I was born less than a year after Martin Luther King was assassinated. I have only the stories of my parents, aunts and uncles to feed my memory of Dr. King’s legacy. However, I am old enough to remember the effort to make his birthday a national holiday. I am old enough to remember how opponents argued that there is no way Dr. King should be honored in the same way we honor presidents or Columbus. I was even old enough to attend a rally or two. Between my parents generation, my generation and the generation of the students I teach now, America has come a long way. So, why should the Church celebrate MLK day?
We’ve come this far
Here is why the Church should celebrate this day. A few months ago, a very close friend, who happens to be a priest, was visiting my school in Baltimore. My school is a historically African-American Catholic institution. Just before lunch, I took him into the school’s chapel and pointed out that for many years, the Saint Frances Academy Chapel was one of the few places in Maryland that Black Catholics could attend Mass without sitting in the back or in the balcony. It was one of the only places where they could sit close to the Eucharist during the consecration. This priest is approximately my age and we thanked God that neither of us as African-American Catholics had to ever experience such an indignity.
Still a long way to go
Later, we went to lunch and though I was in a shirt and tie, my friend was wearing a very traditional black suit and roman collar. As we were finishing lunch, I asked him in front of the waitress, “Father, would you like some coffee?” The waitress interrupted and said, “Father? I thought only Catholic ministers were called ‘Father’.”
I have a dream!
I am blessed to serve at a very diverse parish. St. Mark the Evangelist in Hyattsville is truly an ethnic cross-section of Catholicism. It is place were the blending of cultures is a challenge. Many parishioners had to get use to me asking, “Can I get an amen?” during a homily. I had to get used to the fact that our masses are only an hour. Almost all of us have learned a little Spanish on Sunday morning. In any case, any Mass at St. Mark’s is a glimpse of Dr. King’s dream for a peaceful America. Let us pray that our Church as a whole can be a model for Dr. King’s dream.