This week the Benedictine community takes time to remember, honor, and learn from Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Most of us have heard of King our whole lives. Some of us were fortunate enough to share at least a portion of his far too brief 39 years. Even the youngest among us can recognize his image and his voice. I hope all can note some of his achievements and quote some of his words.
I encourage the whole Benedictine family to know King in his fullness.
We call him Reverend. He pursued his higher education in a church-related context. “Intelligence plus character,” he said, “is the goal of true education.”
Rev. King knew his vocation and lived it.
He was an ordained Baptist minister, just like his father and grandfather. In all his words you can hear the deep resonance of the Bible, the profound wisdom of two millennia of Christian experience, and the spiritual audacity of the Black church.
King’s critics asked, What’s a preacher doing protesting?
He pointed to the Hebrew prophets, who spoke truth to power.
They asked, What’s a preacher doing in jail?
He pointed to Jesus, to Paul, and to all “extremists for love” who have witnessed behind bars to something higher than political loyalty or expediency.
King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” marking its 60th anniversary this April, is a liberal arts education in less than 7,000 words.
We also call him Doctor. King earned his PhD in theology. He wrote his dissertation—some 200 pages—on the problem of God in modern thought, paying attention especially to the humanist and existentialist voices of his day.
People ask what you can do with a theology major. King gives us the answer: Change the world.
We don’t call him Professor, though. We could have. But he declined attractive offers of academic appointments to serve in ministry. And that’s how Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. stepped onto the stage of history.
He is the model of the scholar-activist.
This week, we honor King especially as we share hopes for peace rising from the rich religious and philosophical diversity that graces our beloved Benedictine community.
We should never forget how much King contributed to ecumenical and interfaith appreciation.
He inspired Christians of radically different traditions.
His ardent collaborator was the Jewish Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel.
He was one of the few Christian clergy in America to take seriously the Islamic vision of Malcolm X.
And his greatest inspiration came from India. Jesus gave the message, he said. Gandhi gave the method.
We recognize King today as one of the true interfaith saints of global history.
But King never saw a university like ours—committed to both Catholic values and unwavering, respectful interfaith friendship and cooperation.
We have our critics, too.
King is not here to answer them.
We have to do the answering—turning words into deeds, as Saint Benedict said.
Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King discerned his vocation and lived it—despite the cost. May we all live out our calling for peace, justice, truth-telling, and healing!
Dr. Peter A. Huff
Chief Mission Officer and Director, Center for Benedictine Values