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Homilies

Independence Day

Today’s readings: Ezekiel 3:17-21; Psalm 8; Colossians 3:9b-17; Matthew 25:31-46

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…

So begins our nation’s Declaration of Independence, a document of inestimable worth, authored by passionate men.  The independence that document brought came at the price of many lives, and so that independence and the rights it brought forth, must always be vigorously defended and steadfastly maintained.

The Liturgy of the Word today shows just exactly how important this is.  Yes, it’s good for people to be free from despotic rule, but there is more to it than that.  So in today’s Gospel, Jesus gathers his disciples and paints for them a picture of what the final judgment will be like.  When we think about judgment day, we often picture something that will happen to us as individuals, and indeed, that is one aspect.  But the really important judgment comes about not as individuals, but as nations.  Indeed, Jesus tells us that the nations will be assembled before him when he comes in glory, and these he will separate like the sheep from the goats.  It’s not an individual picture here at all.

So this makes exercising our rights a matter of great importance.  We can’t be a people who don’t take the time to vote, because the leaders of our nation can either lead us to salvation or to damnation.  We can’t be people who decide how to vote a matter of simply “what’s in it for me,” but instead must give due care to consider the welfare of our nation as a whole, and the influence that we exert on the world community.  We have to be a nation who brings others to Christ and gives witness to the Gospel.  As Ezekiel prophecies in our first reading today, woe to us if we don’t!

It’s a sobering thought, but not one that we should feel is insurmountable.  Since that momentous day of July 4, 1776, we have been a people that has vigorously defended the rights that bring us to peace in this life and salvation in the next.  We have defended life.  But as our society has become more complex, the right to life has been somewhat blurred.  When does life begin?  What lives need to be protected?  The Church, of course, calls for a vigorous defense of life at every stage from conception to natural death.  That means abortion is wrong, embryonic stem-cell research is wrong, euthanasia is wrong.  These convictions make for difficult conversations, but life is and always will be a basic human right.

We have defended the right to liberty, but that right is similarly blurred in today’s society.  Nobody wants anything to infringe on their freedoms.  And nothing should.  But being free people doesn’t mean that we’re free to do whatever we want.  Our freedom cannot, for example, impinge on the freedom of another person.  Our freedom cannot allow us to harm another person.  As we heard in last Sunday’s second reading, Saint Paul tells us that “for freedom, Christ has set us free.”  Our freedom has a purpose, and that purpose is that we can then freely choose Christ, freely choose God, freely choose love.  None of that happens in a coerced way.  Freely choosing God means that we must be willing to freely choose all that that choice entails, without threat of harm from another.

And finally there is the pursuit of happiness.  We Christians believe that happiness will never be perfectly obtained in this life.  We long for the happiness of the kingdom of God, that place we were made for in the first place.  We have the right to pursue reasonable happiness in this life, and we have a right to exercise the means to pursue the most excellent happiness of the world to come.

In the last line of the Declaration, our forefathers pledged themselves to the great task of building a nation based on these inalienable rights: “And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.”  May we always make the same pledge that our nation may always be great.

Categories
Catholic Social Teaching Homilies Life and Dignity of the Human Person

Memorial Day

Today's readings: Isaiah 32:15-18, Matthew 5:1-12a

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memorial-dayOne of the effects of a presidential election for me, is taking a long hard look at who we hold up as our leaders or our heroes.  In some ways, a presidential election is a celebration of whoever is the least objectionable candidate, because in this day and age, it’s hard to get good people to run for office.  And who could blame them?  It’s so hard for candidates to deal with all that public scrutiny, the months of campaigning, the financial outlay.  It seems sometimes that those willing to go through all of that aren’t exactly the cream of the crop.  But apply that to any other field of interest.  What about our sports heroes, or entertainers?  How many of them turn out to be flawed in many ways?  The people we want to hold up as heroes are very often not very heroic.

But today is a day to celebrate true heroes.  People who have given their lives for peace, justice, and righteousness.  The beatitudes that we just heard in the Gospel proclaim them blessed:  blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, blessed are the peacemakers, blessed are they that are persecuted for the sake of righteousness.  We have heard these before, but it’s so important that we hear that these people are blessed, these people are true heroes because of what they sacrifice and stand for and fight for.

I am hardly the person who is going to glorify warfare.  I think our Church’s teachings counsel that war is not the way to peace and that developed societies like ours can and must use our resources to seek other ways to solve problems.  But I certainly acknowledge that there are and have been times in our nation’s history that have called on people to fight for our freedoms and to fight for justice.  Today we honor their memory with immense gratitude, because without their sacrifice we might not enjoy the blessings we have today.

Those who have been part of our lives, and the life of our country, who have been people of faith and integrity are the heroes that God has given us. These are the ones who have been poor in spirit, who have mourned, who have been meek, hungry and thirsty for righteousness, merciful, peacemaking, and all the rest.  If we would honor them on this Memorial Day, we should believe as they have believed, we should live as they have lived, and we should rejoice that their memory points us to our Savior, Jesus Christ, who is our hope of eternal life.