What Makes a Great Nation?

Isaiah 58:6-11; Matthew 25:31-46

Earlier this week, people here in Chicago and throughout the country gathered to watch the U.S. Women’s Soccer Team in its World Cup Semi-Final match against England.  It was a close game and featured two stellar goals by Christen Press and Alex Morgan.  But it was a courageous and emphatic save by goalie Alyssa Naeher late in the game that sealed a 2-1 victory.  It was another reminder that no team is complete unless it has a good defense as well as a good offense.

The scripture readings as well as the beautiful prayers for the Mass for Independence Day similarly remind us that no nation is complete without a concern for justice as well as charity and peace and that no faith is complete without a concern for human life and dignity as well as prayer, fasting and other forms of religious practice.

In our very familiar gospel reading, Jesus uses six of the seven Corporal Works of Mercy as the standard for righteousness.  There is no distinction between serving him and serving “the least of these.”  Similarly, in our first reading God, speaking through Isaiah, reminds a people returning from exile of the need for integrity between the faith they profess in worship, ritual and spiritual disciplines like fasting and sheltering the homeless, clothing the naked and treating others with dignity. The peace they seek will never be secure without the justice that is its foundation.

The greatness of a nation is not defined by how many wars it wins, its GDP or material prosperity, or the grandness of its parades.  Instead, it is found in how that nation and its people treat the needs of “the least of these,” whether they are a next-door neighbor or a father and daughter from El Salvador lying dead on the shores of the Rio Grande. —JC