The National Catholic Review
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Seeing the throngs of men, women and children in Chicago’s Grant Park cheering the nation’s first African-American president-elect; hearing civil rights lions like Jesse Jackson, John Lewis, Roger Wilkins and Andrew Young grope for words when describing their feelings about the election; listening to black schoolchildren on television express in simple phrases what Barack Obama’s achievement meant to them; watching replays of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. declaim “I have a dream” on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial; and downloading videos of jubilant crowds in the Nairobi slums chanting a Kenyan surname over and over—all this made me think of a passage from the New Testament: the Magnificat.

Fifty-six million voters did not vote for Senator Obama; some reports claim that almost 50 of the 267 active U.S. Catholic bishops stated that it was a grave sin (some called it cooperation in murder) to cast a vote for the Illinois senator; many priests warned parishioners against making such a choice; and millions of Catholics, even if they did not agree with their pastors, did not vote for Obama because their overall political views were more closely aligned with those of Sen. John McCain.

But were there many Christians, even Obama opponents, who watched their African-American brothers and sisters weeping tears of jubilation and pride, whose hearts were unmoved by the transformation among a people who had suffered for so long? Many must have heard echoes of Mary’s words in the Gospel of Luke: “He has...lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things....” In Mary’s song of praise, God visits an oppressed people and restores their fortunes “according to the promises he made to our ancestors.”

The civil rights movement sprang from African-American churches that believed God would rescue the poor, that the Spirit would lead them and that Jesus loved them. Dr. King used familiar biblical imagery—in particular, the exodus of the Hebrew people out of Egyptian slavery—to call a community to hope in the face of fear. “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,” he said in 1963, paraphrasing Isaiah. This is prophetic language. It looks ahead to the “one day” when God’s justice will set things right.

But who would have thought that the upending of the status quo would happen so quickly? Robert F. Kennedy, for one. In 1968 Senator Kennedy said, “Things are moving so fast that a Negro could be president in 40 years.” It must have seemed outlandish at the time. Five years earlier, Dr. King had been arrested in Birmingham. And just a year earlier, riots in Newark and Detroit had stripped the country of hope. But the prophet sees that some day “one day” will be today.

John LaFarge, S.J., adverted to this hope in one of his most popular books. Father LaFarge, a longtime editor of America, was deeply involved in interracial issues in the 1930s, when Robert Kennedy was still a boy. In The Race Question and the Negro, published in 1943, he examined the perils of racism and confidently concluded that even someone infected by prejudice will “by the logic of his own principles and by the light of his own experience...come to this road at long last.”

That is why the scenes in Grant Park were so moving. The “one day” had come “at long last.”

Despite the passionate rhetoric used to describe Mr. Obama, he is neither a messiah nor the anti-Christ. But his election is a sign that believers downplay only if they wish to downplay God’s activity in the world. It is a sign that the “lowly” can be lifted up—to previously unimaginable heights. That the “hungry” can be filled with the nourishing food of jubilation, pride and hope. That the valleys shall be exalted. That the mountaintop is a real place.

Not every Christian rejoiced in the election results. But every Christian who knows the Gospels, even those who disagree with Barack Obama’s politics, can be gladdened to see this particular sign of progress. “We rejoice with the rest of our nation,” wrote Archbishop Donald T. Wuerl of Washington, D.C., “at the significance of this time.”

For this sign our souls should magnify the Lord.

James Martin, S.J., is an associate editor of America.

