Earlier this week, urban parishes in Kansas City came together to commemorate and celebrate the birth and life of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., his mission, ministry, and message. King knew that injustice will be with us always, until the end of time, yet he had great hope that, because of the values and principles of our nation, people of the United States would overcome many unjust situations.
In Christian Scriptures, Saint Paul reveals that he carried a thorn in his flesh. It may have been a physical malady but more likely it was a spiritual issue; he described it as an evil spirit plaguing him and keeping him from being conceited or achieving his goals. Perhaps it had to do with his inability to motivate people beyond our social sins. He said that the Lord had given it to him as a struggle to bear and that it would be with him always, much as Jesus told His followers that the poor will be with us always. Impoverished people, homeless people, indigent people may be a thorn in the flesh of our communities which we are given to bear till the end of time. Like other burdens and struggles that seem to be with us always (lust, pornography, bad habits, laziness, addictions, overindulgence in power, prestige, or money…), we learn to bear it as Paul did. Like those who bear chronic pain for which there is no cure, we learn to manage the pain, the inconvenience, the burden, and adapt ourselves to the reality that feels like a thorn in our flesh.
Like Paul, Martin held hopes, had a dream, and left a legacy. MLK was a drum major for justice; and the march for freedom from injustices and other social sins continues. It is wonderful that his family, when the federal holiday honoring him was promulgated four decades ago, asked that it not be a day off but a day on, not a day to stay in but a day to go out into our communities, not a day of rest but a day of activity to improve our surroundings, not a day to do nothing but a day to do something. The something that we do each year can be small or large, it can be a one-time act or one that continues, so long as it contributes to the greater good of our citizens and greater glory of God. His legacy is essentially to keep the beat, to march onward and upward, to move to a higher place as God’s people, and eventually to reach the mountaintop that holds our dreams for equality and goodness.
Parishioners from inner city communities (Saint Francis Xavier, Saint James, Saint Monica, Saint Therese Little Flower) were joined this week by members of surrounding faith communities (Saint Elizabeth, Saint Peter, Visitation, Saint Thomas More, and representatives from several parishes on the Kansas side) to pray together and then go out into the metro area with care-packages that they created. Most of the packages were distributed to homeless citizens and those at bus stops. Though the poor will be with us always, we were reminded that “but for the grace of God, there go I,” and that we are one with them in their less fortunate circumstances that could easily be our circumstance.
That one-day act reiterated some of the good works that these and other parishes do year-round. Saint James and Saint Francis Xavier have taken the lead in our diocese to care for immigrants from the southern border, many that are refugees or asylum seekers. Visitation and Saint Monica have taken the lead in continuing conversations about racism within the Catholic Church. Conscientious groups at Saint Elizabeth, Saint Peter, and many other parishes have addressed systemic issues in our city and basic issues of poverty through both discussion and action. Parishioners in Kansas and Missouri team with social agencies, especially in Wyandotte and Jackson Counties, to do phenomenal work with varied enterprises that improve living conditions for those who struggle. It is a blessing that Catholics and others throughout the metropolitan area work together to make life better and to create a more just society.
Though the poor will be with us always, our task is to make their journey a little less painful, a little less lonely. Let us be grateful for Martin Luther King and the many saints of our faith-history who are amazing and lasting examples to inspire us along the march of life.