Guest blogger: Widian Nicola, Program Coordinator at the Center for FaithJustice, devout follower of St Vincent de Paul and his spirituality, and very good friend :)
It has been almost half a century since the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. painted to the world the colors of his dream: a portrait when "one day right there in Alabama, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers" And when "one day every valley shall be exalted, 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."
This dream is a picture that is still in the process of revealing itself. Although the picture might be unclear, it is indeed continually being painted. It is being painted in the paradoxical nature of our human condition: that of suffering and joy, acceptance and rejection, love and ignorance, temperance and violence, freedom and oppression, and life and death. Dr. King realized that while a dream could be fully realized, it is not given birth without birth pains and cannot develop without growing pains. "You have been the veterans of creative suffering," Dr. King said, "continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive."
What are we to say to the challenge of living in a world that struggles to live out the ultimate Divine Dream of God, as Dr. King did? The Dream, also called the Kingdom of God, where life overcomes death and love overcomes hate? It was Jesus who, both divine and human, perfected the art of living in the tension of an imperfect world that could only be restored through redemptive suffering. Why was he able to do this? Temperance.
Temperance is the moderation in the indulgence of a given hunger, the discipline of self-control, or perhaps self-restraint in the ways in which we act in self-righteousness. Jesus knew how to live out the Dream here on earth. He knew how to live with the strain of suffering coupled with joy. Regardless of the ways in which Jesus suffered, ultimately, he knew that the glory of God must be revealed through temperance: by surrendering and saying yes to the ultimate will of God (death) when it might have been easier to quit, give up, or practice the art of surrendering to the hopelessness that many of us suffer as a result of our human condition.
Abraham refused to give up and pressed on that his dream might become a reality. Moses refused to be a slave and led his people out of oppression that his dream might become a reality. Job refused to curse God and pressed on that his dream might become a reality. The Blessed Mother refused to give up that her dream might become a reality. Isaiah, Jeremiah, Nehemiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, David, Peter, Paul, Mary Madeline refused to give up that their collective dream might become a reality. Dr. King, Mother Teresa, Vincent de Paul, Dorothy Day, Francis of Assisi, Oscar Romero, Joan of Arc, Thea Bowman refused to give up and pressed on that their collective dream might become a reality.
For Jesus, temperance was not gained through discipline but was channeled through the love he already had within. Part of the reason Jesus perfected the virtue is because he saw that it is something not be earned, but one that is already within and must merely but accessed. It was temperance that allowed Jesus to respond with love instead of retaliation, with forgiveness instead of judgment, time instead of an instant, passive resistance instead of revenge. It is the temperance of the cloud of witnesses in our church family that teach us how to live in the tension, not being ignorant to the ways in which dreams are fully realized: through suffering.
So the paradigm shift is not to ask, “what am I going to do with my life,” but “what can I do with my life that I might join in the collective voice for change in our world?” In honor of Dr. King and the many saints who have led the way for us to experience a foretaste of God’s Dream yet were not able to see the ways in which they have given life through their sacrifice and struggle, let us celebrate reconciliation through the love they gave more fully.
May each of us open our hearts to the ways in which God wants us to love, most especially through our vocation. May we live with the same hope and despair our forerunners lived with in such perfect and peaceful tension. May we live with courage and temperance of our own self-righteous desires so that we may see our modern, Vincentian, and collective dream come to fruition. For comprehensive immigration reform, fair housing, education, and end to racism, abortion, human trafficking, and the death penalty; let us live well "on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice"
"Go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to South Carolina, go back to Georgia, go back to Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettos of our northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed. Let us not wallow in the valley of despair. I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. This is our hope. This is the faith that I go back to the South with. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope."