14th Sunday in Ordinary Time
July 5, 2020
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church
Today/Yesterday we celebrate(d) the 244th anniversary
of America’s Declaration of Independence from England.
The founding of our great nation, the United States of America.
And it is a great nation.
Not simply because it has accomplished great things,
because it has also done some not so great things.
It is great, because at its founding it was rooted
in certain great fundamental principles, Christian principles,
first among them that God created all men equal,
that He gave them certain unalienable rights,
and that the foremost of those God-given rights,
after life itself, is liberty.
The men who wrote and signed that Declaration
probably didn’t understand all the consequences of these principles.
And probably neither did any of the men who fought and even died
for that independence.
But deeply embedded in the ideas of God-given equality, rights, and liberty
was a greatness that would gradually spring forth and flower
and bear the great fruit we have cherished over these last 2 ½ centuries.
Take a simple example.
In the beginning, in most states gave the vote to only
property owning white men over the age of 21.
But over the decades as we considered and debated, we came to understand
that the founding principles required that be expanded.
So first, the vote was extended to all white men, not just those who own property.
And then what about women voting?
And then what about non-whites voting?
What about the 18 year old who went to war for his country
—why couldn’t he vote?
The point is all these rights flowered and were recognized because
they were contained and required by the founding principles, right from the start.
Sadly, one of the great tragedies that also existed at the founding
was the institution of Black slavery.
But even from the founding, half of the country realized
that slavery was indefensible if freedom is a founding principle,
and if all men are created equal.
For 84 years Americans debated and argued
over this radical inconsistency.
Many minds were changed—but not enough.
And so came a terrible bloody civil war.
Over 600,000 Americans laid down their lives in this war for liberty.
Over 320,000 whites died on the Union side,
sacrificing their lives for the freedom of the slaves.
And even the Confederate side fought for liberty:
the freedom of the states to rule themselves without “Yankee tyranny.”
Think of that: over 250,000 died for this incomplete, false, notion of liberty:
the liberty to do what they wanted,
no matter how contrary that was to the God-given rights of Man.
But in the end, the war taught America the awful lesson
that liberty is not simply to do what you want,
like owning and buying and selling other human beings.
Not true liberty
Because liberty is not the freedom to do what you want,
but the freedom to become the best you can be.
Freedom to choose and strive as best you can to reach your God-given potential.
And that doesn’t mean a freedom simply to become rich or powerful,
but also a freedom to become kind and generous,
to be a good father or mother, husband or wife, whatever.
So that conceived in liberty, America is fundamentally about
becoming good, better and great,
as individuals and together as families, communities, states, and as a nation.
American was great even 1776,
because its potential, rooted in its founding principles, was great.
And over the years those principles led her to grow in greatness.
Yes, there have been many injustices,
but we have faced them and conquered so many of them.
The sacrifice of 100s of thousands in civil war shows that in a most dramatic fashion.
But American has not yet reached its full potential for greatness.
In particular, even after the Civil War,
unjust racial prejudice and discrimination are still alive in our country.
But over the years even those evils have lessened,
as the founding principles make it impossible
for them to flourish in the shadows forever.
In particular the Civil Rights Movement has shined the light of those principles
on these evils.
And, slowly but surely, they have led reasonable Americans to change their ways.
But even still, there is a way to go.
And somewhere along the way once again too many Americans
lost sight of what our founding principles truly mean—especially liberty.
So look back at the 60s when Civil Rights Movement made great strides.
But at the same time other movements for false liberty emerged,
and rode the coattails of the Civil Rights Movement.
They sought freedom not directed toward the good,
but toward selfishness.
Again, freedom without rules to do whatever you want,
even if what you want is irrational, pathological or destructive.
And so our concern for true free has been distraction and led astray
by a wide range of movements, like radical feminism, abortion rights,
and homosexual and transgender rights.
As Joe Biden said just a few months ago:
“Transgender equality is the civil rights issue of our time.”
So is it any wonder that we still face our age old problem of unjust racial prejudice.
So let us be clear: true liberty, requires laying aside
all false notions of freedom to do or be whatever you want.
And true liberty requires freedom to think, speak and peacefully assemble,
so we can discuss and reason with each other.
And it requires freedom to be creative, to creatively better yourself.
This, by the way is the foundation of American capitalism, or free enterprise.
And so liberty opposes shouting down or cancelling your opponents,
It rejects riots, anarchy, terrorism, and destruction of property and businesses.
And true liberty, and the constant deepening our understanding of its demands,
requires that we be proud of our history,
to extent it is just and carried the seeds of true liberty for all.
And liberty does not tear down monuments
to the great, if imperfect, leaders of the past,
but remembers their illustrious feats, as well as their disgraceful deeds.
and celebrates their contributions to liberty,
and learns from their failures.
I don’t care what anyone says: America, with all her faults,
is the greatest nation on earth.
Conceived in liberty, it has spread, promoted, and defended liberty
at home and abroad.
It is true, we also have much to regret in our past.
But who among us is without sin?
What man or woman, with their individual great potential,
has not failed in small ways and large,
has not from time to time been selfish, or even cruel or malicious?
But what man wants the failings of his life to define his past, present or future,
especially when he has learned and grown from his mistakes,
and accomplished great and heroic achievements
—and still has potential for even greater.
Even so, nothing good in our history, and nothing good in our future,
has been or will be accomplished without keeping 2 things
at the heart of everything we do.
First, liberty, in its true sense.
And second, that Christ along can guide us to the fullness of that liberty.
A moment ago I asked, “who among us is without sin?”
Of course, there is one: Jesus.
And in today’s gospel Jesus tells us:
“Take my yoke upon you and learn from me,
for I am meek and humble of heart;
and you will find rest for yourselves.
For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.”
A yoke is a piece of wood that you put on an animal be able to steer it.
We must take on the yoke of Jesus, who is the truth,
to lead us, guide us, freely to our greatest potential.
And take the yoke of love of Christ,
that has it’s set of rules that guides us to love as we were created to.
We must let the truth and love of the Lord Jesus
guide us in all things to understand and live
what it means to love our neighbor, and to love God and ourselves.
To be who we are created to be.
And so liberty requires freedom of religion
—the first right and liberty guaranteed in our constitution.
Because without this liberty no one will be allowed to discover Jesus,
and follow him.
And without Jesus, mankind will never reach her full potential,
and liberty will first devolve into to selfish anarchy,
and then eventually disappear altogether.
America is a great country.
Flawed, but great.
And all this because right from the beginning
Christianity taught us that all men are created by God as equal,
and endowed by their creator-God with certain unalienable rights.
And by the grace of that same God, Jesus Christ, we have, with fits and failures,
allowed those principles to guide us to greater and truer liberty
from generation to generation.
Aw we now move more deeply into the mystery of this Holy Mass,
let us now give thanks to God for blessed foundation He gave us,
and the abundant graces he has poured out on us.
Let us beg Him to help us to overcome our failures and sins,
and pursue the potential He has given us—individually and as a nation.
And let us commit our selves to live by our Christian and American principles
and strive every day for true “liberty and justice for all.”
God bless America. Amen.