'We belong to one another,' priest says during MLK Mass for Justice and Peace

John J.F. Thorne directs the Black Catholic Ministries Gospel Choir during the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day Mass for Justice and Peace at the Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament in Detroit on Jan. 17. Fr. Phil Cooke, SJ, emphasized that the Church must belong to one another, as each and every person offers his or her own spiritual gifts. (Photos by Valaurian Waller | Detroit Catholic)

Church urged to rededicate to work for freedom, justice, undergo spiritual transformation in honoring Martin Luther King Jr.'s legacy

DETROIT — Throughout the 2022 Mass for Justice and Peace, celebrated Jan. 17 at the Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament in gratitude for the life, work and example of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., a special emphasis was placed upon communion — how much the Church needs unity regardless of skin color.

The Mass on Martin Luther King Jr. Day was one of praise and thanksgiving, with music led by the Black Catholic Ministries Gospel Choir and archdiocesan Black Catholic leaders taking part in the liturgy. Celebrant and homilist Fr. Phil Cooke, SJ, reminded those in attendance how the Rev. King's example of championing civil rights aligns with the teaching of the Church.

Like Jesus' advice in the Gospel, Fr. Cooke said, the Rev. King spent his life turning the other cheek to his oppressors.

“He found a third way: a way of nonviolence, organized resistance, which he believed was the best weapon for the oppressed,” said Fr. Cooke, pastor of Gesu Parish in northwest Detroit. “It is used in solidarity in numbers, keeping faith and showing resistance to oppression by the power of people coming together.”

Fr. Cooke emphasized that those in the Church need one another, as each person has unique gifts to offer.

Celebrant and homilist Fr. Phil Cooke, SJ, reminded the congregation how the life and words of the Rev. King, as a champion of civil rights, both align with the teaching of the Catholic Church and are still needed today.

“If there is anything we need right now during this COVID pandemic, during all the racism post-George Floyd, it's that we have to learn how badly we need each other, and we need to belong to one another,” Fr. Cooke said.

Turning the other cheek is not about being held down, weakened and beaten by one's enemy, Fr. Cooke said, but rather a sign a person is truly strong, brave and deserving of the respect of one's compatriots.

And through this spiritual strength, God can build a stronger Church, Fr. Cooke said.

“Martin Luther King said in his book, ‘Strength to Love,’ that even those who advocated for racial segregation — the not-too-distant cousin of slavery — that these Christian men and women were sincere in their motives and that the reason that the world suffered from all the evils of slavery, Jim Crowe laws, segregation ... is that they were victims of spiritual and intellectual blindness. They knew not what they did,” Fr. Cooke said.

Fr. Cooke said many today are also guilty of spiritual and intellectual blindness, as shown by ongoing acts of racism and injustice.

When individuals embrace their moral responsibility to grow in intellectual wisdom and knowledge through the grace of the Holy Spirit, they are able to appropriate a new way of being beyond violence, racism and spiritual blindness, Fr. Cooke said.

“I have a God who will check these racist biases inside of me; I have a God who will remove these defects if I let Him,” Fr. Cooke said. “I need to examine my own spiritual blindness and say, ‘God, show me where I am weak, where I am failing where I am hurting.’ That is why we open every Mass by asking for forgiveness of our sins.”

When individuals embrace their moral responsibility to grow in intellectual wisdom and knowledge through the grace of the Holy Spirit, they are able to appropriate a new way of moving beyond violence, racism and spiritual blindness, he said.

At the end of Mass, John Thorne, executive director of the Detroit Catholic Pastoral Alliance, reminded the congregation that this transformation requires work, reading a passage from Rev. King’s "Letter from Birmingham Jail" to emphasize his point.

“We need transformation and conversion to appropriate something new, that newness that Martin Luther King always called the Church to be and to become,” Fr. Cooke said. “We are becoming, Church.”

“Today, we have come to this cathedral to rededicate ourselves to the principles of something that has to be more than a dream, something that has to be lived in our everyday life,” Thorne said. “When we say, 'We shall overcome,' we have to work to overcome. When we say that we want justice, we also have to work for freedom, and if we are going to work for freedom, then we have to demand justice.”

“I hope as you leave this place today, that as the old song says, ‘You won’t leave here like you came: broken, discouraged, sick or lame. For the power of the Lord is still the same. That we have work to do.’”



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