Comments

Thomas Detesco | 11/30/2008 - 11:42pm
In recounting the biblical imagery in praise of President Elect Obama Fr. Martin should note that not "...all flesh shall see it together" as he recounted the word of Isaiah. At least not until Mr. Obama sees clear to a change of heart on the rights and dignity of the unborn. Only then will Dr. Kings "dream" be realized.
JOHN FERNANDES | 11/29/2008 - 6:45pm
What is the source for the quote from Robert F. Kennedy? Thanks, John
THOMAS FARRELLY | 11/20/2008 - 5:12pm
I voted against Obama because of his lack of any real credentials for the most important job in the US Govt., his history of using people and then betraying them in the sleazy world of Chicago Democratic politics, his shifting of positions to whatever has seemed politically expedient. ( His extreme position on abortion is less shameful than Biden's for reasons I assume are obvious.) So in spite of this I am supposed to rejoice because it helps convince blacks that all things are possible in the US. Well, I'm glad of that, but I can hardly rejoice at Obama's election.
David Pasinski | 11/19/2008 - 10:14pm
Both the article and your remarks are very appropriate, Fr. Martin, but that will not appease those who wish to make every blog a Triple A -- "about abortion --always." I have enjoyed some of the repartee and dialogue that these articles have provided, but we are caught in the vice grip that John Paul II and the American bishops have created and tightened in a mispaced myopia in which each of us are demandedn to show our pro-life (read anti-abortion) credentials to the vigilantes who profess to love the "unborn/ pre-born" more than the rest of us. How could we expect it to be different as now anyone who questions not the morality of abortion, but even disagrees with the bishops' strategy of seeking legal action is now barred from speaking at Catholic sites? It is a sad day that the President and Vice President of this nation will not be welcome at a church basement or university roster when these sites have welcomed those who supported an immoral war, torture, rendition, severe social cuts -- BUT NOT ABORTION -- have been feted there. It is a strange and sad time for the American episcopacy...and for our Church.
Basile Pennyworth | 11/18/2008 - 8:37pm
Like many of my fellow Americans and fellow Catholics, I voted enthusiastically for Obama, and on election night I shed a few tears of joy. I suspect there are not many Catholics who did read the letter from our U.S. Bishops on formation of conscience. I did... as well as the letter from our Illinois Bishops. I thought, I prayed, I informed myself. In conscience I had to vote for Obama. Wasn't that the whole point of the bishops' letter? Conscience doesn't mean "do whatever you want", nor "do as we say", but rather that sincere people may come to different conclusions. When will we respect the sincere conscience of others, and collaborate to end the killing of all innocent lives with new and more effective strategies?
Basile Pennyworth | 11/18/2008 - 8:36pm
Like many of my fellow Americans and fellow Catholics, I voted enthusiastically for Obama, and on election night I shed a few tears of joy. I suspect there are not many Catholics who did read the letter from our U.S. Bishops on formation of conscience. I did... as well as the letter from our Illinois Bishops. I thought, I prayed, I informed myself. In conscience I had to vote for Obama. Wasn't that the whole point of the bishops' letter? Conscience doesn't mean "do whatever you want", nor "do as we say", but rather that sincere people may come to different conclusions. When will we respect the sincere conscience of others, and collaborate to end the killing of all innocent lives with new and more effective strategies?
Joris Steverlynck-Gonnet | 11/17/2008 - 6:55pm
I am surprised by this article. A man who fought against Congress' rejection of partial-birth abortion, and saving aborted children when abortion failed, a man financed by a friend who is in prison, being related to the MAGNIFICAT, is really disgusting. Please, Fr. Martin, read again John 6 - 24 ff; the Antichrist will feed the people, and because of that he will be able to dominate the earth and persecute the believers; how long will many Church people put the temporal bread before the eternal one? We in Argentina know very well what happens when people vote a candidate who is but a brilliant lier; in 1955 one of them had the oldest churches in Buenos Aires torched. Please read Dostoievsky's words of the Grand Inquisitor, and Kierkegaard. May our Holy Mother help us see clearly what happens today in the world, particularly in the Church. May She bless our pastors and help them to help us keep our faith. Joris Steverlynck.
Jan Mazurkiewicz | 11/16/2008 - 11:06pm
Dear Fr. Martin, I do agree with you on one point in this editorial that it is a historic moment for our country and the world, that we have elected Mr. Obama, an African American as our 44th. president. On the other hand I myself am very dissapointed and sickened at heart to know that this man will bring about the deaths of many more thousands of pre-born babies with his promise of signing into law the Freedom of Choice Act. I can't see this as a step forward for any of us or our country. Somehow,in America, we Christians have failed to let our government know what a horrific abomination this is and we will not let this issue rest until Roe vs. Wade is reversed.
Jerry Felty | 11/16/2008 - 3:06pm
While I agree with those who take their stand on the side of the unborn innocents who certainly deserve the chance at life that their conception should insure, they are not the only innocent people who die tragically due to a culture that has chosen to redraw the lines that determine who should live and who should die. Mr. McCain's promise to continue the cold and thoughtless Bush policies in the "WAR ON TERROR" insured that the deaths of countless innocent civilians would continue. I'm confident that most or all of these people would trade an early death to be able to at least live out their lives, foraging what ever peace they could find for themselves. The taking of innocent life is not restricted to abortion clinics.
MARGARET GARGUILO | 11/15/2008 - 9:01am
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, born and unborn." A paraphrase of a great man. What would his response be to letting the unborn/born die as if they were not a part of the dream? Just humans thrown into the garbage because somebody didn't belive in their equality as humans.
LOUIS DESTRYCKER MR | 11/14/2008 - 3:31pm
This Father Martin creepily reduces the whole election to an African=American triumph and the Father is creepily unable to look beyond his cropped up thinking, not even into the ascertained possibility of a crappy prudential judgment = The Catholic Episcopate are proven so morally wrong, the poor pathetic things, floating around between silk mitres and latinese pretenses = And with obvious immoral conservative adoes and social practices = When adapting a John Le Carré quote about what kills Western democracy, the Republican party and its clerical allies are suicidal through " greed and constipation, moral, political and ascetic" = It is Father Martin’s such like prose and mental delights which allowed this reader not to renew his subscription to America = Obviously he won’t read Miss Glendon’s prose = Pathetic woman = What a terrible decline of America since Father Reese’s departure =
leonard Nugent | 11/14/2008 - 2:52pm
I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, born and unborn." A paraphrase of a great man. I guess were getting a little closer.
Denise Gilmore | 11/14/2008 - 1:48pm
...and our spirits truly rejoice in the hope that young and old can share dreams and work together to achieve them. Moments like the one in Grant Park on election night stir us to achieve great things at a time when we all need to put aside divisions and work for the common good. AMEN!
Dawn Marie | 11/14/2008 - 1:23pm
Dear Father Martin: I have watched your development since you first began publishing and have been proud of your growth. This is a mis-step, or at least you are not beholding clearly what should be in focus. The true joy the people will feed on is the possibility of every life coming to birth and joining all the souls in Grant Park and all over the world giving glory and magnifying the Lord! Bobby Kennedy and Dr. King were for LIFE! Their sacrifice Magnified the Lord. Sr. Patricia McCarthy, OCD

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