Continuing to follow Dr. King’s dream Print
Seeing with Jesus' Eyes
Written by Fr. Donald Lange   
Thursday, Jan. 14, 2016 -- 12:00 AM

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is an American federal holiday that marks the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr. It is observed on the third Monday of January, which is around Dr. King’s birthday, January 15. This year it is observed on January 18.

In his speech to Congress in September of 2015, Pope Francis lifted up four Americans who worked for social justice. They were two non-Catholics, Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King, Jr., and two Catholics, Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton. Crux columnist John L. Allen Jr. called them the pope's "Fantastic Four" who stood up for the poor.

Dr. King was the chief spokesman for nonviolent activism in the Civil Rights Movement, which successfully protested racial discrimination in federal and state law.

The campaign for a federal holiday in Dr. King’s honor began soon after his assassination in 1968. President Ronald Reagan signed the holiday into law in 1983, and it was first observed three years later. It was finally officially observed in all 50 states in 2000.

Principles of equality

Dr. King focused upon the following key phrase from the preamble of the Declaration of Independence: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."

This is one of the most profound statements ever written; yet, Americans did not always live the principles of equality expressed in the declaration. They embodied the cynical words of my former co-worker who said that "everyone is created equal, but some are created more equal than others."

For years, Americans tolerated legalized slavery. To abolish slavery, a bloody civil war was fought. Even after the emancipation of slaves, African-Americans were often denied their rights through unjust laws, customs, and policies. Protest against these laws, practices, and customs led to the Civil Rights Movement.

'I Have a Dream' speech

In his famous "I Have a Dream" speech, Dr. King chose not to directly attack America for her failings to live up to the Declaration of Independence; instead, he challenged Americans to live the ideals expressed in the declaration.

He reminded Americans of the self-evident truths stated in the preamble to the declaration when he declared, "I have a dream that someday America will rise up and live out the meaning of its creed that all men (and women) are created equal and are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights of life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness."

On April 4, 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tenn., presumably in hopes of silencing him. He became a martyr for the Civil Rights Movement. In front of the Lorraine Motel is a marker on which is written, "Here cometh the Dreamer. Come on, let’s slay him and we shall see what will become of his dreams" (Genesis 37:19-20).

Continuing call for conversion

The challenging inscription from Genesis was probably an invitation to us to continue to try to achieve the dream of Dr. King just as the Catholic Church continues to try to achieve the dream of Christ.

In no. 1896 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church it says, "Where sin has perverted the social climate, it is necessary to call for conversion of hearts and appeal to God’s grace." Each new year invites us to rise up and live the meaning of our beautiful Catholic faith and creed in deeper ways. It invites us to continue to work for social justice, which is a constitutive part of the Gospel.

It encourages us to keep supporting the rights of the unborn who cannot speak for themselves. In the May 2, 2015, issue of the Telegraph Herald, Alveda King, granddaughter of Martin Luther King Sr., stated that respect for life is part of the Civil Rights Movement. She stated that abortion is not a civil right; rather, life is a civil right.

Like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Pope Francis urges us to rise from the sin of indifference and be peacemakers in a world of increasing violence. May we support God’s gifts of family and marriage and work to improve the environment by caring for Mother Earth.

Responding to these and other challenges helps us to become better Catholics and citizens. They are at the center of social justice, public life, and pursuit of the common good.

Fr. Donald Lange is a pastor emeritus in the Diocese of Madison.