Happy Birthday, America!

This is the homily I gave this weekend.  Enjoy!  And, enjoy your holiday!


American Flag“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.”


This line is from the Declaration of Independence.  We all know it, but do we ever really think about it?  This weekend we celebrate the birthday of our country.  A lot of us will go on picnics, or go to ballgames, or go to the lake.  There will be barbecue, and everything that goes with it, and a lot of beer.  There will be days off work. There’s nothing wrong with that.  Except for the lake and the beer, I plan to do some of these things myself.


But what about the meaning of Independence Day?  We’re living in a time when so many people take our freedoms for granted.  The Declaration ends with the words, “And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred honor.”


This small group of men was setting about an almost impossible task.  We were going to war with Great Britain, the most powerful military force on the planet.  If we had lost, and without the protection of Almighty God we almost surely would have lost, these men were pledging their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor.  They would certainly all have been killed.  Their families would have been killed.  Their property would have taken away.  And, instead of being remembered as American heroes, we’d remember them as British traitors.


But they had faith.  Don’t let anyone tell you they didn’t.  God’s name is all over the writings of these men.  


Speaking about our Constitution, James Madison wrote, “It is impossible for any honest person not to be astonished (that the Constitution had been created in spite of seemingly insurmountable obstacles).  It is impossible for the religious man not to once again perceive the finger of that Almighty Hand that so frequently and notably extended relief to us during the critical stages of the Revolution.”


No reasonable person, religious or not, could believe that this handful of farmers and businessmen could create the greatest form of government in the history of the world on their own.  They were blessed, and we’re blessed by a God who wanted us to be an example to all the world.


This handful of men from all parts of the colonies, with diverse backgrounds and religions, were actually able to agree on this thing.  There were no filibusters, no demonstrations, no walkouts.  They just did it.  The Holy Spirit had to be involved.  Today’s politicians can’t even agree on when to go to lunch.


Sadly, we’re living in a time when so many people take our freedoms for granted.  People from all over the world are literally dying to come here.  Many of them can’t even comprehend our lifestyle.  We can go wherever we want.  Do whatever we want (within reason) and say just about anything we want.  We may not realize it but that’s not true in a lot of other countries.    Sadly, it’s those freedoms that may be our undoing.


In Christian charity, we have welcomed people from all over the world to join us.  Now many of those people are attacking our Christian principles.  We can’t have the Ten Commandments in our courthouses.  We can’t have Nativity scenes on public property.  People who work in retail stores aren’t even supposed to wish us a Merry Christmas.  Where’s it all going to end?


As Catholic Christians, we belong to one of the few minorities that can be ridiculed without fear.  People can say whatever they want about us and it’s OK.  

“Catholics are all child molesters.”  “Catholics don’t care about anything but abortion.”  “Catholics worship statues.”  “Catholics are cannibals because they eat the Body of Christ.”  The more ridiculous the anti-Catholic statement is, the more people want to chime in.  And, we let them do it.  Look at how Muslims react to anti-Muslim rhetoric.  

They won’t stand for it and we shouldn’t either.


The Fourth of July is called “Independence Day” for a reason and it’s not because we get the day off work.  God has made us free.  God has blessed the United States with the most abundant natural resources in the world.  This place couldn’t have happened any other way.  But now, we’re being told that “one nation under God” is discrimination against atheists.  


If I go any further, I’m going to really go off on a rant, so I’ll stop now.  I just want to urge you to take some time this weekend to give thanks to God for making you an American.


Our ancestors made a terrifying journey across the Atlantic and up the Mississippi to settle in this neighborhood so they could enjoy the freedoms that they didn’t have in their home country.  When they got here they found prejudice against them from the locals who were former immigrants themselves.  Yet this was still way better than they left behind.  Like our founding fathers, they risked their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor.


While we drink our beer, and eat our barbecue, and watch our ballgames this weekend, let’s not forget the brave men and women who made it possible.



Independence Day 2011

I suppose the 235th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence is as good a day as any to look at what the Founding Fathers thought about God’s role in the new union they were proposing.  Rather than go on for pages and pages, I’d like to offer the following quotes for your consideration.  (Any emphasis added is mine.)

