Self-Evident, Not Self-Indulgent

July 4, 2017

Independence Day (USA)

Isaiah 58:6-11; Luke 12:16-21


I had trouble sleeping last night. I was probably overtired from a couple days of moving into my new home at Parroquia de Santa Clara de Montefalco, which is across the parking lot from San José Friary here in Chicago.  In addition, our neighborhood was filled with the booms and crackles of various fireworks. 

After about an hour of tossing and turning, I decided to do something useful.  I grabbed my phone, connected with YouTube, and listened to a couple of recordings of people reading the Declaration of Independence—first a group of NPR journalists and then some Hollywood actors.  As I listened to the words penned by Thomas Jefferson and bravely endorsed by him and other patriots 241 years ago, I couldn’t help but feel a mixture of gratitude, sadness and frustration for how far we as a nation have come and yet how far we still have to go in realizing those ideals.

We still struggle with respect for life from conception until natural death; we too often confuse license with liberty; and, like the man in today’s gospel passage, we can mistakenly pursue happiness by accumulating wealth and things.  The reasons for this are many, but I think that a principal one is that we forget that these fundamental rights are a gift from God:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men (sic) 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.

When we fall for slogans like “America First” we are in effect repeating the conceit of the man in Jesus’ parable.  When we allow our public officials to endorse laws and policies that place even heavier burdens on those who are poor and on the margins of society here and around the world, we are deaf to the call of Isaiah and the other prophets of Israel.

We are not the only nation in the world celebrating our independence.  Our brothers and sisters in Rwanda are also celebrating, today.  In 1994 our nation and many others stood by while the people of Rwanda engaged in a three-month orgy of fratricidal genocide.  By the time it was over, an estimated 800,000 people were dead.  They will never know life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

As a Capuchin I’ve been privileged to travel all over the world and have been on every continent except Antarctica.  In the course of those travels, I have been reminded over and over again how fortunate I am to have been born in and to live in the USA.  If, as many of our founders believed, God had some divine purpose in creating this nation, then surely it was something beyond tearing down our barns, building larger ones, and indulging in self-satisfaction.  The gifts of God that we have received are not to be hoarded but humbly and generously shared.—JC