As the country continues to be divided, Martin Luther King Jr.’s message resonates

February 14, 2017

The Archdiocese honored the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his call to achieve peace through service to one another at its annual Mass on Jan. 15 at the Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart. Photo by Deacon Leonoard Lockett. 

HOUSTON — At a time when the nation is politically divided, the country honored Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy of seeking peace between races.

“I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal,” he said in a speech in 1963 in Washington, D.C. 

The speech, more than 50 years later, continues to resonate throughout the nation, even after commemorating his holiday on the third Monday in January, which fell on Jan. 16 this year.

Deacon Leonard Lockett, vicar for Catholics of African Descent, said it was important to reflect on the actions of a peacemaker, especially in a time of unrest.

“I believe Dr. King’s message of tolerance, human dignity and peace is just as meaningful and necessary today as it was in the 1950s and 1960s,” he said. “We find ourselves at this hour in a nation of unrest and the wonderment and beauty of Dr. King’s message is that it transcends time. Dr. King reminded us over and over during his ministry that we are all created in the image and likeness of God and therefore share in a sacred brotherhood and sisterhood.”

Deacon Lockett said that as citizens of this nation — not just citizens of African descent, but all citizens regardless of one’s race, creed or political philosophy — must learn to live every day of the year as if it was MLK Day. 

“I believe if Dr. King was with us at this moment his message would the same, ‘Hatred paralyzes life; love releases it. Hatred confuses life; love harmonizes it. Hatred darkens life; love illuminates it,’” he said. “We have to remove ourselves from the concept that MLK Day is not just the third Monday in January but that every day of the year we should be out striving to keep Dr. King’s dream and vision alive.”

Daniel Cardinal DiNardo said that, since the time of the founding fathers, the country has been blessed with citizens who have had the courage to rise above the challenges of their day and call their fellow citizens forward in the unending task of building an ever more just nation, and Martin Luther King Jr.’s inspiration guides its citizens to build peace under the recent strain of division and violence.

“While there have been real gains in our country, we must not deny the work before us to heal both old rifts and new wounds, including those created by the evil of racism and related mistrust and violence,” he said. “Society cannot continue this work if its members are unwilling to engage in encounters of the heart that honestly immerse them in one another’s lives.”

Leaders in the Archdiocese have followed Martin Luther King’s example since the beginning. In 1965, Archbishop Emeritus Joseph A. Fiorenza, retired Auxiliary Bishop Vincent M. Rizzotto and Bishop Emeritus John E. McCarthy of the Austin Diocese traveled to Selma, Alabama, as young priests to be part of the march for black voting rights.

“The nation at that time was quite divided over granting the civil right to vote to African Americans and to others who had been legally prevented to exercise their right to vote,” Archbishop Fiorenza said. “It was important for those of us who went to Selma to show that we fully supported the efforts of Martin Luther King.”

He said Martin Luther King Jr. was not only demonstrating for the right to vote, but also trying to help overcome enormous divisions in the country. Today our nation is divided for other reasons, including politics, immigration and racial tension, which is why the message for which Martin Luther King Jr. died for continues to be important. 

“Prophetically he was able to see that, unless we are a truly united nation — united around the basic rights to life, to vote and to be a participant in the democratic process — it was a guarantee that the nation would always be at war with itself,” Archbishop Fiorenza said. 

Cardinal DiNardo said, “Dr. King reminded us that our obligations to one another ‘concern inner attitudes, genuine person-to-person relations and expressions of compassion which law books cannot regulate and jails cannot rectify. Such obligations are met by one’s commitment to an inner law, written on the heart. Man-made laws assure justice, but a higher law produces love.’”