Radio Show

African American Catholic Spirituality and Preaching With Father Maurice Nutt

Father Dave welcomes back friend of the show Father Maurice Nutt to discuss his new book, “Down Deep in my Soul: An African American Catholic Theology of Preaching.

Father Maurice reflects on his early inspiration from the United States Council of Catholic Bishops’ pastoral letter called, “What We Have Seen and Heard: A Pastoral Letter on Evangelization from the Black Bishops of the United States.” 

He explains, “What they’re saying is that what is exemplary of good preaching is found in Black preaching. So I’ve always found Black preaching to be underutilized in the Catholic Church. And I believe that engaging, inspirational, and in some instances informative and motivated preaching would really bring people more engaged in the homily…Churches will begin to grow if we had good preaching.”

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The book dives into the origins of Black Christianity in the United States, and notes five characteristics of Black spirituality: contemplative, holistic, biblical, joyful, and communal. Father Maurice reflects on the characteristic of “joyful” and says, “It seems almost like an oxymoron for people that have been historically oppressed to be joyful. Our joy is never found in our current circumstances. It’s always in a sense of having a ‘God awareness,’ that God is with me no matter what I’m going through, no matter what I’m experiencing.”

He continues, “I like to say that your condition is not your conclusion. So while you’re in a mess right now, you’re not a mess. Your mess can be transformed to your miracle, trusting and knowing that God is always with you, and so that gives me joy.”

Father Dave highlights how one of the intended audiences of the book is “somebody who might be preaching to a Black Catholic community that is not [Black] themselves.” Father Maurice agrees and says, “I’d say that the book is about race, religion, ritual, and rhetoric, but it’s also a resource to help others to preach better.”

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He discusses four functions of a homily in the African American liturgical context, which he describes as “information, inspiration, motivation, and celebration.” In describing “motivation,” Father Maurice says, “Often many people sitting in the pew after or during the homily say, ‘So what? So what am I motivated to think, feel, believe, and act after hearing this homily?’”

Father Maurice also highlights the importance of preaching about social issues and says, “I was very intentional to talk about those challenging topics that we must preach as Catholics, how to preach anti-racism homilies that we tend to skirt away from, because we don’t want people to be upset. But I think that’s what we’re called to be as prophetic. As we’ve dealt with these past few years, in a more overt way, the racism that has happened in our country, Catholics have been somewhat slow to speak out, and I think that the challenge of prophetic preaching also requires that we speak against the sins that form our society or my world.”