January 14, 2024: Forming the Beloved Community
As our nation marks the birthday of the civil rights icon, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., it is appropriate to remember the beloved community that he wished to see this nation become and to rededicate ourselves to realizing this noble vision he had for our country.
All of us readily associate Dr. King with the fight for civil rights for Black Americans. Dr. King was lionized by many for his leadership in the epic battle to win for Black Americans their right to participate fully and freely in the society to which they had contributed at so great a cost, but which had long denied them their full civil and political rights. So long as Dr. King focused his rhetoric and his actions on the need to give Black Americans the political and civil rights that they were undeniably due, King was seen by many as a worthy champion of Black Americans. But when King revealed that the breadth of his vision for America was far bolder, encompassing a call for economic justice for all, more Americans began to resist his summons to a fundamental reorientation of American society and of American values.
Dr. King had never hidden his vision of what this reorientation of American society would require. Preaching in Ebeneezer Baptist Church in 1965, King declared: “I still dream that one day all of God’s children will have food and clothing and material well-being for their bodies, culture and education for their minds, and freedom for their spirits.” Dr. King was fighting for more than civil and political rights for Black Americans. He was at the forefront of a broader struggle to secure for all Americans a life commensurate with human dignity. This is why he was in Memphis in 1968 where he was killed. He went there to support striking sanitation workers who were seeking just wages, fair benefits and humane working conditions. Dr. King’s vision for America was in perfect alignment with what our Church taught to be the fundamental rights of the human person. In his 1963 encyclical, Pacem in Terris¸ St. Pope John XXIII wrote: “[Human persons] have the right to live…and to the means necessary for the proper development of life, particularly food, clothing, shelter, medical care, rest, and, finally, the necessary social services. In consequence, they have the right to be looked after in the event of ill health; disability stemming from work; widowhood; old age; enforced unemployment; or whenever through no fault of their own they are deprived of the means of livelihood.” It is not surprising that Dr. King, steeped in the gospel of Jesus Christ as he was, articulated the same vision of a just and equitable society as did John XXIII.
Dr. King also called for a revolution in American values in which an ethos of love informed all aspects of our society; a love that is an undefeatable force for what is good, right, and just. It was to this vision of a nation transformed by love that Dr. King dedicated his life and it was for this vision that he died. Early in the civil rights struggle, King articulated the goal to which all his work was directed. “… The end is reconciliation …the creation of the Beloved Community. It is this type of spirit and this type of love that can transform opponents into friends. It is this type of understanding goodwill that will transform the deep gloom of the old age into the exuberant gladness of the new age. It is this love that will bring about miracles in the hearts of men [and women].”
May of all of us have the courage to embrace the challenge with which he left us: “…Let us rededicate ourselves to the long and bitter, but beautiful, struggle for a new world. This is the calling of the sons [and daughters] of God.”
— Rev. Mark C. Hallinan, S.J., Associate Pastor