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A week of reasons to hope

Faithpoint | Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Well, this week has certainly provided food for thought and a reason to get out of the regular drill. If we ever get lulled by sheer monotony, sub-zero temperatures, exhaustion or apathy into allowing the circles of our thoughts to become circumscribed in narrower and narrower ways, will this week shake us out of our winter-in-northern-Indiana stupor?

The celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day on January 19 could not help but be tinged with the anticipation of Barack Obama’s inauguration on January 20. King could say in 1963, when the future looked desolate in so many ways for people of color, “I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; ‘and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.’ … With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith, we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.”

President Obama was all of two years old at the time of King’s speech. We would probably all have to agree that now, two days ago on Jan. 20, when the new president gave his inaugural address facing the very monument from which King spoke, many of the “jangling discords of our nation” have not been transformed. We aren’t free today, though what binds us has changed. In addition to racial and ethnic prejudices not yet fully healed, war threatens to grip us like quicksand and economic fear and despair hover around us as we hear story after story of layoffs, foreclosures and bankruptcies, even as we live in a culture that refers to us all as simply “consumers.”

Tuesday’s address, a mix of realism and hope, as well as all the events of Inauguration Day, reminded us that we are citizens, not merely consumers, a distinction which implies giving of ourselves rather than simply collecting what we can obtain or purchase. President Obama described the demands of citizenship: “…we have duties to ourselves, our nation and the world; duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character, than giving our all to a difficult task.”

And yet as Christians, we must add another, even more fundamental layer of truth onto all the inspiring words and images the celebrations of these last few days have given us. Our faith calls us to believe that we will find all that we hope and yearn for if we place Jesus of Nazareth at the center of our lives. Catholics believe that we will find Jesus Christ in his Body, the Church, and that therefore the entire focus and purpose of the Church is to point the world to Christ.

As compelling and attractive as the world seemed to find President Obama on Tuesday, it would be unfair – and foolish – to place too much hope in him. As one commentator said later that day, “He’s the President, not the Messiah.” President Obama’s relationship with Christians of all denominations will probably remain filled with a complex mix of agreements and disagreements, unity as well as discord. Senior Catholic leaders from around the world have already praised his position on immigration at a time when many of the poorest people seeking to come to the United States are caught, with growing desperation, in the global economic downturn whether they seek work in their home countries or here. At the same time, the new president’s support of the pending Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA), which establishes abortion as a woman’s “fundamental right” throughout her nine months of pregnancy, remains an enormous, though unsurprising, disappointment. Furthermore, other aspects of his inaugural address, though inspiring, lose their credibility in light of his willingness to back FOCA. “People will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy,” he stated. Does this not apply to each and every one of us as much as to the foreign leaders he addressed?

Today, perhaps even as you’re reading this, the March for Life fills the very same National Mall in Washington, D.C. where Martin Luther King spoke 46 years ago and President Obama took the oath of office just two days ago. The United States Bishops ask us to pray for and defend “the basic rights of those who are weakest and most marginalized: the poor, the homeless, the innocent unborn, and the frail and elderly who need our respect and assistance.”

We may find much hope for the future in the words and the person of Barack Obama, and in taking note of how far we’ve come since Martin Luther King, Jr. told the nation and the world that he had a dream. We can’t risk forgetting, however, that all our hopes will only truly come to fruition as we seek together to find and follow the person and example of Jesus Christ.

This week’s Faithpoint is written by Kate Barrett. Kate Barrett is the director of the Emmaus program in Campus Ministry. She can be reached at [email protected]

The views expressed in this Faithpoint are those of the author and not

necessarily those of The Observer.