By NICHOLE GOLDEN, Editor | Published January 16, 2024
ATLANTA—The faithful gathered Jan. 13 at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Jesus to remember Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as a man of prayer and faith.
Archbishop Gregory J. Hartmayer, OFM Conv., celebrated the Mass, and Father Robert Boxie of the Archdiocese of Washington was the homilist.
Father Boxie, priest chaplain at Howard University in Washington, D.C., said it was “humbling” to be preaching about Dr. King in his native city of Atlanta.
Each year for MLK Day, Father Boxie has a tradition to commemorate the observance—he rereads Dr. King’s 1963 “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” The priest called the letter “an inspired piece of American literature.”
The civil rights leader wrote the letter in response to a “Call for Unity,” a statement from a group of white clergymen questioning protests in Birmingham, urging activists to use the court system instead of demonstrations to secure rights.
What struck Father Boxie this year in re-reading the document was Dr. King’s tone, which had no hint of bitterness or revenge.
“He could’ve stood on grounds of self-righteousness because his cause was just and moral and right, but instead he issued grace and fraternal correction,” said the priest.
There’s a lesson from this for a society that’s “hyper-polarized,” with others often showing hate toward those who think differently.
Dr. King showed another way, said Father Boxie. He added that King’s letter prompted a conversion of heart for Bishop Joseph Durick, an auxiliary bishop in Mobile who had joined the clergy members in issuing the statement.
It’s love and grace that is needed amid the violence in families, political or religious violence and amid wars, emphasized Father Boxie.
“How much we need to reclaim Dr. King’s campaign of non-violence to address these existential problems that we face as a people,” said the priest.
Dr. King modeled his mission after that of Jesus, who “outmaneuvered” opposition with a great divine, love, he said.
‘Consider how he endured’
The theme of this year’s archdiocesan Mass and youth celebration on Jan. 14 was “Consider how he endured such opposition … that you may not grow weary and lose heart.” The theme was taken from Hebrews 12:3.
What helped Dr. King stay the course was that he “kept his eyes on Jesus Christ on the cross,” said Father Boxie.
“He was a visionary,” said the priest. “God granted him the ability to see with the eyes of faith beyond the jail cell.”
During trials and sufferings, it’s not our own ability that is to be relied upon, said Father Boxie. Instead, it’s “availability do it with him” and “hand in hand” with one another.
Following Mass, Ashley Morris, director of Black Catholic Affairs for the archdiocese’s Office of Intercultural Ministries, named the Msgr. Edward Branch Young Adult Award winner. Morris recognized the dedication of Sade Sewell as this year’s recipient. Sewell is a parishioner of St. Theresa Church, Douglasville. The award honored her dedication as a volunteer, assisting with MLK weekend events and activities of the Pan African Catholic community.
The award is named for the retired Lyke House Catholic Center director.
Archbishop Hartmayer thanked the Archdiocesan Choir for providing music for the Mass, and the Knights of Peter Claver and its Ladies Auxiliary for participation in the weekend events. Young people presented the prayer intentions for the Mass.
In his closing remarks, the archbishop recalled that Dr. King was never deterred because God was his strength.
The archbishop said when challenges seem too great to overcome, that’s when people must bond together.
It’s important to “recognize the Christ in one another and see each other as brother and sister, and accompany one another into that Promised Land—that to me will always be the message of Dr. Martin Luther King,” he said.