Five years ago, we commemorated the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Four years ago, we commemorated the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which was passed during a time when the federal government found itself wrestling with the constitution’s prohibition of denying equal protection in terms of banning the use of racial, ethnic or gender criteria in an attempt to bring social justice and social benefits. And now, in 2018, we commemorate the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
In their statement on the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, the U.S. bishops remind us, “The Dream of Dr. [Martin Luther] King and all who marched and worked with him has not yet fully become a reality for many in our country. While we cannot deny the change that has taken place, there remains much to be accomplished.”
The late Divine Word Bishop Joseph Abel Francis, a former pastor of Holy Cross Parish in Austin, often appealed to the conscience of Catholic America, calling for conversion in its way of thinking, speaking and acting relative to blacks. Today the clarion call is for conversion in our way of thinking and acting relative to all God’s people — whether red, yellow, brown, black, purple, green, blue or orange. The duty to be “neighborly” is rightly given to us in Scripture. We have a moral obligation to offer hospitality, even to those who do not look like us or talk like us.
In our culture, human life is repeatedly under assault. From the very moment of conception to natural death, life is threatened because our society has lost the true meaning of humanity, respect and basic human dignity. We must never lose sight of the fact that Christ became flesh so that we may come to know God’s love (1 Jn 4:9) and to make us “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Pt 1:4). In Evangelium Vitae St. John Paul II explains “it is an absolute imperative to respect, love and promote the life of every brother and sister, in accordance with the requirements of God’s bountiful love in Jesus Christ.”
Our bishops have challenged us to “remember our collective past as a way to overcome historical ignorance and enact good public policy.” As a community who claims to be truly Catholic, and believes that the sacraments call us to “engage conversion of human hearts in racial harmony” in an effort “to transform attitude and action in ourselves and others,” we should consider the humanity and dignity of those striving under Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). We should not allow the conversation about relief to be undermined by the rhetoric of illegal immigration.
Pope Francis brings attention to not only charity and mercy, but also to our responsibility of addressing social inequality by reminding us that “true power, at whatever level, is service, which has its luminous summit on the cross.” Like David and Isaiah, despite their faults, were chosen “for the great evangelization,” and so, too, are we chosen for the great evangelization. May we endeavor to work toward peace, love, joy and happiness in our communities this Easter season.