MLK Day– A day for us to celebrate the ethnic diversity of our Church

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.

16 Replies to “MLK Day– A day for us to celebrate the ethnic diversity of our Church”

  1. I had an interesting and hopeful exchange about this holiday w/my 1st grader. She asked why thhere was a holiday and I explained about Dr. King. When she heard that, years ago, several of her friends would not be allowed to go to her school, drink from the same water fountain, eat in the same restaurants and would have to give up a seat on the bus to her, she was incredulous. Her words, “Why were people so stupid?” I couldn’t answer that question.

    1. When I was a student at the University of Maryland in the mid-1980s, for a week the Student Union was segregated: water fountains and rest rooms were marked with “colored” or “whites only.”

      Oh, the outrage that poured into the Diamondback (student newspaper)! “Those signs were stupid! Who the he!! thought up this crap?:

      um….that was the point.

  2. My parents, who were born in the mid-1930s, grew up without having much (if any) contact with non-whites. Mom grew up in Baltimore, then a segregated city, and Dad grew up in Lancaster County, PA. As young people it didn’t occur to them that segregation was an injustice; it was just part of the landscape.

    My parents have told me that after we moved in 1967 into the house in which I grew up they were rather taken aback when they noted that the family next door was African-American. They weren’t distressed, or displeased – it was just rather a novel concept to them that people of different skin colors could be part of the same community.

    It never occurred to me that people of different skin colors could NOT be part of the same community. That’s not because I’m more enlighted than my parents were – it’s that I was fortunate to grow up in a different environment. I think many of us younger folks take for granted what MLK Jr and others worked to accomplish. I think also that some of us think enough has been done.

    Observing MLK Day is a well-needed reminder of how far we’ve come – and how far we have to go.

    1. My parents were much the same way. Living in segregated Washington and attending segregated schools, it took effort on their part not to raise me with racist attitudes. Let’s make sure we give our children the same gift.

  3. real agony is when some group in society believe it is superior while another believes it is inferior. In my country many persons believe and work on the basis that white people are brighter and wealthy. The results include collapsing institutions once donors hand them over, ever begging churches,expecting a miracle from somewhere. Our local talent has much difficulty to be taken seriuosly in many matters, yes including church. May you enjoy full fellowship as children of God.

  4. I thought all priests had to wear black when off duty?

    Also, I thought priests weren’t allowed to do the “can I get an Amen” thing?

    1. Nick, several years ago my parish had a picnic that included among other amusements a dunk tank. My then-5yo “c”ate lunch a little distance from the dunk tank. We watched as a gentleman dressed in t-shirt and shorts was dunked numerous times.

      c: Mommy, if you hit the circle with the ball, the man falls in the water and you win.
      Me: Do you know who that man is?
      c: (peering over at the dunk tank) No.
      Me: That’s Father M.

      (a brief pause as c wraps her mind around the concept of a priest dressed in t-shirt and shorts, period, let alone other than in black)

      c: So…if Father M falls in the water you LOSE?
      Me: Probably…I’m not sure that priest-dunking is a good idea.

    2. Nick,

      Regarding clerical dress, priests and deacons have different rules depending on their diocese or religious order. For some, it is acceptable to dress causually when not acting in a ministerial capacity. For deacons, we are not required to wear a collar and many of choose not to, unless we are directly involved in ministry at a given moment. For example, deacons may choose to wear a collar on Sunday morning or while teaching a religion class but not when grocery shopping for our families.

      Also, priests and deacons are very much permitted to give a homily in a manner appropriate for the congregation. So, we can ask for an “amen” as long as we are preaching the truth and preaching the good news of Christ.

      1. Yes, clerical attire is a matter of various customs. It should be remembered that clerical dress and academic garb had their origins in the same garment (back in the day when the only formally educated people were clergy). Over time, each evolved in its own way. Maybe you have seen films set at Oxford or Cambridge in the 1920s when students still wore an abbreviated and often open black academic gown over their other clothes.

        Clergy who taught at universities evolved in their attire with the academic community. So they wore black with a different cut and form than the cassock in the days when professors still led their classes in this attire. As professors began to reserve the academic gown to commencement and special ceremonies and teach their classes wearing a jacket and tie, so did priest-professors.

        Ignorant of this custom, I have seen examples of people uncharitably criticizing priest-theologians they don’t care for because they are not wearing a clerical collar. The negative comments have become less common since photographs have been widely circulated of Professor Joseph Ratzinger teaching his class while dressed in a business suit!

  5. Amen to this post! I think people are stupid to discriminate against race. We were all once immigrants to this country. Or we’ve at least had relatives that were immigrants. We all have our own culture and beliefs and values – no one “race” is the same. And we can all learn something from each other’s values and cultures. In my job, I see so many different cultures and ways of thinking, and it’s definitely been an eye opening experience for me.

    Thanks for writing this, and Amen to everything!

  6. While understanding the remarkable role the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King played in re-shaping our country, we should not lose sight of (i) he was not a Catholic, and (ii) he cheated on his wife, breaking at least one of the ten commandments. Even great men have their faults.

    1. Terence,

      Only two people in salvation history never broke a commandment – Jesus and His Blessed Mother. So, even all of our declared saints had significant faults.

      MLK day is not a movement in a cause for canonization. Though he was not Catholic, he helped reshape our country as well as the Catholic Church in America. My own mother attended a segregated Catholic school in Southern Maryland. During her time, many reiligious orders would not accept candidates of color. All of this changed as a result of Dr. King’s efforts.

  7. First:
    the man denied Jesus Christ.(invincible ignorance?) Then,he had the pervesity to still call himself a minister.

    Second: he was continuously having “affairs” with women.(no record of repentance) His wife went to court to have the fbi files closed(until 2027) because it would ruin his reputation. His own son said there was a massive conspiracy in regards to his death due to many groups believing he would become an embarrasment to their agendas due to his sexual activities.

    This is just part of what is known. (Such as running naked in a hotel in Oslo chasing a woman(not his wife!)

    Denied Jesus Christ,and called a hero by Christians?????

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