He was 39 when he was martyred on April 4, 1968 ~ a young man who had a powerful influence on our country.
This is an excerpt of what I said on the fortieth anniversary of his death April 4th 2008, also the fortieth anniversary of my ordination:
Forty years ago on, 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 one of my mentors. He was a man who committed himself to absolute nonviolence like Mahatma Gandhi 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, 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 on the day after he was killed, 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.
On this anniversary, April 4, 2008, in this land of America, we have lost a lot of the freedoms and ideals of another great man Thomas Jefferson who declared 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; it’s 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 their lives on the line for what they 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 Hagar]
and [their] children for ever. (Luke 1:46-55)
I call us more than a generation later, now in 2015, to the principles of Non-Violence Dr. King gave to us.
He trained them 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 president of the United States.
Would that he would have the courage to commit himself to that great man’s ideals.
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.
Now, before you go, here’s a 5-minute excerpt of Dr. King’s last speech the night before his assassination in Memphis. If you’ve never heard him speak, (and I had in my seminary days), I promise you, it would be worth your time. Click here.