Dr. King, Nonviolence, Love, and Christ

Dr. Martin Luther KingThe leper, trusting in Christ, begged Him for help. The Lord was “moved with pity.”

Martin Luther King, Jr., outlined six principles of universal, nonviolent love:

  1. Love eschews violence, but remains spiritually active. The truly strong individual resists evil by non-violent persuasion.
  2. Love never seeks to defeat or humiliate. Love always resists evil, but only for the sake of winning the brother over to the good. Moral shame leads to reconciliation and harmony.
  3. Love resists, even attacks, the forces of evil. But not another person. Here’s a direct quote from Dr. King’s sermon ‘An Experiment in Love:’ “The nonviolent resister of racial injustice has the vision to see that the basic tension is not between races. The tension is, at bottom, between justice and injustice.”
  4. Love accepts suffering without resistance and embraces it “as a bridegroom enters the bride’s chamber.” Because suffering has “tremendous transforming possibilities.”
  5. Love not only avoids external violence. It avoids internal violence of the spirit, refusing to hate the neighbor who is an enemy. “Along the way of life, someone must have sense enough and morality enough to cut off the chain of hate.” Love involves good will toward every human being, and does not discriminate between those worthy of love and those unworthy of it. Love willingly forgives “not seven times, but seventy times seven times.”
  6. Love involves faith in the goodness, justice, and love of the Almighty One, the One Who makes creation a unified whole.

In his time Dr. King had many followers who do not know the Sacred Scriptures very well, who missed many direct references to the Bible in the great man’s doctrine. Around the time of Dr. King’s death fifty years ago this April, a lot of the captains of culture thought that Dr. King taught something that “underlies” all the great religions, but does not require the practice of Christianity. I think he partially held that idea himself. But I would say that close scrutiny of Dr. King’s work, and the test of time, have proven that idea untenable.

From my relatively ill-informed point-of-view, Dr. King’s life and doctrine make no sense without Jesus Christ Himself at the center of the whole picture. Jesus Christ not simply as a teacher, although certainly Dr. King’s doctrine and witness rely on Jesus’ gospel. But the Lord Jesus is not just the pre-eminent teacher of Dr. King’s ideas. Underlying the ideas about nonviolence is the revelation of divine love, and the triumph of that love over evil, which occurred  with Christ’s incarnation and redemptive death and resurrection. That fact of history—the coming of the Christ–is what makes Dr. King’s teaching and life understandable, I would say. Maybe we can meditate on that, on MLK Day this year.

Explaining the Photo

Trump Little Sisters Cardinal Wuerl White House religious freedom

Donald Cardinal Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington, Mother Loraine Maguire and another Little Sister of the Poor, and President Trump. In the Rose Garden of the White House at a ceremony last week, for an executive order on “Religious Freedom.”

Someday we will have to explain this photograph to our grandchildren. That is: the Catholic Church shaking hands in this manner for this reason with this man.

I want to meditate with you on this. But first, some local color. Both my parochial vicars have enjoyed their post-Easter vacations. Now they’re back home, so I get to take a few days off. I got in the car and drove west.

Vanderburgh County, Indiana, has a splendidly stylish courthouse in Evansville:

evansville vanderburgh county indiana courthouse

I have driven through southwest Indiana and southeast Illinois before. But there weren’t so many inland seas then. Every creek and runoff has swelled and overflowed into acre after acre of cornfield. Indeed, half of the riverfront plaza in Evansville lies submerged beneath the Ohio. The Wabash lurches big and brown.

flooded field in southern Illinois

…Back to the matter at hand. I have examined our Catholic place in the “religious freedom” debate before. [Click HERE for a compendium.] I had decided to focus my mind on other things. But then the picture above–with the Cardinal, the nuns, and the president–got taken.

Who’s against religious freedom? In his speech at the ceremony last week, the president insisted that the free exercise of religion by the black church gave us the Civil Rights Movement. Amen. The president went on to conclude from this: Therefore, we had better not enforce the Johnson Amendment, the federal law which prohibits preachers from endorsing particular candidates for political office.

