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Independence Day

June 28, 2023
Blessed Solanus Casey
Br. Robert Wotypka, OFM Cap.

A homily for Independence Day from Br. Robert Wotypka, OFM Cap.

As we near our founding national holiday – and because I don’t have the Mass here on the 4th of July! – let’s see if there is a benefit to putting what Jesus has taught this week alongside American traits. Yesterday we heard Jesus proclaim “the golden rule,” that is, ‘do unto others as you would have them do to you’ That teaching has flourished across time and across cultures and nations, thanks be to God. Monday we heard Jesus say put your own house in order before you judge others – the civil and historical analogue being perhaps “America does not go abroad in search of monsters.”

Individualism, self-reliance, ‘pulling one’s self up by one’s own bootstraps’ – none of these traits commonly named as common to Americans find a place in the good news that Jesus proclaims. He sent the disciples two by two, He was obedient to the Father, He was born of the Virgin Mary who said, “I am the handmaid of the Lord – let it be done to me according to your Word, Lord.” The self-centered self-image of self-reliance formed over the last two and half centuries of the American experiment don’t have Scriptural roots, as I examine it.

We have in the past and again now are going through a constitutional crisis, we are in real time trying to figure out whether or not the US is a nation of laws or a nation of men. Is anyone above the law, or will accountability hold over mob rule or paranoia or violence or the threat of violence? What values will be applied, what precedents will be respected and which ones will be ignored in the application of laws to new challenges? Today’s teaching from Jesus can help us, and I pray that it will inform the rulings made in high places of power.

Benjamin Franklin said “There never was a good war or a bad peace.” That shard of wisdom anticipates our only home-grown American philosophy, which is pragmatism, attributed to William James at the turn of the 20th century. Pragmatism teaches that the worth and validity of an idea or action is determined solely by its utility. And I have to thank Mr Williams, my high school psychology teacher – because I was able to write that definition without looking it up!

Pragmatism is of the mind, while Jesus is of the heart, one in Being with the Father who is God, and God is love. I don’t say that Jesus is teaching pragmatism in Matthew 7. But what He teaches here today is perhaps a “toe in the water,” a call to be clean and to cleanse – cleanse our motives, cleanse our means, be clear about our goals and what is proper to achieve them. “A rotten tree cannot bear good fruit” – we can’t cultivate thorns, we have to weed them out, if the orchard is to flourish and if the Kingdom of God is to be among us.

The angel said to Mary, “Nothing will be impossible for God.” Let’s be thankful for the lessons Jesus teaches, let us share them, and let the love of Jesus, which comes to us in the Eucharist, carry on from this place to seek and to do God’s will, and may God’s will be done.

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