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18 Jan 2009

“But Nathanael said to [Philip], ‘Can anything good come from Nazareth?’”  (John 1:46)

In the name …

Next month the nation celebrates the 200th anniversary of the birth of Abraham Lincoln.  In about 50 hours President-Elect Barack Obama will take the oath of office with his right hand resting upon Lincoln’s own Bible.  On January 1, 1863, President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation freeing all southern slaves.  On January 20, 2009 Barack Obama will become the first African-American President of the United States of America.  On March 4, 1865 President Lincoln turned to address the crowds assembled on the Washington Mall for his second inauguration.  As he accepted the office, he then confessed to the nation and to the world his belief that God “gives to both North and South this terrible [Civil] war as the woe due to those by whom the offense [of slavery] came.”  But then he went on to look to the future of our country and to say:  “Let us strive-on to finish the work we are in, to bind-up the nation’s wounds …”  Nearly a century and half later, our soon to be President Obama will stand in the same spot and whether we voted for him or not he will symbolize for us and the world that we are binding-up the nation’s wounds of slavery, discrimination and prejudice.  We have started to finish the work of healing the separation caused by racial differences so that we are all more truly equal citizens, which is more than even the Constitution once allowed.

After November’s election, I remember seeing an editorial cartoon of Martin Luther King reading the headlines of Barack Obama’s victory and saying, “I can’t believe it” with a huge smile on his face.  Tomorrow we celebrate Martin Luther King’s birthday, and the day after that we witness the inauguration of the first African-American President.  In four decades we moved from “I have a dream” to “I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States …”  Just as Lincoln’s Bible is a powerful symbol of the Inauguration theme of “A New Birth of Freedom,” so is Barack Obama himself a symbol of our nation’s progress.  For every doubter who says that for minorities American ideals can never be anything more than one man’s dream, they now have to face the reality that we are represented on the world stage by an elected leader who is a man of colour.  Barack Obama’s father left home and he was raised by his mother.  He was not privileged or wealthy.  And yet he is now about to became our President.  In this way he himself has become a symbol of American opportunity, and an example that anything is possible in America.

African-Americans have every right to be proud of Barack Obama, but so do all of us.  We didn’t all vote for him, some strongly disagreed with his positions and his youth, some strongly favoured his opponent, but for the most part Americans spoke about his policies, not the colour of his skin.  Those are differences that do not separate us.  Of course, we have a long way to go, but the example of this past election gives us hope that old fears and animosities may be coming to an end.  When Barack Obama places his hand upon Lincoln’s Bible, we as a nation will have come a long way since Lincoln’s prayer, and that’s not only good for African-Americans, that’s good for all Americans.

In two days our 44th President, no matter whether he proves to be great, mediocre or less, will become one of our memorable Presidents.  I think we all remember that number one was Washington, number 16 Lincoln, and I think school children of the future will commit to memory that number 44 was the first African-American President.  He’s going to be famous no matter how he serves in office because of that fact.  If he wants to be remembered for more than that, though, he’s going to have to change politics as usual.  We pray for leaders who serve rather than leaders who are self-serving.  Americans have become tired and worn-out by the sense that if we are not wealthy or connected then we are unheard and forgotten.  Jay Leno told the joke that if you steal $50 from WalMart you go to jail, but if you steal $51 billion like Bernard Madoff you go to your $7 million luxury apartment.  We’re tired of elected officials leaving office and then turning around to become lobbyists because who you know gets things done while the rest of us have to pay for their special treatment.  We’re tired of hearing that some companies are too big too fail, but that tax-payer money to the tune of $350 billion that was supposed to help prevent home foreclosures for ordinary people only went into bank coffers instead. We’re tired of hearing of corrupt politicians who only resign when finally convicted rather than having a sense of responsibility and conscience while still in office.  Americans are tired, worn out and cynical because of the behaviour of our leaders.  Wealth has replaced principle too often.

In both the Old and New Testament readings today, we hear of unexpected leaders given by God when the old order has become corrupt.  Samuel was a child.  Of Jesus, Nathanael says, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?”  Many voice the opinion that the system itself is broken in today’s American politics.  Money has infected the process.  Politicians speak of their profession’s necessary evils.  Why are they necessary?  On this Sunday before the inauguration of our new President, let us pray for him and our nation.  He is an unexpected leader.  Our nation is in a historically difficult time due to terrorism, wars and the faltering economy.  Let us pray that President Obama be one of our historically great leaders, and that prayer is not partisan. It is said for the good of our nation as a whole, as one people.  May he be trustworthy, or in other words, may he be worthy of our trust.  We don’t expect miracles, but we should be able to expect fairness in our leaders, and from them a deep-abiding concern for all in this country not only the privileged few.  Honesty and fairness in the working example of our leaders can bring healing, unity and trust back to our nation, and just as Lincoln offered this prayer to bind our wounds, so do we today in Jesus’ name.  Amen.  (+)


Fr. Randy Calvo


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