Dr. Martin Luther KingThis reasoning seems awful shaky to me, because: The Johnson Amendment prohibited all the black preachers who participated in the Civil Rights Movement from endorsing any candidates. The law held sway the whole time. But it didn’t seem to cramp Dr. King’s style at all.

Insofar as the Lord Jesus need not run for any office–reigning supreme, as He does, as King Eternal in heaven–I for one cannot imagine ever wanting to endorse a particular political candidate from the pulpit on Sunday morning. After all, politics involves many imperfect compromises, even on a good day.

Now, of course we cannot compromise on the dignity of human life. We cannot compromise on everyone’s right to life–not to mention liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

And who among us would want to compromise on this idea: Using artificial contraception makes no sense. Nothing good comes from mutual masturbation. Honest people find better pastimes.

But: Did we, the Church, really want to stand in the Rose Garden and shake President Donald Trump’s hand on the very day when he gloated in triumph over the passage of a law that would cost a lot of people their health insurance? Or do we want to shake his hand on any other day, for that matter? People shake hands because they trust each other. How could anyone trust Donald J. Trump? About anything?

In his statement about the executive order, another attendee of the ceremony, Daniel Cardinal DiNardo, noted that Americans with “deeply held religious beliefs” should never have to pay for anyone else’s birth-control pills. Therefore, we need some system by which to keep our money in clean, kosher bank accounts. Rather than in unclean bank accounts that pay for objectionable pills and procedures.

The Pill is a No NoMeanwhile, no Catholic leader simply stands up and says: Dear fellow Americans, it is much better to live without the pill! Whether you’re Catholic or not. Whether you have “deeply held religious beliefs” (whatever those are) or not.

No Catholic leader stands up and says: This is not about money. It’s about sexual honesty. And true happiness. And friendship with the Creator Who made us all and loves us all.

What is this precious “religious freedom?” In the person of our leaders, we stood in the Rose Garden and clapped about it last week. But what is it?

Did the Apostles have a harder time preaching the Gospel because no one had yet written the U.S. Constitution?

Speaking of the Gospel, seems to me like, in the Rose Garden last week, we boiled it down to: “As long as our bank accounts don’t disburse any money whatsoever to Anti-Life, Inc., then we’re good.”

Now, I beg you, dear reader, not to think that I am for giving money to Anti-Life, Inc. (by which I mean a corporation, wholly owned by Satan, that includes, but is not limited to, Planned Parenthood.)

But it seems to me that our greatest weapon against the destruction of life and the degradation of sex is not: begging for legal exemptions in a labyrinthine bureaucracy, in which our purity comes at the price of looking utterly self-interested.

Don’t we have a better hope of winning souls by simply preaching and living out what we believe? The Church of Christ is not an interest group. If we could convince people that artificial contraception does not really qualify as health care, then the USA would painlessly solve our entire healthcare financing problem. But even that doesn’t really touch the reason why we evangelize. We evangelize about chastity and true friendship and marriage and family because that’s how you get to heaven.

I think that the phrase “religious freedom” no longer amounts to anything. If bearing witness to the Gospel under the regime of the U.S. Constitution requires shaking hands in the Rose Garden with this notoriously dishonest man, then I for one would rather go back to risking the catacombs.

Amoris Laetitia Catena, Part II

amoris-laetitia-coverChapter 4 of Pope Francis’ letter on family love explains the phrases in St. Paul’s famous I Corinthians 13. Three selections, dripping with wisdom…

Love bears all things and hopes all things…

Married couples joined by love speak well of each other; they try to show their spouse’s good side, not their weakness and faults. In any event, they keep silent rather than speak ill of them. This is not merely a way of acting in front of others; it springs from an interior attitude. Far from ingenuously claiming not to see the problems and weaknesses of others, it sees those weaknesses and faults in a wider context. It recognizes that these failings are a part of a bigger picture. We have to realize that all of us are a complex mixture of light and shadows. The other person is much more than the sum of the little things that annoy me. Love does not have to be perfect for us to value it. The other person loves me as best they can, with all their limits, but the fact that love is imperfect does not mean that it is untrue or unreal. It is real, albeit limited and earthly. If I expect too much, the other person will let me know, for he or she can neither play God nor serve all my needs. Love coexists with imperfection. It “bears all things” and can hold its peace before the limitations of the loved one. (para. 113)

