Sunday, July 3, 2016

God Bless the USA

14th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C
Independence Day Weekend USA
First Homily as Director of St. Lawrence Catholic Center KU

Rejoice with Jerusalem, be glad because of her, all you who love her, for lo, I will spread prosperity over her like a river, and the wealth of the nations like an overflowing torrent.

Happy Birthday America!  240 years young!

Now I know we don't have a history as a country like the history of Jerusalem.  For the ancient city of Jerusalem, so lauded by the prophet Isaiah in today's first reading, 240 years is but a blip on the radar.  Isaiah's great exuberance is related to the hope of the restoration of Jerusalem to its glory, to its destiny given and guaranteed by God Himself.  Our country in her brief history has had her ups and downs, but has never been conquered nor its people enslaved and exiled.  We have been down but not out, at least not yet.

Yet today's first reading has some relevance to a country that is in many ways the new Jerusalem and the hope of the world.  God has blessed the United States as an exceptional nation.  We say as much when we sing 'God Bless America.'.  There is a feeling of joy, gratitude and responsibility in being 'blessed' as the most prosperous, powerful and free nation the world has ever seen.  Shame on us if we do not appreciate that we live much differently than most men and women in history, who have lived under slavery and tyranny.

To say that the United States is a light to the nations today, much moreso than the ancient city of Jerusalem, is a great understatement.  Our country's greatness has been produced by the most heroic, generous and virtuous people the world has ever seen, and we give exceeding thanks for those who have believed in our country and sacrificed greatly to make Her the greatest nation.  Yet there is also the sense that God has ordained the United States to be the new Jerusalem, and that His hand is upon us.

I know all that is hard to believe if you just put on the news and see the bickering between Trump and Hilary.  You might even ask yourself where the greatness of our country has gone, and whether we are in sharp decline.  This is why St. Paul says in the reading to the Galatians that everything that the world considers valuable - prosperity and power and popularity - is vanity unless it is grounded in something deeper.  St. Paul says that Christians must boast in nothing but the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Compared to the cross, even circumcision, which marked one as a member of the nation of Israel, means nothing.  Nothing.

Does St. Paul forbid anyone being a proud Israelite, or for that matter, a Christian being a proud American?  By no means!  Yet he points out rightly that there is something more fundamental than one's nationality.  It is one's relationship with God.  Our Church has thus been trying to remind our country the last few years of the most fundamental and important rights that a country can and must give her citizens, the freedom of religion that must not be compromised in a nation that purports to serve its citizens, not be served by them.

A worthy nation only exists, then, to produce the citizens of highest virtue.  Jesus Christ is the measure of man - and whether we are a selfish people, or a people who can give their lives totally to a mission greater than themselves - whether we find something worth dying for and something that produces life in greater abundance.  To put it another way, the United States exists for one reason, and for one reason only - not to provide the most prosperity and license to its people, but to enable true human flourishing.  The United States is exceptional only if she encourages citizens to choose the spiritual goods that lead to human happiness - truth and goodness, beauty and unity (from the mission statement of the St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center).

St. Paul in his letter to the Galatians says that nothing else matters save the opportunity he has to witness to the love of Christ and complete his mission.  The Catholic Church exists for one reason, and for one reason only, to produce saints - men and women of heroic virtue.  Jesus Christ sends the 72 ahead of him to proclaim a Gospel of truth and goodness, made effective by the presence of God Himself, that will produce the happiest, most free people that world has ever seen, people destined for the kingdom of heaven.

I have been sent here to St. Lawrence Center as its new Director to proclaim that presence of God and that call to heroic virtue and sacrificial love that helps every person find their best self.  Jesus Christ alone reveals man to Himself.  I pray that I can serve this University community with the same humility and credibility demanded by Jesus in the Gospel.  I humbly ask for your prayers.

Thanks be to God, that we have a chance to pursue the greatest truth, goodness, beauty and unity in what is still for today the new Jerusalem, the nation that has not yet lost her destiny to be a light to all nations.  Happy July 4th everyone. May God bless the USA.

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