Equal Justice for All People
Our Easter joy continues! During the celebration of the Easter Vigil, I was particularly taken by the first reading as we reflected on God’s word which, on that night, recounts for us the history of our salvation and God’s everlasting care for us. This first reading, taken from the Book of Genesis, tells the story of creation. On the sixth day of creation, when all the world is completed and God sees it all as good, He creates a creature different from all the rest. He creates the human person. “God created man in His image; in the image of God He created him, male and female He created them” (Genesis 1:27). There are two things we might think about as we reflect on those words. First of all, being created by God “in His image” gives each human being a priceless dignity, value, and purpose in life. And secondly, the image of God is mirrored in the complementarity of man and woman. We are social beings, created to live together in love.
To be created in the image of God grounds the worth of our human existence. The right we have to be respected by others is grounded in the dignity we receive from being created by God. Likewise, the obligation we have to love one another flows from this same dignity. In fact, how we treat one another shows how we love God. “Whoever loves God must love his brother” (1 John 4:21).
Creation and the Book of Genesis probably struck me in a special way this Easter because I was mindful that, on April 4, in the midst of Easter Week, we would be marking the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., a powerful leader of the Civil Rights movement in the 60’s and a minister. In 1968, the year of the assassination, I was a senior in college in Washington, D.C. It was spring, and the important thing on my calendar was preparation for senior comprehensive exams. The conflagration of grief which enveloped the city in the demonstrations and riots that followed the news of Reverend King’s death by violence had a major impact on all of us. We knew that a great tragedy had occurred. We had been moved by this powerful preacher and his message of equal justice for all people. We had been touched by his preaching. His call for nonviolent resistance to injustice was a hallmark of his leadership. His death was itself a call to be conscious of the insidious sin of racism in our society. Actions were taken on many levels in our culture to improve the lives of all our citizens. And yet, racism continues to our own day. Racism is a form of hatred, one in which some people believe themselves to be superior to others because of the color of their skin or their ethnic background.
When I was at a meeting with other bishops of the country in March, we determined to publish a statement aware that we would soon be marking this tragic anniversary. It seemed an opportune time to recommit ourselves to the Gospel message that Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. preached, that the sin of racism can be defeated by “active love and the light of faith.”
In the spirit of that goal I share with you some excerpts from that statement:
“As we reflect on the life and work of Martin Luther King, Jr., we need to ask ourselves if we are doing all we can to build the culture of love, respect and peace to which the Gospel calls us. What are we being asked to do for the sake of our brother or sister who still suffers under the weight of racism? Where could God use our efforts to help change the hearts of those who harbor racist thoughts or engage in racist actions?”
“Our faith urges us to be courageous, to risk something of ourselves, in defending the dignity of our neighbor who is made in the image of God. Pope Francis reminds us often that we must never sit on the sidelines in the face of great evil or extreme need, even when danger surrounds us. St. Paul proclaims that: 'We are afflicted in every way, but not constrained; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our body' (2 Cor. 4:8-11). We can best honor Dr. Martin Luther King and preserve his legacy by boldly asking God—today and always—to deepen our own commitment to follow His will wherever it leads in the cause of promoting justice."
May God, our loving Father, who has created us in His image, guide our efforts to see that same image in all the people we meet.
Most Reverend Robert P. Deeley, J.C.D.
12th Bishop of Portland