Light". Therefore, my own light must shine through, with and in Him. This can only happen as "He's So Real". We believe in His Words: "This is my body, this is my blood". All praise and honor belong to Him for the wonders He has done throughout the ages. Consequently, we can only conclude by singing that "Mine Eyes Have Seen The Glory". Indeed, "What We Have Seen and Heard" cannot be measured by human standards. All we can now say is: "Thank you, Jesus. Amen."
By day three, the air becomes so electrified with love, peace, excitement and a deep sense of fulfillment that we call on Jesus to "Lead Me, Guide Me". Being overzealous, we want to be sure that we are on the right track. We cannot go astray when He leads us. Saint Pio of Pietrelcina once warned that obsessive love can sometimes become blind. As a result, we need caution. Because we are human and imperfect, our own thoughts and desires can often get in the way of God's Will. Let's remember that it is all about Jesus. Hence, our affirmation: "You Are The Light". He has to shine through us, His instruments. Not that He needs our help, because He is God, but for the sake of His love for us. In addition we are members of His Body through whom He continues to reach out to all the needy. The mission of Christ is unending. So is His Praise: "I Will Praise Your Name Forever". To make all this happen from our own end, our faith has to be upheld by prayer. Reason why "God Hears Me When I Pray". This is both individual and community prayer, for Christ knows His sheep and they know Him as well. This sense of unity is in turn sustained by our only "Heavenly Bread" broken for the world as food for our souls. It is a communion that extends from the Most Holy Trinity down to us since we share in Christ's divinity. This is made possible through the Incarnation all because He is our "Worthy God" Who is always worthy to be praised round the clock. Once more having being fed at the Table of the LORD, we are once more enjoined to "Go Now" into the world rejoicing and proclaiming the Good News as shining examples of faith that has been engaged, empowered, equipped and ready to evangelize. For it is indeed time to acknowledge that it is "O Happy Day"!! Our sins have been washed away, we have been taught "to watch, fight and pray" and especially to "live rejoicing everyday" of our lives, no matter the circumstances in which we find ourselves.
O yes, at all times throughout Congress XI, the camaraderie was evident. Be it at grand ballroom, in the hallway, at the booths, in the hotels or even on the streets. All this put together can only but reveal a glimpse of the heavenly glory that awaits us individually and as a community of faith. At such an event, the positives more often than not overlook the negatives. The call to solidarity of Congress XI brings to light the many problems and challenges that face us as a community of worship. As we continue to reflect on ways of implementing the Congress XI Pastoral Plan of Action, we must persistently meditate on the words of Saint Peter: "Beloved, do not be surprised that a trial by fire is occurring among you, as if something strange were happening to you" (1 Peter 4:12). Certainly there will be tests, both personal and common as we are called to "Holiness of Life". It is not an easy task to uphold the "Life and Dignity of the Human Person", especially given all the modern trends we find in today's world. But we are reassured that by "Walking with the Saints" we become more "Engaged in Parish Life and Evangelization". This goes a long way in helping us to become "Faith Informed" people of God who uphold "Schools too Valuable to Sell". For without these schools, we cannot do without "Reaching Out to the Next Generations". As such, praying for "Vocations - Every Catholic's Priority" will sustain ministry to our Black communities for years to come. Another way of preserving vocations, especially for lay people is by "Getting Married and Staying Married". In face of all these, we shall overcome with the help of the Holy Spirit Whose flame of love we should keep burning in our hearts. Thus, "The Social Apostolate" will forever move onwards. And like all good Christians that we are, with our Faith Engaged, Empowered by the Holy Spirit and Equipped with the graces from Congress XI Masses and the Sacraments, ready to Evangelize, we turn to Mary, Mother of God, Mother of the Church and Star of Evangelization to pray for, guide and protect us in all our endeavors. Amen.
Vunda Moutchia is a theologian, speaker, writer and retreat master. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org; 610-848-0513.