Remembering Martin Luther King, Jr.
“We are afflicted in every way, but not constrained; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our body” (2 Cor. 4: 7-10)
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ, Today we mark 50 years since the violent death of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in Memphis, Tennessee. As we reflect on the life and work of Rev. King, at a time when racial tensions and gun violence seem to fill every news cycle, we might ask whether such a faithful witness to peaceful resistance in pursuit of justice for the most vulnerable has made any difference or is even prudent.
As the events of Lent, Holy Week and Easter have reminded us, we could not have had the Resurrection without the Passion and death of our Lord. How is it that the most important event in the history of Christianity was also one of the most violent? The very symbol of our faith is a reminder of this suffering and it shows us that only love and mercy can break the vicious cycle of evil.
Perhaps the real witness of Dr. King was his tireless work for a nation that was “restful” in Christ, rather than one that was simply absent any strife. After all, it is not merely non-violence that we offer when we say, “Peace be with you” at Mass. Rather, it is the love of Christ- something that is only possible through His sacrifice, prior to our own actions. “Love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Pet 4:8) and it is the only bedrock for true and lasting peace and a just society.
The Church is today actively engaged in no fewer than two dozen pieces of legislation related to violence in our own state -racism, gun violence, domestic violence, capital punishment, sex trafficking, abortion and other attacks on our families and our faith. Just as Rev. King knew the violence he experienced was a sign of a much greater problem, we too must not be content with treating symptoms. In his final speech on the night before he died, Rev. King made clear that he would like a long life [nonviolence]. But more important to him, he said, was his desire to simply do the will of God [love].
We can best honor his memory and preserve his legacy of peace by asking God to give us the grace to follow His will with courage in the cause of promoting justice.
Sincerely yours in Christ,
+ Most Reverend James V. Johnston, Jr.
Bishop of Kansas City-St. Joseph