As we gather to reflect on the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., we recognize that there are many sad divisions which continue to persist in our country. If we are honest with ourselves, we might say that since the last time we commemorated Dr. King’s birthday, these divisions have only become worse or – at the very least – more public. The events in Charlottesville, VA were just one example of the racial prejudice which exists in the hearts of many – and because of which many continue to suffer. Yet we have also been exposed to the way that sexual violence is such a rampant problem in our culture. We have seen new kinds of vitriol unleashed at our recent immigrants, an attitude which harms the many good and decent migrants while also making it more difficult to prosecute those who do cause trouble.
Yes, in 2018, the work of building Dr. King’s beloved community is far from over. And yet, as people of faith, we must look at this situation in a clear-sighted and realistic way. As the history of the Civil Rights movement shows, transformation in our society rarely happens because of the intervention of the powerful or through a large wave of change. Dr. King was very skeptical, I think, of anything like “historical inevitability.” Our goal must not be to situate ourselves on the “right side of history,” but in right relationship with almighty God. In the end, it is only small decisions made by ordinary people which actually change the world. We must not listen to the false messiahs of the right or the left promising peace and prosperity in exchange for a vote. Instead, we must listen to the voice of our conscience and choose simple, concrete ways of acting in charity and friendship to those around us – regardless of our background. If we are unhappy with the age we live in, we must remember the words of St. Augustine: “we are the times.” We are the age we live in!
Faith, hope, and charity transcend all divisions – including the bitter and calcified racial problems in our country. So, let us ask the Lord for a renewal in these theological virtues today. Then we might find that the “beloved community” is no further than the religious community which we call home.
These remarks were given as part of the annual Archdiocesan Interfaith Commemoration of the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.