Each person, with all his or her failings, is called to the fullness of life in heaven. There, fully transformed by Christ’s resurrection, every weakness, darkness and infirmity will pass away. There the person’s true being will shine forth in all its goodness and beauty. This realization helps us, amid the aggravations of this present life, to see each person from a supernatural perspective, in the light of hope, and await the fullness that he or she will receive in the heavenly kingdom, even if it is not yet visible. (para.117)

Love believes all things…

This trust enables a relationship to be free. It means we do not have to control the other person, to follow their every step lest they escape our grip. Love trusts, it sets free, it does not try to control, possess and dominate everything. This freedom, which fosters independence, an openness to the world around us and to new experiences, can only enrich and expand relationships. The spouses then share with one another the joy of all they have received and learned outside the family circle. At the same time, this freedom makes for sincerity and transparency, for those who know that they are trusted and appreciated can be open and hide nothing. Those who know that their spouse is always suspicious, judgmental and lacking unconditional love, will tend to keep secrets, conceal their failings and weaknesses, and pretend to be someone other than who they are. On the other hand, a family marked by loving trust, come what may, helps its members to be themselves and spontaneously to reject deceit, falsehood, and lies. (para. 115)

Love endures all things…

Dr. Martin Luther KingHere the pope quotes Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at length:

The person who hates you most has some good in him; even the nation that hates you most has some good in it; even the race that hates you most has some good in it. And when you come to the point that you look in the face of every man and see deep down within him what religion calls ‘the image of God’, you begin to love him in spite of [everything]. No matter what he does, you see God’s image there. There is an element of goodness that he can never slough off… Another way that you love your enemy is this: when the opportunity presents itself for you to defeat your enemy, that is the time which you must not do it… Hate for hate only intensifies the existence of hate and evil in the universe. If I hit you and you hit me and I hit you back and you hit me back and so on, you see, that goes on ad infinitum. It just never ends. Somewhere somebody must have a little sense, and that’s the strong person. The strong person is the person who can cut off the chain of hate, the chain of evil… Somebody must have religion enough and morality enough to cut it off and inject within the very structure of the universe that strong and powerful element of love.

[Click HERE for Part I of the Amoris Laetitia catena]

Black-History-Month Photo

MLK booked in Montgomery 1958

Charles Moore took this picture of Dr. King in the police station in Montgomery, Alabama, in September of 1958.  They were booking Dr. King for loitering on the courthouse steps.  He had refused to “move on” when ordered to do so.  He was trying to get in to hear the trial of his associate pastor.

The photograph was taken for the Alabama Advertiser and published in Life magazine.  I found the picture in a folio of Civil-Rights-Movement news photos that someone gave me.  It is my new favorite photograph of all time.  It is hard for me to imagine that anyone could ever have the serendipity and skill to take a photograph more evocative than this.

MLK Posts Compendium

Citations from His Speeches, Showing that They Come from the Bible

Standing Up Against Human Degradation

MLK speaking Life magazine“Letter from a Birmingham Jail:”

1. Invokes the Law of Nature

2. Invokes St. Paul

3. Where Do Laws Come From?

4. Invoked anachronistically

Picking up the Banner of the Sermon on the Mount

August 28, St. Augustine, and Dr. King

Concerned About White- and Black-People’s Souls

Alveda on Martin

Dr. King and Chief Laurie Pritchett

Epic Jeopardy! Fail on Montgomery Bus Boycott

His Cufflinks

Breathing and Weeping

NCAA Basketball: Kansas at Georgetown

“From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent are taking it by force.” (Matthew 11:12)

If we find this sentence, uttered by the Prince of Peace, hard to understand, we won’t be the first. Thankfully, we have people like Blessed Pope Paul VI to explain this verse to us. In our humble parish cluster, we read the following paragraph together this past Sunday afternoon:

The Kingdom of God and our eternal salvation, which are the key words of Jesus Christ’s evangelization, are available to every human being as grace and mercy, and yet at the same time each individual must gain them by force–they belong to the violent, says the Lord, through toil and suffering, through a life lived according to the Gospel, through abnegation and the cross, through the spirit of the beatitudes. But above all each individual gains them through a total interior renewal which the Gospel calls metanoia; it is a radical conversion, a profound change of mind and heart. (Evangelii Nuntiandi 10)

Interior change brought about by struggling and striving against our profound tendencies toward evil.

