Our Nation is enduring a time of trial. It is not the first trial, nor will it be the last. We are enduring a world-wide pandemic while at the same time confronting the nation’s history of slavery and racial division. With the upcoming elections in November, all of the political machines are whirling and it seems like everyone wants to have a string attached to our hearts. Support this, support that, join us, and vote for us. This weekend we celebrate our country, on Independence Day, in the midst of many voices declaring our nation’s brokenness. How can we celebrate a nation that so many call flawed?
Take joy Christians, we belong to both the perfect and to the flawed. We belong to the perfect Kingdom of God and to the flawed governments of earth. We belong to the perfect love of God and to the flawed love of our fellow sojourners. Our own person is broken and flawed, marred by sin and evil, but made perfect in God’s love. When we were made, the Lord declared that we were very good. When our nation was made, its principles were also very good. Just as we have moments of great love and goodness, we have moments of sin and evil; just as we have moments of generosity and caring, we have moments of selfishness and antipathy. If this is the nature of humans, why is it not also the nature of human government?
The United States of America was founded, under God, on the principles of unity, individual freedom (liberty), and justice for all. These are the principles of the Gospel. The night before Jesus died, he prayed that his disciples might be one (JN 17:20-26), and we can easily see that unity is as essential to the Kingdom of God as it is to our nation; “United we stand.” There is no being that respects individual liberty more than God who granted it to us as a free gift of the human condition. This is why slavery of labor, race, gender, class, intellect, or opinion is so abhorrent to God and should be equally abhorrent to Christian disciples. It was a shame that slavery existed when this nation was founded, but we should not lose sight that this nation had chosen its remedy at great cost and has abolished it once and for all.
We are made to be free, but with that liberty comes responsibility. We are called to use that liberty to love God and our neighbor; that means that we must love of our country as well. Just as we love other people with flaws, we have a duty to instruct the ignorant and admonish the sinner. We have a duty to hold our government accountable, because with liberty there must be justice; which by definition must be equal, fair, and blind. We need to have a system of earthly justice just as there is a system of divine justice. Justice demands that all citizens be held accountable for the improper use of freedom. When we break the law we should rightly be held accountable in this life as we will in the next. However, it is not Gospel justice unless it is accompanied with forgiveness, mercy, and the invitation to redemption.
The Venerable Fulton Sheen once taught that the Kingdom of God in its human expression, in free countries like the United States, suffers from a regular flaw. The nature of a free people is to want Christ without the cross. It is our capitalist nature to earn so as to have, and have so as to never suffer. We work tirelessly so that our children should never suffer and have more than we had or will have, perpetuating the cycle. We work tirelessly so that we may not be without something we desire. If we have a need or desire, we demand it be fulfilled at the nearest instant unless we should become unhappy and suffer the lack. In this pursuit to avoid all suffering we undermine the very freedom we celebrate this weekend. We become slaves to whatever appetites we have, be they physical or psychological. This is the danger of wanting Christ without His cross. To be truly free we must learn to be free from compulsion from without and from within. We must learn the freedom that comes from fasting, self-denial, and yes, the freedom that comes from embracing suffering as an act of love for others.
John F. Kennedy very famously said, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” I wonder if this isn’t a perfect reminder for us on this very unique Independence Day. I wonder if this is not the same as saying “Ask not simply for Christ, ask also for the cross from whence his love out-pours.” We are trained to pay taxes and let the government handle all the problems. However, the Kingdom of God demands that we engage directly, as free citizens, in spreading God’s love on earth and in our country. Perhaps we need to renew and reinvigorate our citizenship to the Kingdom of Heaven by sacrificing pleasures for ourselves in order to more freely and generously give to those in need around us. In doing this, not only would we become model American Citizens, we would also be invigorating our own journey to becoming a saint. In this personal dedication to universal love, we will never be a “Part of the problem,” but will always be a part of the solution.
This independence day, I’d invite all of us to commit to helping our country form a more perfect union as Jesus, Himself, desires unity. Let us commit to doing more than paying taxes to support our country, the poor, education, health, etc, let’s offer the free gift of personal sacrifice to the good of our neighbor and the nation. If we see that there are those suffering among us, we might ask what suffering we might endure in order to ease the suffering of the other. If we feel that our schools are not enough to educate, can we volunteer to tutor, donate supplies, or even donate tuition for a student in need to attend a better private school. Are there poor immigrants in your town, instead of lamenting that section of town, can you offer them something they need? Teach English classes, start a community center, etc? Let’s not leave our country’s problems to the bureaucracy, let’s make a personal difference. Let’s start in our own city and let the fruit of our labor multiply and flourish to the cities around us.
As John F. Kennedy also said, “A rising tide lifts all boats.” The United States and the Kingdom of God are compatible, the more we bring about the Kingdom of God in our neighborhoods, the more we will benefit our Republic and our fellow Americans within it.
God Bless You and Happy Independence Day!