The following reflection, although not delivered verbatim, formed the basis of my homily on the 4th of July Weekend. Fr. Timothy Naples
It’s a 4th of July Weekend. As we celebrate our annual Independence Day as a nation, let us look to our Lord, and the saints of the Church as the best guides to our attitudes of patriotism in our country.
Let us start by recalling from our Sunday Gospel last week, that we can not, we must not, love anything above Almighty God. Our Lord Jesus insisted that He must be above all other “loves”, including family. And this includes our nation.
The proper way to love our nation then, is under and within, love for Jesus Christ.
The Church has used, from time to time, the phrase “a family of nations.” God himself approves and in some ways insists upon, building our societal, our economic, and our national relationships based upon the idea of family. Were it not for our parents, we would not exist. And likewise in families, we have grandparents, and we have great-grandparents. We have siblings and cousins. Nations are not only impacted by the reality of our family relationships, they are mostly defined by these family relationships over generations. We must remember this when we make moral judgments about people in the past, and when we try to pave the best way forward for our society and our nation.
In particular, today this question is put to us.
What should be the response when we confront the reality of sin in our family history? What should we do when evils committed by our ancestors come to light now?
Jesus had something challenging, indeed something terrifying, to say about this.
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the memorials of the righteous, and you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would not have joined them in shedding the prophets’ blood.’ Thus you bear witness against yourselves that you are the children of those who murdered the prophets; now fill up what your ancestors measured out! You serpents, you brood of vipers, how can you flee from the judgment of Gehenna?” – Matt. 23:29-33.
It is not right to claim that our own efforts have redeemed ourselves and our own generation. The proper response to evils in our family tree is humility, is sanctification, is generous self sacrifice. We should say, as many saints have said, “there but for the grace of God, go I.” We may say, “If I had lived in that time I might have committed worse evils than my ancestors.” In this way we remind ourselves of the right measure of what is good and evil, but we let God be the final judge. We should not be like the Pharisees, who outwardly adorned the tombs of the Prophets, but inwardly were full of hypocrisy.
Let us take the example of Saint Statues. I love statues of the saints. I don’t want to see them defaced or destroyed. Yet first I must remember, to praise the virtues of saints is hypocrisy if we do not try our best to imitate them.
There are attempts to bring down statues of St. Junipero Serra and St. Louis of France, for examples, seemingly at times with the wish to reject all of American History all the way back to Columbus. A radical and irrational anarchism claims at times that what is in any way European must only be thought of as racist, unjust, oppressive, and evil. In this anarchy, there is not the reasoning of a consistent moral ethic, nor, would I claim, sufficient consideration of the natural goods of human civilization. The good things that men pass on in founding a new nation, yes even concurrent with their moral faults, must all be acknowledged.
Here might be the two largest examples.
There have been great injustices and atrocities against Native American peoples in the history of our country. That demands humility, sanctification, and generous self sacrifice. And, to see this history in the perspective of eternal truth, we must declare, that Jesus Christ, and the Love of God which is defined by Him, is the true criterion to distinguish what was truly good and what was evil. This criterion can distinguish between pagan cultures of native peoples, which had no sure means of salvation and could pass on no such means, against cultures – of “white men” or of native peoples – imbued with the redemption of Christ. The latter contain both the mixed goods and evils of human ancestry, but also the most essential Faith which gives eternal meaning to all our relationships.
Again, There have been great injustices and atrocities against African American peoples, who mostly are American only because their ancestors were brought here as slaves. Yet, to see this history in the perspective of eternal truth, we must declare, that Jesus Christ, and the Love of God which is defined by Him, is the true criterion to know where the seeds of goodness brought about greater good in the midst of evil. We “did good” in abolishing slavery; we have more good to do: to “do justice” to African American families now. But we must have a solid foundation for knowing the source of this goodness and how to define and cultivate it. And nothing short of the Love of Jesus Christ, revealed in His Gospel, will be sufficient.
Jesus Christ is Lord of history, true judge of the living and the dead, and the Savior of all men and women. It is He, “through whom all good things come to us”!
Do you want to do good for your family, for your neighborhood, for your state, for the victims of injustice, for those lives thrown away in a culture of death?
Draw close to Christ, and do all good things in Christ, even to suffering the fate of Christ, the same as Prophets, whom some of our own spiritual ancestors persecuted.