Early this past week I happened to tune into “Morning Joe,” an early-morning news-and-commentary broadcast. Something Joe Scarborough said startled both me and his co-hosts when he branded the insurgents who lay siege to the US Capitol on Jan. 6 as “a Christian mob.” A professed Baptist, Scarborough explained that he saw a cross and some other Christian symbols displayed by the rioters. If that were enough to make a mob or a movement Christian, then the Ku Klux Klan would fit in nicely, as well as dozens of other repressive governments at home and abroad who appropriate symbols both hallowed and desecrated over the centuries.
There was nothing Christian about the violent and deadly attack except a few scattered symbols and the apparent presence of a large number of white evangelicals bent on “taking back their country.”
As I watched the unfolding riot, having turned on the tv looking for a weather report shortly after noon, there was no sign of ministers, priests, rabbis, sisters, and other church leaders walking arm in arm peacefully over bridges of hate and racism in the name of love, justice, and freedom. For that we have to go back to the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963 and especially the March from Selma to Montgomery in 1965, or the March on Washington this August to protest that Black Lives Matter.
The Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., a Baptist minister and preacher, was prominent alongside the late John Lewis at Selma and in several “freedom marches,” and it is to King, whose memory will be celebrated tomorrow throughout this country, that Scarborough should turn to discover what a Christian demonstration looks like. King offered his life in exchange for justice, peace, and non-violence. He was not the first to do so, nor will he be the last. But he needed no flags, tee-shirts, or crosses to prove his faith and that of his followers.
The commemoration of King’s life and legacy hardly come at a more opportune moment in our nation’s history, as hate, racism, injustice, violence, and deceit still find occasion to foul the air waves and streets. Like the prophet Samuel, whose call we learn about in today’s first reading, not only King but all those who profess the Christian faith are called to listen and respond. King’s response was outstanding and epoch-making. Ours may not be, but it is nevertheless incumbent on us and at least a candle that lights up a little of the darkness in the world.
Like Samuel, King actually heard God calling in the night. The passage we have just heard from St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthian
Christians, reminds us that as temples of the Holy Spirit, the presence of God lives within us. We are not limited to external hints and clues and directions. God is right here, inside, whispering, listening, guiding, and raising us up. The problem is that we seldom pay attention.
The simple truth is that like Samuel, and the disciples we first meet in the gospel reading today, all of us are called to prophecy. In fact, every moment of our life presents an opportunity to hear the Word of God and follow it. Like Samuel and King, we are not merely passive recipients of instructions that come to us in a burning bush or a still small voice in the night. We also need to act. Some of us may act heroically.
In the story from the gospel of John, the first disciples are given an invitation, a call — “come and see.” But going to see Jesus means looking for the Word of God — paying attention, even in the still small hours of the night. But as Martin Luther King learned, no less than Samuel and those first disciples did, we have to do something. That is how we follow Christ. So let us pray that both awake and asleep we continue to keep open the eyes and ears of our hearts, ever attentive to the signals of divine intent that ring around us like voices calling in the night. And let us pray that we will put into practice what we have heard whispered in that dark stillness.
Later this week Catholics in the United States will observe a day of prayer for the protection of unborn children, one of several such observances now inserted into the liturgical calendar. It should be a time for prayerful reflection on the gift of life, for all life is holy, all life “matters.”
“The poor beetle, that we tread upon,
In corporal sufferance finds a pang as great
As when a giant dies.” (Measure for Measure, Act III, Sc. 1)
Early yesterday, the current administration carried out its 13th federal execution since July. The killing of Dustin Higgs ended “an unprecedented series that concluded five days before the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden — an opponent of the federal death penalty.” The execution was scheduled for Friday, the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr. After a protest by Martin Luther King III, King’s eldest son, noting that Higgs, a Black man, was scheduled to die on his father’s birthday and following other last-minute appeals, the execution was delayed one day.
As noted by the Associated Press, “the number of federal death sentences carried out under Trump since 2020 is more than in the previous 56 years combined…” The only woman on death row, Lisa Montgomery, who was suffering from brain damage and mental illness, was executed Wednesday, the first woman executed in 67 years dispute appeals for clemency from around the world, including the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the ACLU, the National Council for Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls, Sr. Helen Prejean, and a thousand others — many of them religious leaders.
There was chatter among the mob that ransacked the Capitol building on Jan. 6 about staging executions of members of Congress, and a noose was prominently displayed, which to the best of my knowledge is not a Christian symbol, Mr. Scarborough. Our call to peace, justice, and non-violence led by Martin Luther King, Jr., is a summons unfulfilled. Let us continue the task set before us so long ago by the Prince of Peace, himself unjustly executed by governmental authority.