13th Sunday in Ordinary Time
July 1, 2018
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church
When in the Course of human Events, it becomes necessary for one People
to dissolve the Political bands which have connected them with another,
and to assume among the Powers of the Earth, the separate and equal station
to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them,
a decent respect to the Opinions of Mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the Separation.
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….
These are the first sentences of the Declaration of Independence.
This week we celebrate the 242nd anniversary
of the signing of this extraordinary document,
which give birth to and form the foundation of
our beloved country.
This Declaration is a great and noble document.
This is true especially from our particular perspective as Christians,
because it expresses many ideals that are very Christian.
–It affirms that there are, in fact, certain “self-evident…Truths”:
objective truths which are always valid
no matter what we think about them.
–and that the “Laws of nature” behind these truths derive from “God”,
and that these laws are the source of the rights which we cherish.
9 of the men who signed this declaration went on to die for these principles
in the American Revolution.
And for the last 2 ½ centuries many of our ancestors
—and maybe your yourself or members of your immediate family—
went to war for these same principles,
and some are at war right now.
These Americans have made many terrible but beautiful sacrifices
—some even the ultimate sacrifice of death.
This is a great country: one to die for.
And one to live for.
Capable of wondrous and noble achievements.
But unfortunately, also capable of terrible failures.
One of the most important—and Christian—ideals expressed
in the Declaration of Independence
is the notion of certain inalienable rights.
But when our forefathers enshrined these rights in the Declaration
they presumed 2 things:
first, that those rights were inalienable
precisely because they came from God, and not from governments;
and second, that those rights were inalienable only to the extent
they were used in conformity with their just and good purpose
as defined by that God who gave them to us.
They presumed, in other words, that those rights were subject
to the commonly accepted moral principles and structures
of the American people of 1776
—the basic principles of traditional Christian morality.
But in the last 50 years or so we seem to have forgotten some of that,
as those rights have sometimes taken on a whole new
and even perverse meaning.
Let’s think for a moment of the modern notions of
the rights called “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
Let’s start with liberty.
Liberty was critical to the founders because they wanted people
to be free to become the best they could be.
Freedom to become, not freedom to degenerate.
Freedom to accept all the good things God gives you,
to lift up yourself, your family and your community to be great.
Not freedom to waste your God given gifts and talents,
destroy your family or betray your community.
It is true that when we allow people the freedom to become,
we also give them great freedom to not become—or to become bad.
But that is not why God gives us freedom.
In today’s first reading from the book of Wisdom we read:
“God fashioned all things that they might have being;
and the creatures of the world are wholesome,
and there is not a destructive drug among them.”
God creates us to be good.
And God gives us freedom to choose; as Moses tells us elsewhere:
“I have set before you life and death, …therefore choose life!”
God gives us the liberty to choose,
but not so we would choose what is evil,
but so we would choose what is good—and to be good!
This leads us to another right that is so terribly misunderstood today:
the right to “pursue happiness.”
To the signers of the Declaration of Independence,
the term “pursuit of happiness” had a well-developed meaning.
Now, it is true that there was some debate
over what exactly constituted “happiness” and the “pursuit” thereof,
but it was all within certain very narrow philosophical parameters.
For example, some maintained that happiness was basically equivalent
with living a virtuous life.
Others argued that happiness was about a sense of safety and security.
Still others argued it had to do with an overall sense of well-being.
But absolutely no one thought it meant what most people nowadays
seem to think means: the right to pursue pleasure.
Mix that with the false modern notion of “liberty”
and you have something no American had in mind 242 years:
freedom to do whatever makes you feel good.
By any standard, happiness and pleasure are not the same.
The immediate pleasures sought by a teenager
–in drugs or alcohol or sex or thrill seeking–
will never lead to the happiness of that same man or woman at 40.
The lonely old man or woman who cheated on their spouse
or neglected their children
or drank every other paycheck,
may have had a lot of fun, but no one calls them happy.
Pleasure is a cup gulped greedily and in haste,
but then all you have left is an empty cup.
As we read today:
“God formed man to be imperishable;
the image of His own nature He made him.”
To reach our full potential as the image of God–
–to fill the cup of life with His goodness
—this is true happiness.
And finally we think about the inalienable “right to life.”
As Scripture tells us today:
“God did not make death…
death entered the world… by the envy of the devil.”
Now this doesn’t mean that it’s always a sin kill a human being,
for example, in war:
over and over again God Himself led Israel into battle
and helped them kill their enemies.
Sometimes wars must be fought for just reasons.
Without addressing the right or wrong of any particular war,
if we look carefully at our approach to each we can see the effects of
the fundamental importance the founders placed on the right to life.
Most especially we see it in the way all Americans are so concerned about
the possible death of any innocents.
And this is the essence of our founders understanding of “the right to life.”
That a man, woman or child who is innocent of crimes or injustices,
has a right to live a life of liberty pursuing true happiness.
Still, it is amazing to me,
that we Americans can be so concerned—rightly—
about the right to life of innocent civilians in war,
while at the same time,
so many of Americans deny that same right to life
to the most innocent American civilians—unborn babies.
Thousands raise loud protests against soldiers accused of war atrocities,
but how many of those raise a cry against the doctors
who abort innocent babies,
or a scientist who destroys an embryo for experimentation,
or a politician who protects and funds them?
What about the inalienable right to life liberty and the pursuit of happiness
of unborn babies?
We truly live in the greatest country on earth.
And yet sometimes we seem to have lost sight
of the meaning of the founding principles,
upon which this greatness was built.
What do we do?
We do what Jairus did in today’s Gospel:
we go to Jesus, plead for his help, bring him to our troubled nation,
and we believe that he will save us.
America needs Jesus.
It needs a new American Christian Revolution.
Not one based in violence or hatred,
but in truth and love.
Armed not with guns and bombs,
but with the simple principles of our founding
enlighten by the One who is the Way, the Truth and the Life.
Not forcing our religion on our countrymen,
but simply exercising that liberties which are
the freedom of religion and the freedom of speech.
Friends, we must exercise our God given right to go out and declare the truth
about life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
We must invite our countrymen to live in the true freedom
that only the truth of Christ can give.
To live life in the love of Christ—to have life in abundance.
And to pursue the holiness of life
that will fulfill our true potential and true happiness
–in this world and the world to come.
Some say America is too far gone…it seems hopeless.
But it must have seemed hopeless to Jairus when his friends told him:
“Your daughter has died; why trouble the teacher any longer?”
To those who think our cause is hopeless you say, as Jesus did:
“Why this commotion and weeping? The child is not dead but asleep.”
Some will ridicule you, as they did Jesus.
Again, remember what Jesus said:
“do not be afraid; just have faith.”
Today we thank the Good Lord for the birth of a great nation
born to defend the God given rights of it’s citizens.
For 242 years brave men and women have bravely fought and died
to defend this nation and those rights.
But today as you rightly celebrate her greatness,
“do not be afraid” to recognize her failings,
and “do not be afraid” to bravely fight to save her.
Do not be afraid to proclaim the true meaning
of the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
“Do not be afraid; just have faith”…in Jesus Christ.