My beloved Georgetown Hoyas took the court last night wearing warm-up shirts emblazoned with the phrase “I Can’t Breathe.” If I were coach JTIII, I would have told them, “Once you can hit 50% from the floor on a consistent basis, then you can make political statements…”

But I am not the coach. And center Josh Smith put it like this: “We weren’t saying the cops were wrong…We wore the shirts to show our condolences to the family. You don’t know who is right or wrong, but they still lost somebody, and they won’t get that person back.”

Now, in my book, there are probably better ways to express one’s condolences. But the pain is real. There are families who have lost someone in a fast-moving, violent scene, involving police firing their weapons.

mlk-jailTwenty years ago, I was sitting in a restaurant on 18th St., N.W., Washington, D.C., and a squad of police officers entered with guns drawn. It was genuinely insane. In their pursuit of two punks hiding in the bathroom, the police risked the lives of a roomful of innocent people. Thank God, no one was hurt.

That said: Is this country racist like it was fifty years ago? More than half of the police officers involved in the episode I just mentioned were black. In those days, I was a middle-school teacher with a classroom full of black boys. And the joke among them, after the trial of the decade, was: What did O.J. say after the not-guilty verdict was read? “Can I get my glove back?”

A large group of Catholic theologians have released a statement about the ‘racial unrest’ our country has experienced these past few weeks. I give these professors credit for getting organized and giving us something thoughtful and substantial to consider. Especially the proposal that, since local prosecutors and police can and should work so closely together on a day-to-day basis to keep the peace, someone other than the local prosecutor should instruct grand juries when charges arise against police officers.

These theologians have pledged to abstain from meat on Fridays as a sign of penance for the sin of racism.

Their statement, however, opens itself up to charges of ivory-tower foolishness by…

1. invoking Dr. King’s letter from a Birmingham jail in an anachronistic way.

2. citing the Greensboro, N.C., “Truth and Reconciliation Commission” as a precedent for a similar nationwide effort. I know some Greensborians, both black and white. I think I can say that the work of that Commission, such as it was, only confirmed the ancient axiom: “Exercises in conspicuous self-righteousness rarely accomplish anything.”

But exercises in friendship and kindness accomplish a great deal. Exercises in sharing the experiences of another human being.

The great evangelist St. Paul wept with those who wept. Laying down in the street to cause traffic jams seems stupid to me. But to weep with those who grieve a dead brother, or nephew, or son—and to hope and pray like Dr. King did, looking to Jesus to help us find a better day: we should do that.

Redskins Redskins Redskins Redskins Redskins Redskins Redskins

Final Jeopardy

Jeopardy! Battle of the Decades involves the most-successful Jeopardy! contestants ever. The most bone-crushingly excellent trivia masters living in our humble nation.

So: Final Jeopardy! Category: Supreme Court Decisions. Clue: “On Dec. 20, 1956 the Court’s ruling on Browder v. Gayle went into effect, bringing an end to this 381-day event.”

Now, you and I immediately think: Okay, Browder v. Gayle doesn’t mean much to me… But: 381-day event concluding in December, 1956? Easy. What is the Montgomery Bus Boycott?

Admittedly, the clue could have read, ‘The event that made Rosa Parks famous.’ Then all three of the blistering geniuses probably would have written the correct response. But, as it was, none of them got it! Three of the most mind-like-a-steel-trap people in America, and none of them wrote down the correct response!

Parkman Oregon TrailI was beside myself. We Americans may be smart and use our iPhones dextrously. But we do not know any real history. We do not know the details that make it interesting.

For over a year, they walked, carpooled, hitched to work. Through all weathers. For over a year, Dr. King hung tight, insisting with an iron will that his people continue to find a way other than the bus–through a year’s worth of dark, doubtful nights, with the burden of all their hardships laying upon him.

