An appropriate Catholic response to the State of the Union

This week, our nation celebrated Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Coupled with the president's State of the Union address, this week provides ample opportunity to reflect on our struggle for civil rights, social justice and equality under the law in the United States of America.

President Barack Obama told us Tuesday that the state of our union is strong. Maybe that's the case: There is indeed a lot to celebrate. Unemployment is at its lowest level since before the 2008 global recession. There is a clear end in sight to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. And crime is down in major cities throughout the nation.

But Obama also reminded us -- as the late Mario Cuomo did -- that there is still a "tale of two cities" in the United States. A damning study this week revealed that over half of children in public school live in poverty. Gun violence still rages on in vulnerable communities. And we still seek the right approach to the violence in Syria, Iran and other volatile regions in the Middle East.

How can we respond in times such as these? Perhaps King's example can provide a way forward. King is remembered for many things, but people rarely remember that King was first and foremost was a Christian pastor.

In the response to violence and injustice in the South, King raised up his hands in prayer and in protest to the bloodshed. His gesture was nothing new. It's been the cry of people of faith throughout the ages.

In the desert, God told Moses to lift up his hands when he petitioned the Lord on behalf of the Israeli people. Jesus' hands were lifted high upon the cross as he offered himself as a sacrifice for the salvation for God's people.

Today, people of faith must join the men and women in Ferguson, Mo., New York City and throughout the nation and lift up their hands in protest of the individual and structural injustices that plague our nation and divide our communities. Only then will that holy dream of the prophet Isaiah become our lived reality in the United States: Spears and swords will beaten into plowshares and pruning hooks and nations will no longer learn the art of war.

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