Remembering an American prophet

Bishop Kopacz

By Bishop Joseph Kopacz
The weekend ahead is extended for many with the national holiday in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. who laid down his life for civil rights, racial equality and human dignity for all people. In less than three months the nation marks the 50th anniversary of his assassination on April 4, 1968, and in our nation’s evolution his prophetic voice and witness to liberty and justice for all still confronts our collective and individual consciences.
On December 9, 2017 we in Mississippi captured the nation’s attention with the opening of the Civil Rights Museum whose mission is to document, exhibit the history of, and educate the public about the American Civil Rights Movement in Mississippi between 1945 and 1970. At the national level the newest Smithsonian museum opened September 24, 2016, near the Washington Monument, and has welcomed more than 1 million visitors to date. It is the only national museum devoted exclusively to the documentation of African American life, art, history, and culture. It seeks to understand American history through the lens of the African American experience.
Martin Luther King Jr. uniquely embodies the Civil Rights movement as a disciple of Jesus Christ, a prophetic voice, a martyr and a witness to the insatiable hunger in the human spirit for truth, liberty and justice. The words spoken by God to the prophet Isaiah were seared in the soul of Martin Luther King. “I, the Lord, have called you for the victory of justice. I have grasped you by the hand; I formed you and set you as a covenant for the people, a light for the nations, to open the eyes of the blind, to bring out prisoners from confinement, and from the dungeon, those who live in darkness.” (Isaiah 42, 1ff)
We can see this prophetic wisdom and the strength that can only come from God in MLK’s capacity to be long suffering and in his philosophy of non-violent resistance in the face of injustice. In 1960 he reflected upon his experience of suffering for the Christian Century publication. “I have known very few quiet days in the past few years. I have been arrested five times and put in Alabama jails. My home has been bombed twice. A day seldom passes that my family and I are not the recipients of threats of death. I have been the victim of a near fatal stabbing. So in a real sense I have been battered by the storms of persecution.”
He seldom spoke to his own struggles because he did not have a martyr’s complex, and the world knew of them anyway, but he understood the reality of the Suffering Servant in the face of injustice. “There are some who still find the Cross a stumbling block, and others consider it foolishness, but I am more convinced than ever that it is the power of God unto social and individual salvation. So like the Apostle Paul, I can humbly and proudly say that ‘I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.’ More than ever I am convinced of the reality of a personal God.”
Martin Luther King Jr was committed to nonviolence and racial justice as he discovered in the experience of Mahatma Gandhi in the modern era, and through his personal relationship with Jesus Christ. He knew that the walls of segregation, racial inequality and racism had to be smashed by the battering ram of justice, but it had to be accomplished nonviolently.
Not everyone agreed with him then, and not everyone agrees with him now, but time reveals where wisdom and truth dwell. As we reflect upon our nation’s unrelenting struggles over our racial divide MLK’s philosophy of nonviolence can renew are vision and commitment for the common good. “First, nonviolence is not a method for cowards; it does resist. It is non-aggressive physically, but it is dynamically aggressive spiritually. Nonviolent resistance does not seek to defeat or humiliate the opponent, but to win his friendship and understanding. The goal is redemption and reconciliation.
“The aftermath of nonviolence is the creation of the beloved community, while the aftermath of violence is tragic bitterness. It is directed against the forces of evil rather than at those persons who are caught in the web of evil. We are out to defeat injustice and not those who are unjust. At the center of nonviolence stands the principle of love. Along the way of life, someone must have sense enough and morality enough to cut the chain of hate. We love, not because we like everyone, but because God loves them.
“Finally, the method of nonviolence is based on the conviction that the universe is on the side of justice. There is something at the very center of our Christian faith that reminds us that Good Friday may reign for a day, but ultimately it must give way to the triumphant beat of the Easter drums.” In this profound philosophy, raised up by his life, Martin Luther King ends with this prayer and dream. “God grant that we wage the struggle with discipline and dignity. Through using this method wisely and courageously we will emerge from the bleak and desolate midnight of man’s inhumanity to man into the bright daybreak of freedom and justice.” (Christian Century 1957) The struggle to overcome the systemic intractable racial divide that continues to afflict our nation’s well being must continue. We have a long way to go on the road to economic and educational opportunity, toward universal health care and prison reform.
As the walls of racism and discrimination are smashed, the bridges toward opportunity and hope must be built and traversed. As we commemorate the national holiday in memory of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., may we recommit ourselves to the principles nonviolence and an insatiable hunger for greater justice and peace in our nation. In his vision and dream societal transformation and personal responsibility will embrace so that the blessings of liberty and justice will be a dream realized for all.

