6 Jul 2008
“‘Come to me, all you who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.’” (Matt. 11:28) In the name …
Fr. Randy Calvo
A couple of weeks ago my family and I traveled to Washington, D.C. I’ve been there before, but not nearly enough to know my way around. So that meant we had to rely on those really cheesy tourist maps. You know, one of those large fold-out maps that are free because they’re covered with advertisements from local restaurants, attractions and shops. Open up one of those on the street and everybody knows “There’s a tourist,” especially if you’re wearing an Hawaiian shirt and a pair of white shorts that only half cover even whiter legs that kids from Westfield at Youth Retreat a number of years back, and still in use today, have come to call “lady-legs.”
So we’re trying to get to the Spy Museum from our hotel by using the subway. We’re told to get off at the Gallery Place/Chinatown station. We get there fine, but then the confusion starts. Just by following the crowds on the platform we ended up in the Chinatown section of Washington. We get up to the street level and I open up my cheesy tourist map. There are all kinds of people rushing here and there, trying to get into the subway station or out of it. It wasn’t at all conducive to reading a large fold-out map. But I could have sworn that I saw that the Spy Museum was right on the corner of 9th and M Streets. We start walking from F Street the seven blocks to M Street, and when we finally get there – nothing! I mean there’s so much nothing that I can easily take out my big fold-out, cheesy tourist map again to see what’s going on. Now that I get a better look at my map I see that the M next to the Spy Museum isn’t M Street; it’s the M for Metro Station, the exact same Metro Station my family and I had just walked from seven blocks back! I guess it can go unsaid how much my family liked me after our 14 block u-turn, or how much they trusted me the next time we had to read the map.
The reason I share this story with you today is because it’s Independence Day weekend. Polls of Americans show that as a nation we feel confused and lost. Only ten years ago we were trumpeted as the world’s only super-power. Now people speak of power and money turning away from the West and toward the East, to countries like China, Japan and India. One of history’s greatest transfers of wealth is talking place right now as the price of a barrel of oil is around $140 and it is expected to hit $170. Our deficits are huge and the Middle Eastern countries are awash with money. People have to worry about the cost of fueling their cars. It’s hard to imagine that sometime soon a person making minimum wage will have to work one hour to buy one gallon of gas. How can a person survive like that? Families have to worry about being able to afford to heat their homes this winter. My church up in South Deerfield is actually talking about having Sunday Mass in the parish hall in the dead of winter so that we can cut our fuel costs a little bit. And what surprises me is that where once we expected American ingenuity to come up with an answer, now there’s talk of what China will invent. America has always been the land of opportunity and optimism, but now with constant war, terrorism, and an economy in decline we are just plain confused and have a sense of being lost.
America was born 232 years ago this weekend. What makes us special as a nation is that we are united not by race, ethnicity or religion, especially not by force or propaganda, but by beliefs. American ideals of liberty, democracy, justice, and equality are what gave birth to our country in 1776, and these ideals have been the glue that have kept us together ever since. Anne-Marie Slaughter, the dean of the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton University, was on the radio discussing this shift to the East, the optimism in Asia and the sense of confusion and loss in America. She said that optimism can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. When people believe anything is possible, anything is.
Then she held out the ideals of American democracy as the beginning of our road back to optimism. She said we have become lost because we have forgotten what we stand for as a nation. She urged us to practice what we preach, and to show the rest of the world we really still believe in those words of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights. She said that we can again become a beacon of hope to the world, a place of optimism, but to do so we have to go back to what made us America and Americans in the first place. We are still a powerful nation militarily; we are still an economic lynchpin for the world’s economy; but it is our faith in human dignity and democracy that will make us respected again. It’s the realization that we got lost and that we need to make the u-turn back to where we started.
In today’s Gospel selection alone, Jesus praises God because His revelation is given to the humble and honest rather than the rich and connected. This is where we as a nation started with democracy. Jesus also says today: “‘Come to me, all you who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.’” That sounds so much like the words on the Statue of Liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me. I lift my lamp beside the golden door.” What we do here can affect the nation, improve the nation. This isn’t just about heaven. This can make us stronger as a country because Christian ideals are also America’s founding ideals. We can’t and we shouldn’t try to legislate religion, that only means we don’t have enough confidence that our example and our teaching can convince other people of their merit. If we have become lost and confused as a nation, it’s because we have wandered away from where we started. Just like me coming out of the Metro-station in Washington and having to make a 14-block u-turn, our destination has always been close to where we began. If as Americans, if as Christians, we could again truly value the ideals that defined us 232 years ago, the ideals we talk about as church every week, then we could find our way back to the optimism that makes anything possible. Our faith and the way we practice it, with respect for others and compassion for all, can again help to make America strong and respected. This nation has give much to us, now as people of faith it is our duty to give back to her by practicing what we preach, it does matter, it does make a difference, and for this we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen. (+)