The momentous life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., indicate the important role of faith as the conscience of society, said Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl of Washington, D.C.

"The voice of the Church is the voice reminding us of all the things we ought to do," said the cardinal at the archdiocese's annual Mass celebrating the life and legacy of the historic civil rights leader.

The Jan. 19 Mass at Jesus the Good Shepherd Catholic Church in Owings, Md., was preceded by a concert including Gospel music, spirituals and traditional Catholic music.

The cardinal's homily focused on the theme of the Church as the "conscience of the state."

"Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a voice crying out in the wilderness," he said. "His was a voice however that was rooted in faith – faith in God – faith in Christ."  

Cardinal Wuerl lamented "all of the confusion, self-centered lifestyle, violence, lack of compassion and even hatred" present in modern society.

"From the very beginning, human beings individually and collectively have a track record of placing ourselves at the center, too often oblivious to the needs and even the rights of others," he said.

"It began with Cain and Abel and has continued on to events as recent as the senseless shootings and killings in multiple parts of our country."

Yet amid all of this, he continued, "the voice of religion, the voice of faith, the voice of the Church, has been a constant beacon in the darkness, a light for those seeking the right path and a support to those who have nowhere else to turn."

This faith was embodied in the quiet, peaceful witness of King, testifying that all men have equal rights because they are children of God, he explained.

"His was a voice that resounded with the cadences of prophetic proclamation and the images of Sacred Scripture," the cardinal said, noting that this faithfulness to the Gospel was able to evangelize "a culture where racism was rampant and devaluing others the order of the day."
Cardinal Wuerl called believers to take responsibility for the nation's future by following the great civil rights leader's example of countercultural witness.

Christians must be the conscience of modern society, he said, pointing to how King reminded the nation "that an unjust law was no law."
"We need to bring our moral values and vision to the marketplace," the cardinal said. "Otherwise public policy would soon have no moral coherence – and no moral authority."

In addition to remembering the life of the civil rights advocate, the annual Martin Luther King, Jr., Mass celebrates the vibrant heritage of Black Catholics in the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C.

Deacon Al Turner, director of the archdiocese's Office of Black Catholics, observed that the Mass is a call to discipleship and evangelization for people of every race and background.

He explained that it "celebrates the spirit of faithful witness to social justice issues that we are all called to be as we live the Christian life."

"We celebrate the legacy of this martyr for the Gospel, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., for his willingness to stand up for the rights and the dignity of the human person," the deacon explained in a statement announcing the Mass. "That is what Jesus teaches all believers to do."