Community gathers in prayer to honor Dr. Martin Luther King
Thomas Murphy | Tuesday, January 22, 2019
University President Fr. John Jenkins reflected on the history of night prayer as he opened a Candlelight Prayer Service remembering the life and work of Martin Luther King, Jr. on Sunday.
“Night prayer in the Christian tradition has been an opportune time to acknowledge what we have done and what we have failed to do,” Jenkins said.
Such was the atmosphere as hundreds of members of the Notre Dame community crowded in the darkened corridors and balconies beneath the dome of the Main Building. Attendees held small candles that together brought light to the quietly enclosed area.
The prayer service was the opening event of Walk the Walk Week, a series of events celebrating the life of King and reflecting on racial and social justice in America.
Between hymns performed by the Voices of Faith Choir, freshman Chris Uhran read from a sermon delivered by King in November of 1967 at the Ebenezer Baptist Church — where King was a co-pastor with his father for eight years until his death. The sermon examined the nature of faith and encouraged followers in Christ to pursue the right and good for the sake of the right and good, without desire for gratification and without fear of humiliation.
Following another hymn, senior Nohemi Toledo read a passage from St. Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians.
Kayla August, assistant director of evangelization for Campus Ministry, considered the readings from King and St. Paul and reflected on their challenge to the Notre Dame community to find the principle they hold as fundamental and live a life according to that principle. Such a challenge requires courage, August said.
“In the University with pristine quads and a beautiful basilica, with top resources and top faculty and some of the brightest minds in America, we must ask ourselves ‘do we live by our principles? Are we letting our principles and beliefs model and mold the world that we hope to create,’” she said. “To live by that something isn’t easy, because truly living by that principle requires change. A change that will certainly challenge us.
“It will not only challenge us to look inward to discover if we are truly living by the principles we say we believe, but it will ask if we are letting that principle guide our thoughts and push us to be the people we want to be. It will challenge us to look at the world around us and strive to not only hold this truth but to share it. It begs us to ask how our actions, our words and the way we encounter others reflect that truth we say we hold. To be changed in this way takes courage. Martin Luther King had this courage.”
Courage to change and make manifest our highest ideals asks us to act and reflect on our lives and society, August said.
“If we aim to be a manifestation of the principles that believe that something of which we say we hold, then we have to be willing to bear a cross,” she said. “Knowing that moving forward will take the courage to speak when we could have remained silent, the courage to come together when its easier to divide, the courage to tell the truth even when it makes people uncomfortable, the courage to challenge our perspective to see that our paradise might be someone else’s prison or perhaps the courage to simply stand up and let ourselves truly be seen and be heard for the first time.”
The challenge of bearing such a cross for justice is intimidating, August said, especially in the light of the life of King, and it is a challenge that brings forth more questions than answers.
“To be honest, as a minster living in the legacy of Dr. King, I can tell you I feel — at best — overwhelmed,” August said. “How do you live in the shadow of a man who changed the tide of racial justice, who brought unity to an increasingly divided world? How can I stand for those whose needs and struggles are being pushed aside by people whose power and influence I’ll never have? How can I be a voice for those standing on the borders of society? Can I be an ally to immigrants, the LGBTQ community, all people of color, those in poverty, those struggling with addiction, those sick or alone, the born and the unborn? How can I be a voice for all of the marginalized? Am I even able to be that courageous? Honestly, I don’t know.”
August said she has found inspiration to answer these questions through conversations she’s had with Leona Tate, one of the first four students selected to desegregate schools in the South. Tate’s courage — as well as the courage of her teachers — gives us a model for action in our own lives.
When the service came to an end, attendees filed out of the Main Building towards the statue depicting the Sacred Heart of Jesus placed in the heart of God Quad. Candles were placed before the statue as prayers were whispered beneath the cold, clear night sky.
“Where you are going this night my friends, tell the world you are going with truth, you’re going with justice, you’re going with goodness and you will have an eternal companionship,” August said in her concluding remarks, harkening to the earlier sermon of King. “The world will look at you and they will not understand, for your fiery furnace will be around you. But you will go on anyhow.”