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What Would Dr. King Say To The First Black President? (Part 2)

Jan. 20, 2009
ÒPresident-elect Barack Obama was about to walk out to take the oath of office. Backstage at the U.S. Capitol, he took one last look at his appearance in the mirror.Ó
(Official White House photo by Pete Souza)

This official White House photograph is being made available only for publication by news organizations and/or for personal use printing by the subject(s) of the photograph. The photograph may not be manipulated in any way and may not be used in commercial or political materials, advertisements, emails, products, promotions that in any way suggests approval or endorsement of the President, the First Family, or the White House.

 Fr. Joe Nangle, OFM  shares part two of his message for this historic weekend. For part one, please see Friday’s post.

By The White House from Washington, DC (P012009PS-0477  Uploaded by Ekabhishek) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

In preparing for today’s homily, I spoke with an African-American Jesuit theologian and asked him what Dr. King might say to Barak Obama today. His answer was immediate and clear: “This president needs the kind of prophet speaking to him that President Lyndon Johnson had in Martin Luther King, Jr.” The priest went on to detail several areas which Dr. King would point out to Mr. Obama as needing urgent and radical attention: immigration, Afghanistan, torture, poverty and bombing civilian population with drones.

Taking our brother Jesuit’s observations a few steps further, I believe that our Catholic Church – and other Christian churches, as well as synagogues and mosques in this country – also need to hear the Prophet, Martin Luther King, today. Listen to his words directed at the churches 50 years ago and again apply them to the Church of our time and place:

-“so often the contemporary Church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an archdefender of the status quo.” [“Letter from a Birmingham Jail” 1963]
-“The Church must be reminded that it is not the master or the slave of the State, but rather the conscience of the State. It must be the guide and the critic of the State, and never its tool.” [“Strength To Love” 1963]
-Called to be the moral guardian of the community, the Church at times has preserved that which is immoral and unethical. Called to combat social evils, it has remained silent behind stained glass windows.” [Ibid.]

Our Catholic Church in America has become what Dr. King called a “weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound”. We are known primarily for our opposition to abortion, stem cell research and same-sex marriage. At the same time the enormous issues of national and global poverty, war making, the destruction of our planet go unnoticed or surely unaddressed by most of our bishops, especially in the exercise of their diocesan pastoral ministries. We are known as a Church of the Republican Party, when we should stand over against all political parties as their conscience.

I believe that the Catholic Church – that is, all of us who are the Church in the United States – together with our Protestant, Jewish and Muslim sisters and brothers are called at this time in history to be the kind of prophetic presence we celebrate on this Inauguration and M.L. King Jr. holiday weekend. Let us pray fervently that we might bring to life, as Doctor King Jr. did in his life, the words of the great New Testament hymn, the Benedictus: “you shall be called the prophet of the Most High to go before the Lord to prepare his ways”

We can be no less at this moment in our national life if we wish to receive a favorable judgment from history and ever more importantly, a merciful judgment from God.

Fr. Joe Nangle, OFM, is the former executive director and board secretary/treasurer of Franciscan Mission Service. A member of the Franciscan Friars of Holy Name Province he currently ministers to the Hispanic community at Our Lady Queen of Peace Parish, Arlington, VA. He has lived at the Assisi Community, an intentional community in inner city Washington, DC, for the past twenty-two years. 

Fr. Joseph Nangle, OFM served twelve years as the Co-Director of Franciscan Mission Service. He spent fifteen years as a missioner in Bolivia and Peru and is currently engaged in ministry to the Hispanic community of Our Lady Queen of Peace Parish in Arlington, Virginia. Fr. Joe is also a member of the Assisi Community in Washington, DC, an intentional Catholic community of lay and religious men and women dedicated to a simple life-style and social change.