Respect for life encompasses entire community

Bishop Joseph Kopacz

By Bishop Joseph Kopacz
As many of you know, from the point of my ordination and installation as the 11th Bishop of Jackson I have visited and presided at Mass in the vast majority of our parishes.
One of the inspiring moments for me during the liturgy, and there are many, is the offering of the General Intercessions. Consistently in our parishes these petitions pierce the high heavens in the name of Jesus Christ on behalf of the dignity of human life, from the moment of conception to natural death, as well as the issues throughout our lives that are an assault on human dignity.
They are legion: poverty, racism, human trafficking, hatred of the stranger in our midst, capital punishment, pornography, terrorism, at home (Las Vegas the latest) and abroad, war, ethnic and religious cleansing, to name just one boatload of onslaughts against the image and likeness of God. We pray to make a difference; we live to make a difference, and we must be grateful to all of our Catholic people, those of other faith traditions and people of no faith or creed who labor on behalf of human dignity, solidarity and justice.
For many, faith drives the commitment; for others, it is the light of reason that arrives at the truth and purpose of human life. Saint John Paul II eloquently addressed the interplay of these two dynamisms within the human person. “Faith and reason are like two wings in which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth, and God has placed in the human heart a desire to know the truth so that by knowing and loving God, men and women may also come to the fullness of truth about themselves.”
Faith and reason in the pursuit of truth is critically important as we strive to create a culture of life in our nation because it opens the door to collaborate with other believers and non-believers to create a more just and compassionate social order.
Otherwise, we as Catholics, are easily dismissed as foisting our beliefs on others. For example, the Church is unequivocally opposed to physician assisted suicide by whatever name it is promoted. We can point to the wisdom of the American Medical Association in their 1998 statement in opposition to physician assisted suicide.
“We believe that laws sanctioning physician assisted suicide serve to undermine the foundation of the patient-physician relationship, which is grounded in the patient’s trust that the physician is working wholeheartedly for the patient’s health and well being…
We believe that it is possible for people to have the same focus and attention and compassion at the end of life as is exhibited at the beginning of life.
We also feel that this is the way our profession should respond to its patients, not by taking their lives. We believe that it is far more preferable than simply saying: ‘Take these two tablets and don’t call me in the morning because you won’t be here.’
Compassion, in our view, lies in caring not killing. It is true that even stars eventually die. But it is not for us to pull them from the sky before their time. Rather, let us focus our efforts on gently guiding their descent (hospice-palliative care) adhering to the same principles and showing the same compassion and same concern that they enjoyed in their brightest days. All of us, just like those stars, will die eventually. But the value of the human spirit must continue to be respected and must live on.”
How precious are these words! They arise from the light of reason and the Hippocratic oath which is a sacred pledge “to do no harm.” This is not the exhortation of preachers and teachers of the faith, but it is harmonious with our belief in the dignity of the human person, made in the image and likeness of God.
Together we come to the fullness of truth about ourselves, and push back against the culture of death that casts its shadow across the land.
Likewise, we shine the light of faith and reason upon the beginning of life in the womb. As time marches on, modern science is revealing the development and elegance of pre-born human life, and the viability of our brothers and sisters outside of the womb at the outset of the third trimester.
A growing number of young people are embracing the pro-life message that the Church has unwaveringly taught, not necessarily because they believe that we are created in God’s image and likeness, but because reality is staring them in the face. Faith and reason, religion and science are not at odds with each other, but are arm in arm, promoting a culture of life.
All people of good will can understand that an unexpected and unwanted pregnancy can be overwhelming and even traumatic, but a culture of life can redouble its efforts to accompany women and their partners, married and unmarried, to choose life, because it is a beautiful choice.
But the forces of death never sleep. In recent times women who have had abortions are being encouraged to speak of their abortions as a badge of honor while people applaud, rather than speaking about it in confidential and appropriate settings with a family member or friend, a counselor or spiritual director, or in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, seeking peace and new life. In Illinois at this moment legislation is being promoted to fund abortions with taxpayer money right up to the point of labor pains. Did someone say ‘culture of death?’
The Church and all people of goodwill are indeed pro-women and this includes women in the womb. As we promote a culture of life, justice and peace we recommit ourselves to overcoming all injustices that ensnare people in despair and isolation, at the beginning and end of life, and at all stages. In the Church, we place our lives and considerable resources in the service of human dignity. With malice toward none, we witness to the beauty, goodness and truth of human life in God’s image. Faith and reason guide us along this noble path.