Celebrating the Life and Legacy of Martin Luther King

Throughout history, God has called individuals to respond to the needs of the age.  One such man was the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-68). 

With a conviction deeply rooted in his faith in Jesus Christ, Dr. King gave true meaning and worth to the words “prophetic” and “countercultural.”  Like the prophets of old, he announced what some thought to be unwelcome messages – he spoke out for a just society, freedom, equality and for the day our nation was “transformed into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood,” insisting that we be like the early Christians and work for peaceful reconciliation and the transformation of society. Thanks to this minister of God and his specifically Christian approach in responding to social injustice, America did begin to change.

This year’s celebration of Dr. King’s life and legacy around the country, and by the archdiocese at Saint Joseph Church in Largo last Saturday, has been bittersweet.  The nation rejoiced in his memory five years ago on the 50th anniversary of the historic March on Washington.  Then, three years ago, we recalled with enduring hope the 50 years since the momentous 1965 Selma to Montgomery march for voting rights, when clergy and laity of every race and faith walked side-by-side for justice.  This year, we instead mark the 50th anniversary of his tragic murder in April 1968.

Yet, 50 years after Dr. King’s untimely death at the young age of 39, his voice has not been stilled; his dream lives on.  The words and example of this modern-day prophet continue to ring out and inspire new generations as we confront the issues of injustice today, such as lingering racial tensions in our country, the treatment of those on the margins, and other threats to human life and dignity.

In a culture where racism was rampant and devaluing others widespread, Dr. King did not seek to conquer, but to convert, to peacefully change hearts, believing that love has within it a redemptive power that transforms individuals (Sermon of November 17, 1957). Always faithful to the Gospel, he simply reminded this culture, this nation, that we are all sisters and brothers because we are all children of the same God.  The legacy he leaves tells us that each is responsible for the harmony that should reflect the presence of God’s kingdom in the world.  It is our turn now.

As I noted in my pastoral letter, The Challenge of Racism Today, there is work still to be done in building a free and just society for people of all races, ethnicities and backgrounds.  Inspired by the witness of Dr. King which lives on, this is how we best honor his memory: by continuing to work for God’s kingdom, lifting up human dignity and standing up for the vulnerable, the weak and the oppressed.