January 12, 2018

Christ the Cornerstone

Nonviolence only way to peace, racial harmony

Archbishop Charles C. Thompson

“Some of you said: this system can no longer be endured. We must change it; we must put human dignity again at the center and on that pillar build the alternative social structures we need. It must be done with courage, but also with intelligence, with tenacity but without fanaticism, with passion but without violence. And among us all, addressing the conflicts without being trapped in them, always seeking to resolve the tensions to reach a higher plane of unity, peace and justice.”
—Pope Francis (Oct. 28, 2014)

This is the first issue of The Criterion in 2018. Happy New Year! May the year ahead be filled with Christ’s peace.

For the next several weeks until Lent, this column, “Christ the Cornerstone,” will discuss social issues that the Catholic bishops of the United States have been invited—and challenged—to address. All these critical issues demand that we consider carefully the meaning of human life and the dignity and the respect owed to everyone regardless of race, gender, nationality, social or economic status, or differences of language, culture or political persuasion.

Since Monday, Jan. 15, is our country’s observance of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, this series of reflections will begin with two social issues that Dr. King passionately opposed: racism and violence.

Dr. King’s vision, which inspired millions of people in our racially divided nation and throughout the world, was that every human being is created in the image and likeness of God. All of us, regardless of our differences, share equally in the rights and responsibilities given to us by a loving and merciful Father. This makes us all brothers and sisters called to love each other without exception, and to cherish and defend the human and civil rights of all.

“I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality,” Dr. King said. “I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.”

In addition to his absolute conviction that racism is evil and must be overcome by “the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood,” Dr. King was determined that the revolution he advocated must be a nonviolent one. The temptation to respond to evil with force is great. Especially when a people has been oppressed, abused and denied basic human rights for generations, the pent-up anger and resentment must be enormous. It would be only natural to want to lash out with overwhelming force against those who have perpetrated (or tolerated) such unspeakable evil.

But Dr. King knew that violence is not the way to universal peace and brotherhood. “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that,” he said. “Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

Only love can overcome the power of sin and death. Only love can unite people who are deeply divided by hatred, prejudice and a history of injustice. Only love can heal the festering wounds of racism and the physical, emotional and spiritual destruction caused by violence.

Sadly, nearly 50 years after the death of Dr. King, racism and violence are still dominant forces in the daily lives of Americans and our sisters and brothers throughout the world. In spite of the progress that has been made during the past five decades, we still have a lot to learn from Dr. King’s teaching that hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.

Every new year, our Holy Father Pope Francis appeals to world leaders, and all of us, to dedicate ourselves to peace.

None of the world’s problems can be solved by war. The peace and brotherhood we seek must be obtained by forgiving past injuries and injustices, and by resolving to “repair the world” through mutual respect and dialogue, as well as through the commitment to accept responsibility for one another as members of the human family equal in human rights and dignity.

In his World Day of Peace message for this year, Pope Francis says, “Offering asylum seekers, refugees, migrants and victims of human trafficking an opportunity to find the peace they seek requires a strategy combining four actions: welcoming, protecting, promoting and integrating.” Surely Dr. King would agree with this approach to peaceful social change!

As the new year begins, Catholics make a special appeal to Mary, Queen of Peace, asking her to unite us with all God’s children in the nonviolent struggle for justice and peace.

May her intercession, and the witness of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., inspire us to reject “the starless midnight of racism and war” and dedicate ourselves wholeheartedly to “the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood” that can only come from “unarmed truth and unconditional love”! †

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