The Legacy of a martyr

National Portrait Gallery
National Portrait Gallery

Dear Sisters and Brothers,

The other day I posted a portrait of my own of a man I admire — Joshua, a homeless man.   Today I honor a mentor of mine who would have been the eighty years old today. He was 39 when he was martyred on April 4, 1968 — another young man who had a powerful influence on our country.

This is an excerpt of what I said on the fortieth annniversary of his death last April 4th:

Forty years ago today, April 4, 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr was gunned down by an assassin’s bullet in Memphis, Tennessee while he was leading a strike for sanitation workers.  He inspired and led the Civil Rights movement that achieved great change in our land.  This man is still for me one of my mentors.  He was a man who committed himself to absolute nonviolence like Mahatman Ghandi and my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ as the only way that justice and peace can be achieved.  He inspired ordinary folks, black and white to stand up for their rights and to sit down and accept the vicious blows of police and to have the courage to go to jail for what they believed in.

Forty years ago tomorrow, April 5, 1968, I formally entered the service of the Roman Catholic Church as an ordained deacon.  I was a seminary student at the Theological College of the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.
The shrill sound of sirens all over the city mingled with the ancient chant melody.  As I lay prostrate on the floor with my brothers to be ordained  I sucked in a deep breath and committed my service to the Church to be in the shadow of this man whose ideal of justice and peace and freedom I wanted to absorb into my soul and body.

Today, April 4, 2008, in this land of America, we have lost most of the freedoms and ideals of that other great man Thomas Jefferson that all men are created equal and have the right to life liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  Today, not only young black men are listless and have no hope.  This is true of young white men as well.

We are no longer a free nation when they can listen in on any of our phone conversations without a court order, our cell phones track and Google track our movements, when they deny the right to a trial, when we torture our enemies.

Where are those today who will inspire us and lead us out of our complacency?
Who will inspire us to stand up and put our lives on the line for what we believe in?
Who still dreams the dream of Martin Luther King and Thomas Jefferson?
Who is willing to sacrifice to restore those ideals to our beloved country?

O God of Justice,
raise up men and women in our day who will inspire us and restore us to the original ideals of our nation.
Enable us to wake up from our slumber and see what we have lost, that we are no longer a free nation.
Give us the strength and courage to pledge our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor to win this spiritual revolution that now lies before us in 2008.
We pray to you, God,  for You are the God who cries for justice for your children
and who still hears the cries who know and realize they are poor without You.
We pray to You for only You can can restore us to the ideal of freedom and justice FOR ALL.

St. Luke attributes has Mary sing these words in her Magnificat sung or recited every evening in the church everywhere in the world. Would  that we would believe it and commit ourselves to it!

“[God} has shown the strength of his arm,
he has scattered the proud in their conceit.

He has cast down the mighty from their thrones,
and has lifted up the lowly.

He has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.

He has come to the help of his servants
for he has remembered the promise of his mercy,
the promise he made to our fathers [and mothers}
to Abraham [and Sarah and Haggar}
and [their] children for ever.

Well, I wrote this nine months ago.  And look what has changed!

We are a free nation, after all!

The people have spoken. God still smiles on us.

But I call us more than a generation later to the principles of Non-Violence Dr. King instlled in his followers.

They were trained to sit down on the ground and take blows of the police because they knew that Non-Violence was a more powerful weapon than guns and bombs.

That legacy of Dr. King made it possible for Barack Obama to become preident of the United States.

Dr. King held no public office.  He persuaded us by the power of his words and the depth of his conviction.

And his willingness to give his life for what he believed in — no matter what.

Is there anything you  are willing to give your  life for?

I continually ask myself the same question and pray the answer is Yes!

Bob Traupman
priest / writer

Thursday, January 15, 2009

One thought on “The Legacy of a martyr

  1. Michele January 20, 2009 / 11:52 pm

    What a beautiful reflection on the man upon whose shoulders the civil rights movement was begun, and whose spirit resonates on such a momentous and historical day not just for Americans, but for people everywhere. God Bless President Obama and Vice President Biden, their families, and this new Administration.

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