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.  Declaration of Independence.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.  Declaration of Independence

It is impossible for any honest person not to be astonished. (that the Constitution had been created in spite of seemingly insurmountable obstacles) It is impossible for the religious man not to once again perceive the finger of that Almighty Hand that so frequently and notably extended relief to us during the critical stages of the Revolution.  James Madison, Federalist Paper #37.

I could go on, but any study of the thoughts and writings of the Founding Fathers will discover that most of them, if not all, believed that God was with them in this new endeavor.  As Madison writes, it’s almost inconceivable that this group of men could author a plan for the new government in such a short time and with so many diverse interests having a hand in it.  Likewise, most would agree that it was almost impossible for the small, under-equiped American army to defeat the most powerful fighting machine in the world at that time, the British army without Divine intervention.

Of course, those who have an anti-God agenda, most notable atheists, deny the very existence of an all-powerful God.  But, they are a very small, very vocal minority.  Here’s the thing.  America was formed with the assistance of the Almighty.  It was formed as a country where the people were the government and where individual rights would be ensured.  As a mostly-Christian nation we welcomed immigrants of all faiths (and no faith).  We have been so open to others that now we’re in a position of having to defend the very principles that allowed so many non-Christians to come here to take advantage of our rights and freedoms.  People who came here to enjoy our freedoms want to take many of those freedoms away from us.

Now we’re being told that we can’t be a God-fearing country any more.  Those of us who believe that we are “one nation under God” are being told to sit down and shut up because we might offend someone who doesn’t agree with us.

We call this day “Independence Day” because it’s the day we declared our freedom from an oppressive monarchy.  Most of us have no idea of what our founders were risking by taking this step.  We get a glimpse of it in the Declaration’s last sentence “with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.”

This was no exaggeration.  Had the revolution failed, every man who put his name to the Declaration would have been killed, their families would have been killed, their property would have been confiscated by the British, and they would be forever branded as scoundrels and villains.   On this Fourth of July and every day, we owe these men a huge debt of gratitude.  We also owe them our own efforts to preserve the country that they risked so much to create.


14th Sunday of Ordinary Time

“I give praise to you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to the childlike.”


Today’s Gospel is the same one we read just Friday, the Feast of the Sacred Heart.  I mention this only because it occurred to me Friday morning that we celebrate the Sacred Heart but we don’t have a Feast of the Sacred Head.  After all, Jesus was smart.  Even at age 12, when He was separated from Mary and Joseph, when they found Him in the temple, Luke tells us in Chapter 2 of his Gospel that “all who heard him were astounded at his understanding and his answers.”


So, if Jesus was wise and learned, what’s He telling us today?  I think I know.  I spent five years in classes preparing for ordination.  Priests spend twice that much time.  We’re required to take continuing education every year.  I have shelves full of books at home and more shelves of books in the rectory.   Do I need all this for my ministry?  I do.  Does any of this get me any closer to God?  No, not really.


My five-year-old granddaughter Isabella just finished a week at Bible camp.  I promise you that she’s closer to God right now than I am.  Being wise and learned won’t keep you out of heaven but it won’t get you in either.  If you tell a five-year-old that Jesus loves them, they believe it.  If you tell an adult that Jesus loves them, they’re going to want proof.  That’s where all the books come in.  For centuries men have been trying to prove what we believe.  I think they’re doing it all wrong even though I’ve done the same thing myself.


What we need is faith.  Faith is the belief in something that can’t be proven.  IF we could prove the existence of God; IF we could prove that He and His Son love us, we wouldn’t need faith.  And, life without faith is no life at all.


You remember the song “Jesus Loves Me”?

Jesus loves me, this I know

For the Bible tells me so.

Little ones to Him belong.

They are weak but He is strong.

Yes, Jesus loves me.

Yes, Jesus loves me.

Yes, Jesus loves me.

The Bible tells me so.

That little song is profound.  It’s really all you need to know.


