Celebrating the legacy of MLK, Jr. and Sister Thea Bowman

By Bishop Joseph R. Kopacz, D.D.
Coming out of the splendor of the Christmas season with the culminating feasts of the Epiphany and the Baptism of the Lord, we now return to ordinary time to remain steadfast in the work of the Lord to announce the Good News of Salvation, and the presence of the Kingdom of God, the work of conversion, and of justice, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. (Romans 14:17)
The feast of the Epiphany, the manifestation of Jesus Christ to all nations, inspired us to follow the radiance of the Gospel while circumventing the power and pull of evil in our world, as did the Magi in eluding King Herod. The Baptism of the Lord inspires us as God’s children, baptized into the life-giving death and resurrection of God’s beloved Son, to hear the call of the Lord and to put it into practice as his disciples. With the Holy Spirit as out guide we pray and dedicate ourselves to the will of God “on earth as it is in heaven.” The indwelling of the Holy Spirit is the foretaste and promise of glory (2Corinthians 5:5), raising us beyond the horizon of this world to the vision of eternal life.

Bishop Joseph R. Kopacz, D.D.

The national holiday this weekend offers us the bonus of an additional day away from many of our offices and workplaces and much more in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. At our Cathedral of St. Peter the Apostle, we are going to mark this occasion in an extra special way with an additional Mass on Sunday afternoon honoring the legacy and witness of King and of our own Sister Thea Bowman, Servant of God. They were not exactly contemporaries of one another, yet they breathed the same air with the same passion for civil rights, for freedom, justice and equality for all of God’s children.
When Martin Luther King Jr. was slain in Memphis in April 1968, Sister Thea was pursuing an advanced degree at Catholic University in Washington DC. She would take up the torch for the next 20 years until her untimely death. They were committed disciples of the Lord Jesus, MLK, Jr. a Baptist, and Bowman, a Catholic, who like the Magi were inspired to live by the light of faith and the power of the Gospel.
When Pope Francis spoke to the United States Congress in 2015, he honored King as a prophetic voice for our nation’s conscience, along with Thomas Merton, Dorothy Day and Abraham Lincoln. As a national icon, Martin Luther King Jr. is a Christian prophet whose life and violent death challenge us to resist the many-sided faces of evil nonviolently. His witness still confronts us today to turn away from the sins of racism, and unbridled materialism and militarism.
On the other hand, Sister Thea is not as well known nationally but her life, cut short by cancer, also rises to the distinction of prophetic witness. She labored untiringly in the vineyard of the Lord for greater justice and peace with a passion securely anchored in the joy of the Holy Spirit. Her cause for canonization continues to gain traction in our Catholic world around our nation, while the Diocese of Jackson works behind the scenes to fulfill the requirements to move the cause forward. For example, in the recent past the diocese sponsored a documentary on her amazing life, entitled “Going Home Like a Shooting Star.” (https://bit.ly/SisterTheaFilm) Later this spring we will unveil a life-size bronze statue of Sister Thea to be nestled in the cathedral until a shrine is built in a permanent location in the diocese.
In conclusion, allow the words of these two spiritual giants to capture our imagination and vision for living.

“Everyone does not have access. When I say that, I mean that Martin Luther King Jr. was demonstrating for the rights of the poor, he was demonstrating for fair and decent housing, he was demonstrating for opportunities for adequate education. And not just adequate educational opportunity for blacks, but for all children. He was demonstrating for a land where we could love another as brothers and sisters and work together for a solution to our common problems.” (Sister Thea Bowman)
“Love yourself, if that means rational, healthy, and moral self-interest. You are commanded to do that. That is the length of life. Love your neighbor as yourself. You are commanded to do that. This is the breath of life. But never forget that there is even a greater and first commandment, ‘Love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and all thy soul and all thy mind.’ This is the height of life. And when you do this, you live the complete life.” (MLK, Jr.)