Today the nation celebrates the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., civil rights leader, minister, and American activist. While many children are excited they get the day off school, and a fair number of workers have the day off from work, the importance of Dr. King’s legacy goes beyond being a federal holiday, or a celebration that only affects people of color. Dr. King fought for the rights of all people to be treated with dignity, and it is in this teaching that Catholics can find the most common ground with this Baptist preacher, today some 47 years after he was assassinated.
Human dignity is one of the precepts of the Catholic faith, that from womb to tomb, the human person possesses an innate dignity that cannot be lost through one’s one actions/sin, or the through the actions/oppression of others. Dr. King, in striving for equal recognition of the humanity of all persons, irregardless of the color their skin, awoke the nation and the world to the very real truth that God indeed created all people in his image and likeness, and when we segregate people or treat others as “less than”, we are treating God as “less than”. This message is as relevant today as it was in 1968.
The dignity of all persons continues to be questioned, from the unborn, to the terminally ill, to the stranger among us, to the death row inmate, to those of different faiths. Of course it is easy to see God in the unborn, or our parish priest, or our kind and generous neighbor. But if we choose to believe that Mother Teresa or Pope Francis or even we ourselves are created in the image and likeness of God, we must also believe that the man living under the bridge, or the busboy in our favorite restaurant, or the new neighbors that just moved in next door and do not speak English, or the abortionist, or the terrorist, are also God’s children, whether they know it or not. And not only are they God’s children, they are the image and likeness of God Himself.
The dignity of the human person is inherent in their very being, and it cannot be lost because of what they do, or what they do not do. It certainly cannot be lost because of who God created them to be.
Martin Luther King, Jr. answered God’s call by entering the Baptist seminary, after he realized the church offered the most concrete way to answer “an inner urge to serve humanity”. Today, we have the opportunity to continue in his example, through our acts of public service, our kindness to others, and our prayers for a more just nation. So while you are enjoying that day off from work, and your children are running around enjoying an extra long weekend, take a moment to truly think about Dr. King, and his message of hope for a world where people are seen as God sees them, not as “less than”.