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Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Emphasizes Love in Action

ACFA367In commemoration of the birthday of civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Stephen Lynch, OFM, reminds us, “Man’s inhumanity to man is not only perpetrated by the vitriolic actions of those who are bad. It is also perpetrated by the vitiating inaction of those who are good.”

Jesus stressed the importance of people doing good and loving one another. But he also taught that even good people must suffer. While Jesus reached out to others in healing compassion, he was also crucified just outside the walls of Jerusalem.

John the Baptist was chosen by God to baptize Jesus Christ, but he was also beheaded by Herod less than 20 miles away, in the prison fortress of Machaerus. Both Jesus and John were executed within a year or so of each other for their fidelity to God’s values. St. Francis of Assisi reminds us that what we suffer is in God’s hands; how we deal with our suffering is in our hands. Not all suffering is a punishment for evil.

And so, we are left with the great mystery, why does a good God allow bad things to happen to good people?

On Jan.21, we celebrated the great civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. King stands as a courageous proponent of Mohandas Gandhi’s philosophy of nonviolent social protest in terms of the struggle of oppressed people for freedom and justice. But he was also assassinated in his struggle to promote non-violence.

Most of the world is familiar with King’s “I Have A Dream” speech or his “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” But a work that is virtually unknown is his “The World House” essay, which is based on his Nobel Peace Prize lecture delivered at the University of Oslo on Dec. 11, 1964.

In this essay, King calls all people to transcend tribe, race, class, nation, and religion to embrace the vision of a “world house” to eradicate at home and globally the triple evils of racism, poverty and militarism.

King insisted: “Save the soul of America with the ammunition of love. Non-violence is the answer. Anti social behavior is not the way. We must learn to resolve problems without violence. Injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere. The deep rumbling of discontent that we hear today is the thunder of disinherited masses determined to end the exploitation of their races and lands.”

Together, we must learn to live as brothers and sisters, or together we will be forced to perish as fools. Every man lives in two realms, the internal and the external. The internal is that realm of spiritual ends expressed in art, literature, morals and religion. The external is that complex of devices, techniques, mechanisms and instrumentalities by means of which we live.

Our problem today is that we have allowed the means by which we live to outdistance the ends for which we live. When scientific power outruns moral power, we end up with guided missiles and misguided men. Without spiritual and moral reawakening, we shall destroy ourselves in the misuse of our own instruments.

King also advocated a new Marshall Plan to eradicate global poverty around the world. The wealthy nations of the world must promptly initiate a massive, sustained Marshall Plan for Asia, Africa and South America. A genuine program on the part of the wealthy nations to make prosperity a reality for the poor nations will in the final analysis enlarge the prosperity of all. The ultimate measure of a person is not where he/she stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he/she stands at times of challenge and controversy. The happiest of people don’t necessarily have the best of everything; they just make the most of everything that comes their way.

These final words of King stand as a challenge to us all: “Man’s inhumanity to man is not only perpetrated by the vitriolic actions of those who are bad. It is also perpetrated by the vitiating inaction of those who are good.”

— Fr. Stephen, a Providence, R.I., resident, writes frequently for religious and secular publications