14th Sunday in Ordinary Time
4 July 2010
St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center
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Are you more proud to be an American or to be a Catholic? Admittedly, some either/or questions are not that fair, and sometimes are better left unanswered. Even if the answer is that we are more proud to be a Catholic, on this Independence Day weekend, it's not exactly a good time to preach on why being Catholic is better than being American. That homily can be given anyday other than Independence Day. Today is a beautiful day for our country, a day when it is good to celebrate that we are free, and to celebrate the establishment of our republic that remains one of the most, if not the most, ambitious and hopeful experiments in world history. So even though it's not fair for me to ask the question today, of whether you are more proud to be a Catholic or be an American, perhaps it is a way for us to see how special it is to be an American Catholic, or a Catholic American, whichever you choose to emphasize at the particular moment.
The question of whether you are more proud to be an American or to be a Catholic is actually a good question for me, your preacher, at the moment, as I am on the heels of a very informative trip to South Africa, to cheer on, among other things, the stars and the stripes, the national soccer team. Thankfully, the U.S. did not lose while I was in South Africa! They lost on my plane ride home. It was an incredible amount of fun to cheer on the U.S. national team on foreign soil during the world's most popular international competition. It was like cheering for the Royals versus the Yankees, the Chiefs versus the Broncos, and the Jayhawks versus the Tigers all at the same time. It was so meaningful to cheer on the national team in the World Cup setting. It was fun being on a continent that had never before hosted such a significant international competition, and to cheer for the United States alongside millions of Africans who have a newfound love for America since the election of Barack Obama as president. Needless to say, it was easy to be patriotic there. I screamed USA, USA more times than I could count. I was proud to be an American.
But of course, those throngs of soccer fans that I found myself in the midst of cannot compare, even with vuvuzelas blazing, with the crowds that I have been a part of because I am a Catholic. I've attended World Youth Days with millions of pilgrims from all around the world, enough people to make you wonder if heaven could hold them all. The Church is everywhere, and of course, in South Africa I wasn't just proud to be an American. I was proud to be Catholic. During the course of our stay, we journeyed into the post-apartheid townships created in the 1950s with brother priests and Catholic missionaries, and with the St. Vincent de Paul society of a local parish to bring help and Christ's message of hope and peace and love to areas where evil and despair can easily set in. We said Mass in a parish where African teenagers sought refuge from the police for decades as they continued the long struggle against apartheid. Everywhere we went, we were welcomed as Christ's ministers, his priests, and people shared what they had with us because we were brothers in Christ. It was today's Gospel coming true - 2000 years later, in a place far from Jerusalem, in a place called South Africa. In South Africa, as everywhere, it was easy to find reasons to be proud to be Catholic.
As we gather to celebrate our Independence Day in the year of our Lord 2010, each of us here tonight knows that we have a responsibility to carry the promise of our great republic forward in history. There are enormous challenges facing our country, not merely that we might remain the most prosperous nation on earth, but that we might continue to be a light to the world, a piece of that new Jerusalem of which Isaiah preaches, a country to which all people in the world can look to for hope. Each of us here has the responsibility to help our country be what she was intended and what she aspires to be, a place that is truly free not merely because her military is the best, but because the citizens defended by that military are the most virtuous and generous and heroic of people, people who are free not merely to do what they want but to choose the good, not only for themselves but for their neighbor.
As Catholic Americans or American Catholics, I ask you in light of my recent trip to South Africa to use the freedom that you have received first from God, and the freedom that is guarded so well by our republic, for excellence. Most of all, I urge you to use the freedom you have, to respond with enthusiasm to the call of Jesus Christ that comes through today's Gospel. It is a beautiful way to live and to use one's freedom, to listen to Jesus as He does not take our freedom, but enhances it by marking out for us a vocation, a way of being with Him, through which we might make a perfect gift of ourselves, a gift that will give others life in abundance, and help them to know the love of God, and a gift of self that with Christ, will bear fruit forever.
We have enormous challenges facing our own country, and yet we are incomparably blessed. We know this but we must know it better. Our economic and political system faces great difficulty in providing for justice and opportunity and the common good of all people, and yet when I have just returned from a country that has unemployment beyond our wildest imagination, I cannot be pessimistic. Our country is woefully inadequate in providing a rule of law that protects the rights especially of the most vulnerable in our society, and yet when I have just returned from a country where I experienced corruption at every level of the legal process, once again beyond our imagining, I cannot be pessimistic that our rule of law will get it right and prevail. Our country has huge educational challenges, and huge obstacles in passing down a life of virtue to our young people so that they may know and choose the good, yet after returning from a country where there is little fear of AIDS, and little change in behavior, despite the enormous rates of infection, I cannot be pessimistic about the virtue of chastity, of authentic loving, or any other virtue for that matter, being nurtured in the hearts and minds of our young people. Our country is easily distracted from being a religious people, a people who through knowing God personally are intent on doing that which is really important, yet after returning from a country where even in a democracy, people have such few opportunities, I cannot be pessimistic.
America is truly the land of opportunity, and she remains so in 2010 as she was beginning in 1776. We must believe this, and in so believing, know our country to be a privileged place where we have the best opportunity to know, to love and to serve God with all our hearts, all our minds and all our strength. Let us not squander this opportunity, but thank God for it, and draw close to His beloved Son Jesus in today's Eucharist, and receive once again from Him a call to be the very best people we can be.