The Regina A. Quick Center for the Arts hosted Reverend Bryan N. Massingale for his lecture “Spirituality for Racial Justice” on Tuesday, Jan. 31. The event was presented by Fairfield University’s Center for Catholic Studies, in tandem with the Office for Mission and Ministry, and Fairfield University Student Organization.

Priest in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee and a Professor of Theological and Social Ethics at Fordham University, Father Massingale harnesses his platform as a religious and educational leader to highlight the intersection between spirituality and racial justice. 

Father Massingale’s connection to the Catholic faith and his desire to bring others into discipleship has compelled him to channel his efforts into re-imagining the way that the Catholic Church and the general public views the intersection between blackness and human spirituality.

“If racism at its core is a soul sickness, then we need to provide a remedy that can reach the inner reaches of the human secret,” said Fr. Massingale while stating that sweeping changes in societal attitudes and dispositions begin with interior changes in the human heart.

He also emphasized that in a society where the humanity of Black lives is undervalued, it is our call to lead with love and demonstrate inclusivity. 

Professor Massingale notes how the Black Lives Matter movement, at its inception, aimed to call attention to the systemic devaluing of Black lives. Similarly, American Catholics must contend with the many ways that the institutions of the Church have been tarnished. More specifically, by certain exclusionary dispositions that have fostered division and disunity as opposed to engendering love and a universal understanding of spirituality.

Using the Catholic Sacrament of Penance as a model, Fr. Massingale demonstrates how an uninhibited “examination of conscience” can promote an honest encounter with both personal and historical demonstrations of racism. This entails both self-reflection and proactive listening to the stories of those who have been wronged, both in the Church and in secular society. 

Harkening back to historical Judaic practices, Fr. Massingale encourages communities to engage in “lamentation”—an ancient practice where members of the community unite to discuss the ways in which society has advanced and instances where it has fallen short. Difficult conversations, he says, will allow us to note the ways in which many American Catholics have neglected to see all people as one body in Christ and members of the universal Catholic community.

The word metanoia is Greek for “conversion” or “re-orientation.” As described by Fr. Massingale, the depth of this reorientation is one of internal transformations within the heart and mind. This radical reorientation necessitates us to re-evaluate our views about the sacredness of every person. 

As an advocate for racial justice, Fr. Massingale notes that an authentic Christian reorientation necessitates us to grapple with our preconceived notions of the intersection between racial justice and spirituality. Racial metanoia is a paschal journey and a call to reimagine a racially just society. The process of engendering justice and equality within the Church begins at the individual level. Still, he states that it is only through the collective recognition of the ways in which the institutions of the Church have fallen short, that we can begin to secure discipleship for all.

“Anti-blackness is a spiritual malady, a soul sickness, an interior malformation of a magnitude for which we lack words. An affliction that can only be healed when we learn how to love blackness,” said the professor from Fordham University.

Fr. Massingale also noted that there is a false innocence that happens when we either pretend to be oblivious to a problem or choose to ignore the issue because it does not impact us directly. The first step to combating racial injustice is to recognize the magnitude of its reach and begin to analyze the implicit and explicit ways that we have participated in the perpetuation of inequality. 

Fairfield University Student Association Vice President Aliyah Seenauth ‘24 highlighted the importance of students attending events of this magnitude. 

“It is crucial for the student body to engage in events like these to learn things we may not necessarily hear in the classroom,” said Seenauth, who also co-organized the special lecture.

Father Massingale closed the event by reminding the attendees that authentic Catholicism centers around love and acceptance for people of all backgrounds, and that it is only through the collective recognition of the beauty and individuality of each person that will enable us to work towards a society where black lives are valued and cherished.

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