Sometime ago, I attended the birthday party of one of our parish youth. When it came time to open presents, a friend of the honoree gave him a thin legal-size manila envelope with a bow around it. What could this be that did not come in a box?

As the birthday boy tore open the envelope, the giver seemed confident in her choice of gift. Slowly, the contents of the envelope were revealed to partygoers: Martin Luther King, Jr.’s I Have A Dream speech.

Everyone was taken aback by the unconventional nature of the gift, but months later at a youth group meeting, the recipient revealed to me it was the most important gift he’d ever received. Most of the gifts were electronic in nature and would help the young man access the Internet, movies, or games. What a wise friend she was to honor him with so sacred a gift.

This month, we celebrate a great prophet of the American Civil Rights Movement. Recently, I visited the new memorial on the Mall and took note of its strategic location in the network of other memorials, but most of all of its tranquility and power to set one to reflect on what is best in America. One of the quotes I have under the glass upon my desk is by Martin Luther King, Jr. and reads:

Human progress never rolls in on the wheels of inevitability. It comes through the tireless effort and the persistent work of dedicated individuals who are willing to be co-workers with God; and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the primitive forces of social stagnation and irrational emotionalism. We must have time and we must realize that the time is always right to do right.

Deeply influenced by Gandhi’s politics of non-violent resistance, King’s vision was rooted in the Hebrews’ pilgrimage to the Promised Land and Jesus’ ethic of loving one’s neighbor as oneself. Like a symphony, his words always send the imagination soaring to claim the very best of the human spirit. Yet what we all know is that for any of it to be accomplished it takes constant, vigilant work in every generation to create a world where all God’s children will be able to join hands and sing Free At Last.

This is the vision behind what any of us does when we put feet under our faith. It sends us to Carpenter’s Shelter, Community Lodgings, Mengo Hospital, refugee camps in Sudan, clinics, hospitals, and orphanages around our city, state, and the globe to do the hard work and use time creatively in the knowledge that the time is always right to do right.