This weekend, we celebrate our nation’s independence.
When we have large numbers of our fellow citizens
who are ignorant of our nation’s history and what we stand for,
or worse, actually despise our nation – their own nation! –
then it seems like a good time to make some points about our nation
and the virtue of patriotism.
But after that, I will circle back to the Scriptures in a moment.
Everyone knows what happened on July 4th:
the Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence.
The actual vote to be “free and independent” took place on July 2.
Do you know that until that moment, no one had ever done such a thing?
I don’t mean the part about forming a new nation;
that has happened lots of times. I mean the Declaration.
No one had ever written anything like it before.
No nation had ever been conceived with such audacious claims as these:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident,
that all men are created equal,
that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights,
that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men,
deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”
Every word and idea I just quoted finds precedent in prior writings,
including those of saints, such as Thomas Aquinas,
and ultimately the Word of God; and yet, until that day,
no one in history had ever distilled these ideas with such soaring prose.
There are a lot more reasons to be proud as an American,
but those ideas, let loose into the world 244 years ago today,
are more than sufficient reason to be patriotic.
And that Thomas Jefferson helped make this happen,
despite his sins, is more than enough reason to honor him.
I bring this up to make another point:
Too many people know too little about our nation’s history.
Many here remember these things being taught to us,
And we assume this continues for younger generations.
But outside Russia School district, this is just not so.
With so many filled with rage as they smash history,
Someone – that is, you and I! – must help our fellow citizens remember.
Our history is not perfect, but those words: “endowed by our Creator”
and “all men are created equal” have propelled us
toward ever greater human dignity, not only for us, but all mankind.
America at her best really has been a beacon to the world –
and that, too, is something to be proud of, and to defend.
Because this isn’t just about the past;
the past isn’t worth remembering
if you and I aren’t concerned about the future.
What sort of nation will we be? Will we let others decide for us?
There’s a political process, and each of us has a right –
and also a duty – to take part.
More than that, we have the power of prayer and witness.
As citizens of this country who are also citizens of heaven,
It belongs to us to see that “life, liberty and pursuit of happiness”
happen for all God’s children, of every race and condition,
including those unborn, and those on the margins of life;
including those who suffer prejudice
and maybe don’t see themselves sharing in our nation’s promise.
Now let me turn to the Scriptures.
The first reading foresees a king who will resurrect God’s People,
and he will conquer, not with a sword, but with justice, bringing peace.
Of course this is Jesus Christ!
But the point is, if this is how our Lord and King chooses to come,
then it is the pattern for us to approach our fellow citizens.
How unthinkable to hear the Lord all-powerful, all-knowing,
say of himself, “I am meek and lowly of heart”?
Have you ever heard a politician say that?
Or an actor or athlete – or a parish priest – say that?
“I am meek and lowly of heart.”
And if they did, would anyone believe them?
If you and I say these words, will we be taken seriously?
Fifty years ago, when Dr. Martin Luther King and many others –
including many Catholics – took brave and necessary steps
to fulfill the founding promise of liberty for ALL;
in imitation of Jesus, they came “meek and lowly.”
The whole nation watched them be beaten for simply demonstrating,
or sitting to eat lunch at a segregated restaurant.
Their courageous meekness changed our nation for the better.
Not only should you and I have our say in this moment.
Even more, we must do it in a Christ-like way.
This ugliness is likely, any day, to beget more ugliness.
Who will be led by the Holy Spirit, and do the works of the Savior?
That’s your task and mine:
“We hold these truths.”