125th Anniversary Homily

Following is the text of the homily by Father Michael Thompson, superior general of the Josephites, at the 125th Anniversary Mass on Nov. 17, 2018 at the National Shrine of the Basilica of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Baltimore.

Your Excellency, Archbishop Lori, Presiding Bishops, Father James Boric, rector of this basilica, concelebrating Clergy, Women and Men Religious, my brothers and sisters in Christ.

What an honor to be speaking to you on this milestone in the History of the Josephite Fathers and Brothers.

This is probably my sixth edited version of this homily since October. How do you cover 125 years of history in a homily?

I’m not going to bore you with a lot of historical data, we will do that later. However, I would be remiss not to cover our early beginnings.

The saying goes; “you don’t know where you are going if you don’t know from where you came.”

 

THE BEGINNING

After the Civil War, the Catholic Church struggled with the challenge of ministering to the needs of some 7 million persons of African descent who were faithful to their God, yet poor, uneducated and suppressed by evil and cruel treatment, in much need of spiritual support.

In 1871, at the request of U.S. Bishops, Pope Pius IX urged Father Herbert Vaughn (later to become Cardinal), to come to the United States of America from England, instead of his original plan of evangelizing Asia, because of their racial disparity among God’s people of that time.

The newly emancipated slaves, many who have been baptized associated within the Catholic faith, were in need of evangelization and ministry. Archbishop Spalding in his vision did not want to lose, “a golden opportunity for reaping a harvest of souls, which neglected may not return.”

Father Vaughn in November 1871 and his missionaries, taking the Negro Oath, set out for Baltimore to minister to the Negro People of Baltimore. This task by Father Vaughn and his new companion priest arrived in a very difficult times a new America, a new Church and a new kind of people, people of color.

Many oppositions were faced but they remained steadfast in their effort to evangelize communities of Black Catholics. Father Vaughn returned to England in 1872 and was named Bishop of Stafford, England.

In 1891, some 20 years later, Black Catholics would witness the First Black Priest to be ordained on American soil that had been educated in the Americas. It was a dream come true right here in this historic Cathedral, it is been a chronicled as a great day Baltimore and many came to see the lack of a Negro becoming priest as the New York Times reported.

Today we come to celebrate the resilient faith and continue to honor the evangelization of the new American Missionary Society dedicating their life in 1893 to the evangelization vocational ministry it to the Negros, Colored people, Afro- Americans, African-Americans or Black Catholics as we have come to be called in these times.

We come to celebrate and reminisce the disappointments, joys and contributions that St. Joseph’s Society of the Sacred Heart, (the Josephite, have made to this our Catholic Church.

Over 125 years, there have been many obstacles on this journey of history of the Josephites.

The Lord is on Our Side

Our theme is: “If it had not been for the Lord on our side, Where would we be?”

Through the grace of God almighty, we have joyfully moved through the Josephite mission to evangelize and spread the gospel message to a disenchanted and marginalized people, by the church and societies in which they lived.

I personally become amazed by the resiliency we have shown to the many obstacles of Racism, Jim Crowe, Civil Rights and the new Systemic Racism which we face today.

Last evening, I was talking to a priest friend, who was telling me about when he went to anoint a person of the Caucasian persuasion. The person refused and did not want to be touched by the Black priest. I laughed and told him of a similar racial encounter that I had not shared because I did not think that sort of thing still happened. I went to visit a person who refused me and threw his cup of water at me. He too did not want a black priest to minister to him. Although if the water or the cup and reached me, I would have performed the Sacrament of Extreme Unction on them. ( laugh).

I urge you to read the pastoral letter, “Open Wide Our Hearts: The Enduring Call to Love,” penned this week by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Over the past one and a quarter century, Josephites have ministered to people who have desired to be seen and heard.

It has not been easy. In the past, many dioceses refused to even recognize or accept White Josephites as well as Black priests. But we were determined to carry on the vision of the Society evangelizing, empowering, preaching, and teaching exclusively the Black Faithful of the United States. With the help of the likes of Saint Katharine Drexel and the Blessed Sacrament Sisters, the Oblate Sisters of Providence, Sisters of the Holy Family, Holy Spirit Sisters of Mary Immaculate, Mission Helpers of the Sacred Heart and the Franciscan Sisters of Philadelphia, I could go on and on, but you get the picture. We so too recognize the many Religious Women who were not afraid to step out in faith and continue the mission of Jesus Christ.

The early Josephites, even through hardship and disappointment, continued to reap the harvest, and acknowledge the Love of God to a people already strengthened by the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

What Gave Us Strength

Throughout these 125 years, it is my belief that it was a particular motivation, that strengthened Josephites to be resilient in their chosen mission.

As I observed during the few short years that I have been a Josephite, and reinforced at the meet and greet last night, among many parishioners and supporters, I realized that the particular motivation was right before my eyes. It was not what I have read in the “History of Black Catholics” by Father Cyprian Davis, “Desegregating the Altar” by Stephen Ochs, many publications and documentaries that chronicles of movement of Black Catholics in the Church.

I realize that what motivated our Priests and Brothers to dedicate their lives to the Josephite Mission was is sitting right here before you this evening. YOU, the Faithful People of God.

I am sure the Archbishop would concur and those clergy present, if we truly reflect on why we endure in our vocation, it would be the same. Because Christ Jesus has charged us, his unworthy servants, to the care and love of his brothers and sisters.

A people who continue to hunger for God’s love, moved by His Spirit and desire the promise of Eternal Life. No matter what obstacles, problems, abuses, evils that flows through the Church, the Faithful People of God remain steadfast and resilient. They understand that the Sacramental life of Christ’s church is stronger than human weakness.

In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus is not prophesying about the end of the world. Rather he is telling us that a new world will come though his passion, death and resurrection. There will be an “unveiling” or revelation brought about by his life and coming. Through the Paschal mystery, the old way of living ends and a new way of living begins.

Jesus unveiled a new way of loving God with all our heart, mind and strength by loving our neighbor like ourselves, a kind of loving which desires only the good of the other and is willing to give and even suffer for the other. This is Jesus’ great Commandment: this is his apocalypse, his unveiling, his revelation.

Therefore, I urge my Josephite brothers, seminarians and those preparing to live the charism of the St. Joseph’s Society of the Sacred Heart to remain resilient and be faithful to the responsibility given by your vocation call. Allow the people of God to motivate you to be great priest and brother. Don’t worry about titles: cardinals, archbishops, bishops, superiors, provincials, as you see all that can pass away. But the Love of God is sustaining. Be Christ to those that need us.

Heartfelt Congratulations

It is not going to be easy. It wasn’t 125 years ago. It is not now, and won’t be for another 125 years to come. Our work is to continue to make a difference, continue to be vigilant and continue to be Resilient in our Faith.

My heartfelt congratulations, as your Superior, to my brothers on this your 125th Anniversary of ministry to the African- American people.

My congratulations to you my brothers and sisters, who without you we would not be celebrating. You have carried us along on your journey of faith and it is my prayer that we all arrive at our eternal destination.

May almighty God shine His grace on the St. Joseph’s Society of the Sacred Heart and through the intercession of St. Joseph our patron, I simply say,

Thank you, Brothers.

Amen!

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