A woman holds a placard with an image of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. during a silent prayer walk near his memorial in Washington April 4, 2018. CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn
A woman holds a placard with an image of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. during a silent prayer walk near his memorial in Washington April 4, 2018. CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn

"The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “Strength to Love,” 1963

These profound words from a collection of sermons given by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. have a special resonance this year as we celebrate the national holiday named in his honor.  

No one can reasonably doubt or question that the past year and the first weeks of this new year have been “times of challenge and controversy.”  Each person is called at this moment to look deeply into his/her heart and soul to discover “where he/she stands.”

Our society has witnessed more than its fair share in recent months of fear and a sense of isolation generated by the pandemic; resulting economic concerns; divisive political polarization; unchecked incivility toward one another given free rein in social media and social interactions; blatant demonstrations of systemic racism, and the violence and total disregard for human life in all its stages that is so prevalent and so counter to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. “Times of challenge and controversy,” indeed.

Dr. King said it well as he cautioned over 58 years ago, “Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.”

His words bear witness to the Lord Jesus Christ, who revealed, “I am the Light of the World.  Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness but will have the light of life (John 8:12).”  And that light leads us, urges us to love one another, Christ’s greatest command (John 13:34).  In the end, it is our living witness to Christ, to his light and to his love, that is our “ultimate measure.”