6/6/2013 10:26:00 AM Reassessing our stand on justice
Catholic News Service
Holy Cross Father Theodore Hesburgh, second from left, and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. participate in a June 21, 1964, rally at Chicago's Soldier Field.
It was 50 years ago this spring that the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote an open letter while jailed for civil disobedience in Birmingham, Ala. The anniversary is a time to take stock of where we as a church stand on matters of justice.
We sometimes forget that Rev. King was a pastor, inspired by the Gospels. The letter from the Birmingham jail was, after all, addressed to fellow clergymen who had criticized the civil rights campaign as “unwise and untimely.” Among those signatories was Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Durick of the Diocese of Mobile, who later became a civil rights leader.
Rev. King, responding to the churchmen’s insistence that he should stay in his home church, said that the prophets and St. Paul went on the road, compelled by a great cause. Concerns about propriety pale in comparison to the need for justice, he told his naysayers.
The Auxiliary Bishop of Mobile and other Catholics were caught on the wrong side of history 50 years ago. But many Catholics marched with Rev. King. We should look to that prouder history now as we encounter the grave matters of our day.
We have several causes — continued racial prejudice, the dignity of life, the survival of the planet and respect for immigrants come to mind. In all of these cases, and others, it behooves us to keep Rev. King’s lesson before us. We must reject violence, but we must stand up now. We’ll need to counter those who flatly disagree with us, but more importantly, we cannot be stalled by so-called wise voices who say this is neither the time nor the place.
At an event this spring commemorating Rev. King’s letter, Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, Ken. said that sorrow for the past and gratitude for the present will ring empty unless we continue the work of furthering justice. The archbishop is right, the work is urgent and we are the workers.