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Put teachings of Jesus and Dr. King into action

Published: January 20, 2017   
Bishop Anthony B. Taylor

Bishop Anthony B. Taylor delivered this homily Jan. 14 during the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Mass at the Cathedral of St. Andrew in Little Rock.

Last weekend on the feast of the Epiphany I recalled an experience that occurred the summer I spent in Kenya in 1979: Going to tell the parents of one of the girls in the parish school that she was pregnant.

Knowing how upset American parents would be at this turn of events, my heart was touched by how excited her parents were that a new baby was on the way. That epiphany reinforced my conviction that every baby is a treasure. With this baby their unmarried daughter’s life was now going to be much more complicated, but their attitude was: “What a small price to pay for the gift of life!”

Another epiphany I experienced in Africa was my surprise that Kenyans acted very differently from African Americans. This opened my eyes to racial expectations I was still carrying around inside me.

This epiphany helped me to begin to think differently, which is the purpose of any epiphany.

Also living in our area was an African-American from Holly Springs, Miss., who had come to Africa to find his roots but by the time I met him, he had concluded that whatever recoverable roots he had were in the United States, not Africa. He had a lot more in common with me than he did with people who looked more like him but were completely different culturally. And I had much more in common with him than with the Italian priests I was with. We were both Americans! 

This epiphany helped me to begin to think differently, which is the purpose of any epiphany. Once the early Christians understood what John the Baptist meant when he called Jesus “the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” they realized that to follow Jesus, you’ve got to begin to think and act differently, becoming ourselves an epiphany of Jesus’ ongoing reconciling presence in our world.

And as Catholics we are well positioned to do just that. For one thing, we Catholics expect people of different ethnicities to be able to worship together routinely without it being a big deal. We do not always live up to the best that is in us, but we do know that Jesus expects us to include everyone because we are a single family of believers. All are welcome!

Jesus is calling us to do everything we can to open the eyes and hearts of our nation. And the best way to do this is by putting people in touch with the human side of the issues we face, which is the approach that Dr. Martin Luther King took. It is one thing to talk about racism in the abstract, but quite another go to the museum at Central High School and see photos of grim faced teenagers enduring taunts as they tried to go to school and photos of terrified adults being attacked by dogs in Selma. By putting a human face on these events, these photos appeal to our hearts, which is where conversion occurs.

The same is true for other issues we face. Take immigration or mistreatment by the police: when you put a human face on what it is like to live as second-class residents in our country — something with which African Americans can identify — everything changes. Teenagers unable to go to college or even get a job for lack of papers, living in fear of being deported to a country that many of those brought here as children can barely remember.

We all know what Jesus would say about this! And for that matter, Dr. King! This human dimension is what is missing in our national discourse — especially given the hateful sentiments that have so poisoned our national discourse this last year. By putting a human face on the injustices people suffer today, we can enable the teaching of Jesus — and the teaching of Dr. King — to continue to make a difference today.

Our country is shrouded in a darkness of spirit more cruel than that of the society 2,017 years ago into which God has sent us a Savior to break the power of sin and death. This Savior now invites us to pour ourselves out completely, like he did to continue his as-yet-unfinished work of building his kingdom of truth and justice, in our world today.

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