Martin Luther King, Jr., provides us with an example of living the Beatitudes, said Washington Auxiliary Bishop Martin D. Holley, the guest homilist at this year’s Martin Luther King Mass for the Diocese of Phoenix, celebrated at St. Mary’s Basilica Jan. 18.
Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted celebrated the annual liturgy, which is organized by the diocese’s Office of Black Catholic Ministry to honor the legacy of the slain Civil Rights leader who led the fight for equal rights in the 1950s and ‘60s. A Baptist minister, King relied on Christian principles to guide his nonviolent movement.
King followed the way of Jesus Christ, Bishop Holley said, “through the sacrifice of his own life, by preaching the truth and promoting the virtues of faith, hope and love, along with God’s mercy, justice and peace, through nonviolent means to help obtain equal rights, and respect for the dignity of every human being from conception to natural death.”
The Beatitudes, found in the gospel reading from Matthew, teach the faithful how to be followers of Christ, the bishop said. They are “stepping-stones” on the way to the Kingdom of God, but we can’t live them without the grace of the Holy Spirit, he added.
“Today, as we join our country in the national holiday, celebrating the birthday of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., we are called to remember how he entered into his own passion and was challenged,” said Bishop Holley. “We remember how he strove to the best of his human/spiritual ability to do God’s will and to live out the Beatitudes.”
The bishop pointed out King lived at a time when Black Americans in many parts of the U.S. couldn’t vote, didn’t have access to quality education, couldn’t run for or hold public office, couldn’t serve on juries, and couldn’t use the same public bathrooms and drinking fountains as whites.
“But because Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s willingness to undergo his own personal passion, as we all either do, or will do one day; he strove to the best of his human ability to, ‘do whatever Jesus told him to do.’”
Bishop Holley then went on to quote excerpts from King’s sermons and writings.
“‘Now the judgment of God is upon us, and we must either learn to live together as brothers (sisters) or we are all going to perish together as fools,’” said Bishop Holley quoting King’s “A Christmas sermon on peace.”
In order to have true peace, he said, peace can’t be seen as some far-off goal, but a way to live now.
“‘Man is a child of God, made in His image and likeness; therefore must be respected as such. Until men and women see this everywhere, until nations see this everywhere, we will be fighting wars,’” the bishop continued quoting. “‘We are all one in Christ Jesus. And when we truly believe in the sacredness of human personality, we won’t exploit people, we won’t trample over people with the iron feet of oppression; we won’t kill anybody.’”
Noting the Jubilee Year of Mercy, Bishop Holley said that Pope Francis also reminds Catholics to live out the Beatitudes. There is a close connection between poverty and evangelization.
“‘No one can be excluded from the mercy of God; everyone knows the way to access it and the Church is the house that welcomes all and refuses no one,’” Bishop Holley said quoting Pope Francis. “‘I am convinced that the whole Church will find in this Jubilee the joy needed to rediscover and make fruitful the mercy of God, with which all of us are called to give consolation to every man and woman of our time.’”
Robert L. Watson, who recently relocated to the Valley, attended the Mass and said he thought the homily gave Catholics something to think about in their daily lives. Referring to Martin Luther King’s legacy, he said it was his message, not the person, that was important.
“It’s a message of unity, prayer, brotherhood, respect for each other and Jesus Himself,” he said.
Kit Marshall, director of the Office of Black Catholic Ministry, recalled being in the Army during the Civil Rights movement, and going to a restaurant with his buddies outside of Fort Benning, Georgia. The men in uniform were never waited on and soon learned why when the manager pointed at Marshall and said, “We can’t let him come in.”
“Half of us went back to the main base,” he said.
Though there’s still work to be done today, Marshall said, the legacy of Martin Luther King is that African-Americans like him were able to compete in corporate America and open discrimination like he faced has dwindled significantly.
Marshall said he hopes those that attended the liturgy would be inspired to do more with the Church and to help people.
PHOTOS: Praising the Lord in remembrance of Dr. King (Catholic Philly)