January President’s Pen with Preston Kendall

Feb 4, 2023 | President’s Pen

“Perhaps a new spirit is rising among us. If it is, let us trace its movements and pray that our own inner being may be sensitive to its guidance, for we are deeply in need of a new way beyond the darkness that seems so close around us.” – Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Recently we celebrated Martin Luther King, Jr. Day at CRSM.  Instead of a Catholic mass, we have a tradition of holding services that celebrate other faith traditions shared by some of our students and staff.  CRSM is a Catholic school but that doesn’t mean all our students or staff are Catholic.  It is a point of pride that we have so many of the world’s religions represented here.  Our Muslim math teacher has since moved on, but we still stay in contact. Judaism, Hinduism, Protestantism (including Adventist, Baptist, Evangelical, Episcopal, Lutheran, Mennonite, Methodist) are practiced by people working and studying under CRSM’s roof – enriching our community and promoting greater connections, empathy, and understanding among us. During Open Houses, we tell prospective students and their parents that, at CRSM, we want to challenge you not only about what you believe but how you are living out those beliefs in the world.  That is why community service is such an integral part of our campus ministry programming and our identity as a school.

Our Dean of Students, who is pastor of the Eternal Flame AME Church in North Chicago, organizes MLK Day for us along with our Black Student Union.  The service usually alternates year-to-year between and AME service and a Baptist service.  This year, it was the Baptists’ turn and we welcomed our Dean’s college classmate, Rev. Angelo Kyle whose church, St. Matthew Missionary Baptist Church is housed in a small building adjacent to our old campus in east Waukegan.  Pastor Kyle prepared a scholarly sermon about the life of MLK connecting his legacy from over 50 years ago back to the present day and to our students’ lives, challenging them to seek not only personal success but communal success.  The service also included music supplied from old friends from the First Baptist Church and the First Corinthian Baptist Church both in North Chicago.  Ms. Donna Dallas led us in traditional hymns, and it reminded me of a colleague of mine when we were first opening Christ the King Jesuit College Prep in the Austin neighborhood on Chicago’s West Side who would always say to our students, “when you sing, you pray twice!”

I was privileged to be able to give some closing remarks at the service. It so happens that, over the weekend, I was reading King’s speech, “Beyond Vietnam — A Time to Break Silence.”  He delivered this speech at Riverside Church in New York City on April 4, 1967.  I stared at the date – it was exactly one year to the exact day before he was assassinated!  A chilling thought.  King’s words are as relevant today as they were decades ago.  He calls to us from across those years to continue the movement, to keep dreaming the dream.  While it is disappointing to think we have accomplished so little in breaking down racial and economic barriers since the 1950’s, there is still hope and we are charged with not letting that hope die – it’s a hope elemental to all our faiths: “…our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional.”

Here is an excerpt from his speech, Beyond Vietnam:

“This call for a worldwide fellowship that lifts neighborly concern beyond one’s tribe, race, class, and nation is in reality a call for an all-embracing and unconditional love for all [humankind].…

When I speak of love I am not speaking of some sentimental and weak response. I’m not speaking of that force which is just emotional bosh. I am speaking of that force which all of the great religions have seen as the supreme unifying principle of life. Love is somehow the key that unlocks the door which leads to ultimate reality.

This Hindu-Muslim-Christian-Jewish-Buddhist belief about ultimate reality is beautifully summed up in the first epistle of Saint John:

Let us love one another, for love is of God. And everyone that loveth is born of God and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God, for God is love.… If we love one another, God dwelleth in us and [God’s] love is perfected in us. [1 John 4:7–8, 12].

Let us hope that this spirit will become the order of the day…

If we will make the right choice, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our world into a beautiful symphony of [sisterhood and] brotherhood. If we will but make the right choice, we will be able to speed up the day, all over America and all over the world, when ‘justice will roll down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.’ [Amos 5:24]”

The CRSM community of students, faculty, staff, business partners, and donors give me hope.  You give me hope.  We are a mighty stream TOGETHER.  ¡Viva Cristo Rey!