How can the smartest people in our country not know these crucial details? The Montgomery Bus Boycott easily could have been broken–it appeared to be broken multiple times–and then where would be be? What would have become of ‘the Movement?’ How can we not know the crucial details of our proudest, most genuinely interesting moments?

…In honor of the beginning of the Redskins season, I read Francis Parkman’s book about his time with the Ogillallah Sioux. (Click HERE to read Herman Melville’s review of the book.)

Parkman wanted to grow up to write the history of the American colonists’ interactions with the natives. So, at 23, he took it upon himself to live in a wandering Dahcotah village for the summer of 1846. (Using Parkman’s spellings for the Indian words here.)

The book bears the confusing title The Oregon Trail–which it is not about. But Parkman can write like nobody’s business. He offers an intimate portrayal of his companions. Not exactly sympathetic. But evocative, realistic, and utterly gripping.

redskins-logoThese particular prairie Redskins adorned themselves with the body parts of their slain enemies. To attain manhood meant taking someone’s scalp. The warriors treated their multiple squaws like domestic slaves, prone to divorce them on any pretext whatever. In other words, they were tough as hell. And had a worldview somewhat like ISIS.

God forbid that I would ever cheer for a team called the “Washington N***ers.” But the idea that ‘Redskins’ carries similar connotations–that idea cannot withstand any scrutiny of the actual facts of history. The history of the word ‘Redskin’ is completely different. And, these days, the term has no common usage whatsoever.

Except to refer to the most lovable sports franchise in the history of the world!

Augustine & King


You received it, not as the word of man, but as it truly is, the word of God. (I Thessalonians 2:13)

Do you think that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., intentonally gave his “I Have a Dream” speech on St. Augustine’s feast day? Maybe he did. The following year, Dr. King went to St. Augustine, Florida, to conduct a non-violent civil-rights campaign.

Augustine of Hippo repented of his pagan way of life and dedicated his prodigious mental energies to ministering the liberating Word of God. I can’t hold myself out as an expert on either St. Augustine or Dr. King. But certainly they shared many things–in addition to African blood.

March on Washington August 28By leading the Civil Rights Movement, Dr. King sought, as a Christian leader, to reconcile black and white America.

St. Augustine also dedicated the better part of his life to reconciling divided Christian peoples. He led the church in North Africa through the Donatist controversy, when a whole generation of baptized Christians disagreed violently with each other over who had the authority to confer the sacraments.

And both St. Augustine and Dr. King emphasized the love of God in their work of trying to unite people. Left to our own devices, we fall, we divide, we invent pretexts for hating each other. But God shares His love with us in Christ. Christ can make us loving and decent, respectful and united in the truth.

St. Augustine and Dr. King taught the gentle, forgiving love of God. The love of the Sermon on the Mount. The love Christ taught us. The love that meets evil not wth violence, but with meekness.

Dr. King himself got a kick out of the story about a black man who had been insulted by a bus driver. “I got two pieces of bad news for you,” the man said to the driver, “First, I ain’t no boy. And second, I ain’t one of them nonviolent Martin-Luther-King Negroes.”

Dr. King had friends and benefactors in New York City. Once he was riding an elevator in a skyscraper with a group of white lawyer friends. A woman got on, and, assuming that Dr. King was the elevator man, she told him what floor she wanted. He courteously pressed the button for her without saying a word. After she got off, Dr. King and his friends had a good laugh over the elevator boy who was Time Magazine’s Man of the Year.

The word of love and solidarity is not the word of man. It is not the word of St. Augustine or Martin Luther King. It is the word of God. Blessed are we if we receive it as such.

As Dr. King put it, quoting the prophets Isaiah and Daniel, fifty years ago:

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain made low, the rough places will be made straight, and the glory of God shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.

This is our hope. This is the faith I go back to the South with. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into the beautiful symphony of brotherhood.

Albany vs. Birmingham, then Washington

March on Washington was A. Philip Randolph's march
March on Washington was A. Philip Randolph’s march

Martin Luther King, Jr., declared “I have a dream today” on August 28, 1963, the 1,533rd anniversary of St. Augustine’s death. Fifty years ago.

