Sunday, July 03, 2016

Loving our country as Isaiah loved his (Sunday homily)

Tomorrow we celebrate our nation’s birthday: 
240 years ago we declared our independence! 
A lot of us will be at parties, 
and shooting off fireworks today and tomorrow. 

I love our nation’s birthday, I am sure you do too. 
The saddest 4th of July I ever had was when I was a seminarian, 
and I was spending a month in South Korea. 
It was a wonderful experience overall, 
but being away from home on Independence Day made me sad; 
and it was the only 4th of July I spent away from our home.

That love of country that runs deep in us is a good thing; 
in the ancient Roman way of thinking, 
it belonged to the category of pietas, where we get our word piety; 
but for Romans, it was more about our sense of duty and attachment 
to our country and family; as a son or daughter to a mother or father.

There’s a saying, “my country, right or wrong.” 
The great English Catholic writer, G.K. Chesterton, famously replied, 
“That’s like saying, my mother, drunk or sober”! 

His point being that, yes, if my mother is drunk, 
she is still my mother and I love her; 
but I surely want better for my mother, and for all those I truly love. 
Surely, we want the best for our country; 
to be right, rather than wrong.

That’s what is going on in the first reading; 
the prophet Isaiah loves his country, too. 

In his time, she was in deep trouble, in every way. 
But the prophet receives a vision of a better future, 
when God’s people would be secure 
in the arms of their mother, Jerusalem. 
Yet not only Israel, but all nations would be secure in, 
and draw life from, the City of God. 

The main thing to understand here 
is that this is about spiritual abundance, spiritual life. 
Which means, the nation has to save its soul. 
And this, I think, is what should concern us 
on this 240th anniversary of our Independence: the soul of our country.

I need hardly recount all the reasons to be concerned. 
Our laws continue to allow the destruction of unborn children. 
And, of course, there is the deep confusion about what marriage is. 

So many Americans are caught up in poverty, 
not so much of material things – 
our nation has never had more material things – 
but of education and opportunity, 
which are bound up with problems of 
crime, and drugs, and broken families.

Now, what sort of problems are these? 

They may be economic, or political, or military, or legal, 
but they are also a spiritual problem.
There is a spiritual battle going on. 
Let’s not miss that! 

Isaiah was concerned for the soul of his country, in his time, 
and it is the same for us. 
Isaiah was the voice of conscience in his time; 
and, likewise, so must we be in our time. 

How do we do this?
Well, notice what Jesus told the 70 disciples.
He said, stay focused, don’t get distracted along the way. 
Don’t worry too much about what stuff you bring along; 
but make sure you bring a peaceful spirit. 
If your peace isn’t accepted, it will come back to you. 
So as I said last week: don’t get worked up, get prayed up.

One way to keep our focus is frequent trips to confession. 
When we feel anger, or worry, or we get off track, 
a good confession helps a lot to get our priorities in order. 

This is where Saint Paul’s words in the second reading 
make so much sense. 
He said, “the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” 

When Jesus was on the cross, 
he didn’t say, “how terrible this is!” – even though it was! 
Nor did he just give up.
Rather, he said: “Into your hands, Father.” 

When he was seemingly at his most powerless – 
when he was at his lowest – is when Jesus’ power was greatest; 
because that is when he poured out his grace on the world!

That is what you and I, as disciples of Christ, bring to our country.
Yes, we speak out; yes, we vote; yes, we get involved. 
But none of that will mean anything 
unless it is in the grace and power of Jesus Christ. 
If you and I want to make a difference for our country – 
to be right rather than wrong – 
let us offer words and actions bathed in prayer and full of grace.