Tomorrow, Monday, January 17 is a national holiday as we celebrate the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Though great progress has been made in tolerance throughout our country since the 1960’s, there is still much work to do. As tragic attacks on other human beings, shootings and hate filled language that have become more prevalent in the past couple of years has shown, we still have much work to do to make equality for all people a reality. Let us join in prayer and work daily so that all people of the world might realize the “Dream” of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. that we are truly brothers and sisters to one another in the human family.
Dr. King was an eloquent speaker and champion for the rights of all people. As he noted, “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy. The true neighbor will risk his position, his prestige, and even his life for the welfare of others. In dangerous valleys and hazardous pathway, he will life some bruised and beaten brother or sister to a higher and more noble life.” Among his many writings, speeches and marches perhaps his legacy is most remembered in the powerful “I Have a Dream” speech he gave at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC on August 28, 1963.
On April 4, 1968, while in Memphis, Tennessee to support striking sanitation workers, Rev. King was shot and killed by a sniper. Though our country has made significant hopeful changes in racial equality the past fifty-four years, there is a growing undercurrent of racism present in our society today. As we celebrate the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr. we are reminded that it is up to us, who live in our great country today, to carry on the work of assuring that every man, woman and child who lives within the USA is treated equally.
On Monday, I encourage you to listen to and read the entire speech that Dr. King gave on that hot August day in Washington in 1963. And let each of us be reminded of the powerful words and challenge he spoke at the end of that speech, “…and when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all God’s children, black men [& women] and white men [& women], Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of that old Negro spiritual, “Free at last! Free at last! Thank God almighty, we are free at last!”
The past couple of years have not been easy ones for anyone who lives here on Planet Earth. The COVID virus continues to disrupt the life of many individuals and their families. The tremendous sacrifices that medical people have been giving to try and keep us all healthy deserves the highest praise and thanks that we can give to these heroic people. Though increasing violence has taken the lives of far too many innocent people and especially the death of young people, we need to commend those who are working to try and stem this increase of violence. Each of us who live in this great city we call Chicago must not only condemn this violence we need to help one another find creative ways of bringing peace to not only the Loop but also our neighborhoods.
Children are shot and killed in their own yards, while travelling in a car with their parent(s) or even killed by stray or intentional bullets in their home while watching TV or even sleeping in their beds. When adults getting out of their vehicle are carjacked, injured or even shot, when more and more people fear riding a CTA bus or “L”, we cannot lament these terrible tragedies and then do nothing. The words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., spoken in the 1960’s challenge us today……“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”
Last weekend, we celebrated the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. In my homily I said, “Can we make a difference in our world? YES! we can make a difference. If we want to have a more loving world, a world free from war, violence and hatred…. then we who have been baptized have to live what being baptized calls us to be….. children of God and not of Satan….. children of compassion and not of hate. Children who speak and act with concern not only for ourselves, our family, for those whom we know…… but who speak and act with care and compassion toward others.
No one who has been baptized and considers themselves a member of the Church can say ….. it really doesn’t concern me…. I have enough things myself to worry about let alone worry about others. However, Baptism is not a solidary act. Baptism is the great welcoming into the family of God… into the embrace of God’s Church. Baptism is the great summons to follow in the footsteps of Christ. The feast of the Baptism of the Lord reminds us that after his own Baptism in the Jordan …Christ began his own ministry. And our Baptism calls us as brothers and sisters of Jesus to support and safeguard one another.”
In these winter months of January, February and March, I would like to suggest a couple of books I encourage you to read. My suggestions are:
The Soul of America by Jon Meacham An insightful look at our past and the present reality of our country today.
His Truth is Marching on: John Lewis and the Power of Hope by Jon Meacham A powerful narrative of congressman, John Lewis, and the battle for civil rights in the USA
Children Under Fire by John Woodrow Cox An important look into the violence gripping our country today.
A Life of Jesus by Shusaku Endo A unique perspective of Jesus from one of the leading Catholic authors of Japan.
January 22 has been designated, by the US Bishops’ Conference as a Day of Prayer for the Legal Protection of Unborn Children. January 22 is the 49th anniversary of the decision of the US Supreme Court regarding the legality of abortion. Through these 49 years since that decision, many words, arguments and various actions have been taken by those on both sides of this crucial issue. As Catholics we are called by our faith and belief in Jesus Christ to promote respect for all of life from conception to natural death. If we say we are for Respect for Life then we need to work, act and pray as people who respect all of God’s creation. The solution to the sometimes, difficult arguments in regard to respecting all of life will not be easily attained however, we must try with all our might to promote life through our own actions, words and prayers.
Finally, I ask that you keep all our First Responders, Medical people, and necessary workers in your prayers. We too often take our police, firefighters, medical staff and others for granted. The recent death of Chicago firefighter, MaShawn Plummer while fighting a fire reminds us of the danger our First Responders face every time they go to work. Fireman Plummer had attended Hales Franciscan High School and was a graduate of Quincy University (a Franciscan school) in Quincy, IL. Please keep him, his family and all who mourn his passing in your prayers. May each of us here at St. Peter’s pray for the safety of all our First Responders and Civil workers.