Independence Day Weekend
3 Jul 2011
“‘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 child-like.’” (Matt. 11: 25)
Last weekend Sharon and I were down in Scranton for Fr. Jason Soltysiak’s wedding. I assisted Fr. Sen. Soltysiak as he performed the marriage rite for his son and new daughter-in-law. It was all very nice, and I was hoping Fr. Sen. was going to think so too so that he would shed a couple of tears. You see, there was a pool going-on about how far into the ceremony he would get before the first teardrop would roll down his cheek. I wagered he wouldn’t make it past the blessing of the rings. He’s a pretty emotional guy. But I lost because he didn’t cry until the very end of Mass.
But the other thing that I noticed during my time back at the first parish, back at Bp. Hodur’s parish, was the stained-glass window of President Abraham Lincoln. Standing at Fr. Sen.’s left hand side as he celebrated the wedding Mass, my gaze was pointed straight at the Gospel-side windows of the church, and there, right above the head of my bride and her aunt, stands an impressive 10 or 15 foot tall window of the Great Emancipator. I’m not certain of the date when the Cathedral-building was enlarged and the new windows put in place, but Lincoln’s window could be there for about a century already. There are three other civic figures, as opposed to specifically religious ones, who are honoured with a stained-glass window in Scranton, and all three of them share a reforming tradition that traces back to central Europe. One hundred years ago ours was an immigrant church. Names such as Slowacki, Hus and Mickiewicz meant to our first parishioners what Washington, Jefferson and Adams mean to us here today.
But into that predominantly European mix of heroes, they added the American leader of the Union during the Civil War that began 150 years ago this year, they added the American President who signed the Emancipation Proclamation freeing the American slaves, they added Lincoln. Lincoln stands for the American ideal of respect for the person whoever they may be, regardless of their status or station in life, regardless of the colour of their skin, regardless of everything. Their human dignity remains. Lincoln symbolizes the American pledge that truly “all men are created equal.” This was a brave and unpopular stance to take at the time. It divided the country in two; it cost America hundreds of thousands of lives; and eventually even cost Lincoln his own life. But Lincoln stood-up for the truth anyway. It was an embarrassment that much of the rest of the world had outlawed slavery while Americans were still willing to fight to the death to keep it. Lincoln righted this wrong. He forbade one human being from owning another human being. He protected and proclaimed again the American core values of justice and equality for all people, the very ideals we celebrate this Independence Day weekend.
This is why Lincoln stands watch in Hodur’s church. These were people who knew firsthand of oppression and discrimination. These were people who were treated like property by their employers. And the Lincoln-window reminded them as they sat in church of another truth beside the one they were living, the truth of what America could be. That promise was eventually fulfilled for the people of that congregation. Their children moved on from outcasts to middleclass. But Lincoln still stands there watching over the church. Lincoln reminds us all, because that church’s history belongs to all of us as National Catholics, that the message of justice and equality remains. Respect for human dignity is never based on popularity. It’s based on the God-granted truth that He has created us all equal. Even if we’re not the ones facing discrimination any longer, our church’s core values, values that find expression in the placement of Lincoln’s image in our first parish, speak unhesitatingly of human worth and of our moral duty to protect it. If we were only concerned about our moving from discrimination to respect, then we would be a small people. It is the principle itself that we honour.
The American ideal of universal human dignity is the basis of our political democracy and also of our church democracy, a church called a National Church by our founders, which in the original language of our first members meant “of the people.” This is what the Lincoln-window still tells us today. This is why as church we should be constantly on the watch that prejudice does not enter our communities, that we remain true to the ideals of equality, justice and respect for all people. This is why I believe so strongly that women should be treated equally by the church. This is what the Lincoln-window reminds me of. We need to be watchful that those whom God has created, especially the outcasts, the different, the made-fun-of, that they are not discriminated against by church. Are we as church to be embarrassed by the fact that people outside of the church are often more welcoming of human differences than we are as the community of God, the God who made us all equal and who loves us all equally? Lincoln’s window still has something to tell us as church. He stands there to remind us of how difficult it is to be governed by truth rather than popularity, how hard it is to change course. He challenges us to do what is right according to the ideals of the gospel, of our nation and of our church. Because of our church’s history we should appreciate the plight of the outcast and we should remember the example of Lincoln and stand-up no matter how unpopular for the truth that we’re all made equal in God’s eyes.
Jesus tells us today that God revealed Himself to the masses not the “wise and learned.” There is an authentic Christian authority in the democratic voice of all the people. This is a truth believed in by our church and also by our country. Let us respect it in both places. Let us pray that this collective voice may have a real opportunity to be heard and acted upon because this is how the church remains alive, active and vibrant. This Independence Day Weekend, let it challenge us in society and in church to stand-up for the truth. And as church let us be found worthy of the Lincoln window’s watchful gaze as we are challenged to respect the human dignity of everyone as granted by God. For this we pray this Independence Day weekend in Jesus’ name. Amen. (+)
Fr. Randolph Calvo