Monday, January 19, 2009

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

"Were there no men of vision,
all who are blind would be dead."
- Rumi
[I, 2133]

Almighty God, by the hand of Moses your servant you led your people out of slavery, and made them free at last:  
Grant that your Church, following the example of Martin Luther King, may resist oppression in the name of your love,
and may secure for all your children the blessed liberty of the Gospel of Jesus Christ; who live and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.
(from Lesser Feasts and Fasts - 2006)

From a homily [slightly adapted] which I preached on April 5, 1968 at Sacred Heart College, Wichita, KS:

"The real tragedy of yesterday's events, perhaps, is that our memorial of Dr. King comes only now, when it should have come long before this.

As he himself said only Wednesday evening, 'I have been to the mountaintop.'  Today's liturgy is so fitting for a memorial to the man who was to have had the keynote address for our Catholic national Liturgical Conference in August.  Repeating Christ's cry in deepest affliction in the Introit, we come into this church.  In the Collect we pray: "Graciously pour forth your grace into our hearts...that, keeping our sinful inclinations under control by self-denial, we may suffer for a brief while rather than be condemned to everlasting punishment..."   The Epistle reading from Jeremiah reminds us that names change from century to century, but men of God and their message remain the same. Dr. King was every bit as much a prophet, as much a man of God, as Jeremiah.  He assumed the task of being a champion for the poor and those without their God-given human dignity and human rights.  He, too, was called in his youth, as Jeremiah, to speak an unpopular, unpleasant (because it was uncomfortable) message.  In the Epistle Jeremiah's is the plea of a man of God wishing to be speedily rid of his unpleasant burden of prodding and predicting woe.  Neither did Martin Luther King like having to preach this message.  As Jeremiah and Isaiah, Dr. King could say, in God's name, "this people honors me with its lips, but their heart is far from me."

Many a modern Caiphas, like the one in John's Gospel, even today in the face of this disastrous tragedy, is still saying, "It is better for one man to die than that our secure nation be shaken up."  When will WE ever learn that Dr. King's death could not mean anything just for that reason, but that it could mean something in order, as the Gospel says, "to gather together into unity the scattered, fragmented children of God."

Someone recently asked why we always preach about people and about loving one another.  The answer is in your newspaper this morning, as it was in November, 1963, or when Abraham Lincoln died, not to mention countless other times.  Violence won't stop until we learn this message, which was Dr. King's message.

Some time ago I read this quote: "The hottest place in hell is reserved for those who in times of great crisis remain neutral."  How can our consciences let us remain inactive any longer?..."


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