A Prayer on Martin Luther King Jr. Day: For the Grace to Boldly Work Towards Racial Justice

Holy Cross Father Theodore Hesburgh, second from left, joins hands with with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., the Rev. Edgar Chandler and Msgr. Robert J. Hagarty of Chicago, far right, in 1964 at the Illinois Rally for Civil Rights in Chicago's Soldier field. (CNS photo/courtesy University of Notre Dame)

Facing our history can be disheartening and inspiring, often at the same time. Every human life – and nation, and society, and institution – is marked both by the wound of sin and the ointment of grace. In recent years the Society of Jesus in the United States has had to turn a resolute eye to the sins of slavery and injustice in its own past. 

The following prayer was written for a meeting of the Jesuit Anti-Racism Sodality (JARS), a group of Jesuits committed to working towards an antiracist Society of Jesus. In it we sought the intercession of patrons whose life on Earth continues to shine a light on both the reality of sin and the fidelity of grace in our history.  

As we celebrate the life of Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., may this prayer, for all those who pray it, be a means to avail ourselves of God’s gracious gift and so “receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:16).

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Heavenly Father, 

We come before you in a spirit of supplication. As sinners we know we have much for which to repent; as beloved children we know we have great reason to hope in your abundant mercy. As members of a society plagued by opposition to your Gospel, we implore your assistance and aid to work towards a society where discrimination, racism, hatred, bias, division, and rejection of your love is replaced by faith, hope, and charity in the communion of all your saints on Earth and in heaven. May your Kingdom come, Lord Jesus. Amen.   

All you, God’s saints who enjoy the Lord’s eternal presence, come down and aid us in our struggle on Earth.

Servant of God Black Elk, guide and teach us for we are lost. On Earth you knew us well – both our sinfulness and our holiness. On Earth, you knew humanity well, both its hatefulness and its love. But most of all its promise. Black Elk, in the midst of discrimination and racial hatred, in the midst of derision and disrespect from even those sworn to serve God and his Gospel, you saw the light of Christ and dedicated your life to shining it upon all those who met you. It shined and illuminated the darkness of sin as well as the brightness of forgiveness and mercy. The steadfastness of hope and the brilliance of transcendence. Be with us we pray, and guide us. Help us learn from your experience and perseverance in the face of tremendous adversity.

All you, God’s saints who enjoy the Lord’s eternal presence, come down and aid us in our struggle on Earth.

Servant of God Pedro Arrupe, walk with us. You knew our American sin of racism and the great mountain God is asking our society to climb in order to see the Kingdom’s promised land. You called us to live up to the Gospel and like all Christians we have tried and often failed, stepped forward and stumbled back. We need your guidance and prayers now more than ever. We need your wisdom and encouragement. We need your dedication to faith, hope, and love: in our Society, in our Church, and in our world. In so many ways you taught us how to be Jesuits. Walk with this humble sodality, we pray, and inspire us to live up to our call as Christians.

All you, God’s saints who enjoy the Lord’s eternal presence, come down and aid us in our struggle on Earth.

O Sacred Heart of Jesus, enkindle the fire of devotion in our hearts. In the furnace of your charity and the bottomless freedom of your mercy, you have shown us a way. A way out of guilt and shame; a way far removed from hatred and separation; a way whose power is infinitely greater than fear: you have shown us the fierce and self-immolating path of love. We have laid many crosses on others and it is frightening to lift our hand and lower our shoulders to share the load. Yet this is what you did. And in your moment of greatest suffering, blazed out from your heart the fire of unquenchable love.  

All you, God’s saints who enjoy the Lord’s eternal presence, come down and aid us in our struggle on Earth.

Let us pray: Lord, We can do nothing without your love, without your fire, without your Heart burning within us. Take, therefore, under your guardianship we your humble servants. Teach us. Mold us. Transform us. That in accepting our sin we might transcend it; that in bearing your cross with you, we might become like you; that in the pain of true love we might discover the power of salvation pouring into our hearts in order that they might be made like yours. Amen.  

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CNS photo/courtesy University of Notre Dame

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