Yes, wise and learned people can get into heaven.  They just can’t let all that wisdom and learning get in the way.  All we really need is a simple, child-like faith in God’s love.  My favorite Bible quote is John 15:12, “This is my commandment.  Love one another as I love you.  No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for ones friends.  You are my friends if you do what I command you.”


That’s it!  Short and to the point.  Love one another and you’ll be my friend.

Sadly, as we grow up life gets more complicated.  Black and white turn into thousands of shades of gray.  We lose our childlike faith.  We know Jesus loves us.  We know what He wants us to do to love Him back.  But life can get in the way.


Fortunately for us, we have a way to get back to the basics.  We’re doing it now.  It’s called Mass.  This is where we can sit quietly and be taken up in the mystery.  This is where we can receive Christ in the Holy Eucharist.  We’re blessed to have this beautiful church as our place of worship.


But it’s not the building that makes us “church”.   It’s the act of worship that makes us “church” and we could do that on the parking lot or in somebody’s home.  It doesn’t matter if the lights are on, or if the candles are lit, or if the air conditioner’s working properly. All we really need is a place to gather and a simple child-like faith.  “Yes, Jesus loves me.  The Bible tells me so.”


This weekend we celebrate the 235th birthday of our nation.  On July 4, 1776, our Founding Fathers declared our independence from Great Britain.  Most of us can’t recite the Declaration, but as Jesus said, it’s not necessary to be wise and learned to understand what those 18th Century men were trying to do.  They wanted “the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle(d) them.”


Most of us are familiar with the beginning of the Declaration, “When in the course of human events….” But do you know the ending?  The final sentence says, “And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.


In spite of all their wisdom, in spite of their learning, in the end it was their reliance on Divine Providence, their child-like faith in God, that gave them the courage to risk their very lives on the success of their cause.

As we sit in church today and as we celebrate the 4th of July weekend with barbecues and fireworks we should all take time to thank God for the gift of our own faith and for the faith of the men who founded our nation.  They were driven by their belief in their God-given rights and thanks to them we have those rights today.  As Catholic Christians we also have faith, and a responsibility to do all that we can to make sure our children and our grandchildren have those same rights.


The Second Friday of Advent

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“If you would hearken to my commandments, your prosperity would be like a river, and your vindication like the waves of the sea;
Your descendants would be like the sand, and those born of your stock like its grains, Their name never cut off or blotted out from my presence.”

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The prophet Isaiah lived about 700 years before the birth of Christ but his words ring just as true today as they did back then.  Fast forward to the eighteenth century, to the new country called “the United States.”  In those days didn’t our forefathers (and foremothers) hearken to God’s commandments?  And, wasn’t prosperity like a river?

This land was blessed in every possible way.  We had vast expanses of forests and farm land.  We had everything we needed for a comfortable life. We had valuable natural resources that we didn’t even know what to do with.   We won our freedom against all odds from the most powerful kingdom on earth.  We were a God-fearing people and prosperity flowed like a river.  Our vindication was like the waves of the sea.

Somewhere along the line, sometime after the middle of the last century, we got lost.  A lot of people got the idea that the Ten Commandments are the “ten suggestions” and eventually it was decided that they couldn’t be displayed in the very buildings where the law of the land is enforced.  Suddenly “Thou shalt not kill” became religious speech, not allowed on public property.

Doesn’t it seem that the “river of prosperity” may be drying up?  We’re in the midst of an economic recession unlike anything we’ve experienced in the past.  Unemployment is at an official 10%, but it reality it’s much higher.  We’re  involved in two wars and live with the daily threat of terrorism in our own back yard.  A lot of the rest of the world hates us.  Our vindication isn’t exactly like the waves of the sea.

I don’t mean to paint a gloomy picture because I believe there’s a simple solution to our problems, something that our elected employees in Washington DC don’t seem to understand.  It’s right here in the 48th Chapter of Isaiah, written nearly three thousand years ago.  And it starts right here, with you and me and millions of other Christians.  Hearken to His commandments.

God doesn’t lie.  He promised us prosperity and vindication if we’d do that one thing.  One by one we can set the example.  We can pray that others do the same.  We can get our country back!