I think I was eight or nine when I realized that black people made my dad nervous, but not me. After all, I had playground pencil fights with black boys from the other side of Rock Creek Park on a daily basis. Between first and eighth grade, I never had a homeroom teacher who wasn’t black. Like every child, I accidentally called my teacher “mom” a time or two. When I did, she was always black.

Don’t get me wrong. Whatever credit there is for this goes to my dad. He directed his life in such a way that I could grow up without feeling nervous. We did not have a house in a white suburb. My brother and I rode Metrobuses and sat down next to black people well before we knew that only a decade separated us from the regime of legal segregation in the South.

let-trumpet-sound-life-martin-luther-king-jr-stephen-oates-paperback-cover-artThe hallway in school had Dr. King’s words emblazoned on the wall (ostensibly to celebrate Black History Month, which always lasted for the whole year in the D.C. public schools): “I have a dream!”

So: We must indeed pause with reverence to remember the day when Dr. King actually spoke those words on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, at the end of the summer of 1963.

An irony: The suite at the Willard Hotel where Dr. King spent the night after he delivered his speech? Bugged. By the police. Like our phones and e-mail during the Obama administration.

Better, though, to focus on 1963. And the tale of two police chiefs.

When Dr. King and–more importantly, really–A. Philip Randolph visited the White House to meet with President Kennedy and discuss holding the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, the President joked: “Bull Connor has done a great deal for civil-rights legislation this year.”

President Kennedy referred to the police chief–and claimant to the mayoralty–of Birmingham, Alabama. (A city which did not exist when Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863.) Bull Connor ordered fire hoses turned on people kneeling in the streets. He sicked police dogs on peaceful demonstrators. Bull Connor ordered black children carried off to jail in school buses.

Mr. Laurie Pritchett, on the other hand, served as police chief of Albany, Georgia, in 1962. He avoided any use of violence in arresting peaceful demonstrators. He never raised a hand against anyone who had not raised a hand against him. On the day when Chief Pritchett and his wife were to celebrate their anniversary, Dr. King and Ralph Abernathy actually called off the march they had planned, because they believed Chief Pritchett deserved to have the day off. The Albany Campaign of 1962–Dr. King’s first large-scale organized series of protests since the Birmingham bus boycott of ’56–resulted in very little media attention. It produced no real change.

Dr. Martin Luther KingThe Lord, of course, has His plan. And Dr. King never gave up. Things had not worked out as he had hoped in 1962. But in 1963, they did. The world watched, and black Birmingham proved the South wrong about segregation. Dr. King and his followers suffered nobly, and thereby proved that their cause was right.

But, also in the summer of 1963: Malcolm X’s followers egged Dr. King’s car. And Attorney General Robert Kennedy was convinced that one of King’s best friends was a Communist.

To be honest with you, I find Dr. King’s letter from the Birmingham jail quite a bit more interesting than his “I Have a Dream” speech. His letter articulates a thoroughly convincing argument for his actions. On the other hand, his speeches generally present emotional Bible-based poems. Black pulpit oratory leaves this particular white boy (and student of St. Thomas Aquinas) pretty cold.

That said, both Dr. King’s speeches and his writings communicate the same fundamental truth: The man had no fear of death, because he loved God and Jesus Christ. Dr. King lived his life, first and foremost, as a churchman. The crescendo of his speech at the Lincoln Memorial focused on one word. Faith. We have faith in the promises of God, communicated in the Scriptures. The Civil Rights Movement, draped as it was in the trappings of a fashionable Gandhi-ism that would make it acceptable to the editors of the New York Times, proceeded, in fact, from the Holy Scriptures.

Probably won’t hear that at any of the speeches at the Lincoln Memorial next Wednesday. As I have tried to point out before, the prominent black orators of today do not speak from the Bible in the way Dr. King and his confreres did. The official commemorations this week will be as empty as they will be boring. (Fact is, the speaker program at the original March on Washington got boring, and the crowd was thinning out a bit by the time Dr. King finally got his turn to speak.)

The best way to commemorate Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech will be to read the same book that he read to prepare it: the Holy Bible.

Chief Laurie Pritchett in Albany GA