2 Jul 2017
“So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” (Rom. 6:11) In the name …
This weekend the parish is anticipating Independence Day. We began with the Pledge of Allegiance. For those only one generation before mine, the Pledge we recited is not the one they would have learned in elementary school. The Pledge dates from 1892, but it wasn’t accepted formally by the United States Congress until 50 years later in the middle of World War II. Its message of union, and of universal liberty and justice defined us in opposition to our Nazi and Japanese enemies. We were fighting not only against our enemies; we were fighting for our way of life, and this was reflected in the Pledge. The same thing happened twelve years later when we were then engaged the Cold War. We were fighting the Communist North Koreans and the Communist Chinese directly, and the Communist Russians indirectly. Communism was officially atheistic. Their system worked openly against religion and the religious. In 1954, at President Dwight D. Eisenhower's urging, the Congress legislated that “under God” be added to the Pledge of Allegiance and it became the form we recited today. Once again, we weren’t only fighting against something else; we were fighting for our way of life, and in 1954 just about every family belonged to one church or synagogue or another.
Traditions that may seem to be unchanging, may be just that, they only seem to be unchanging. Traditions actually require an ability to change. Take, for example, Jefferson’s solemn words in the Declaration of Independence that we remember and celebrate this weekend. There it is written: “all men are created equal.” This is a famous and compelling statement from our history, and one we can and should be proud of, but to stay true to that message enshrined in our Declaration of Independence, we had to accept change. I once saw with Sharon an actual copy of the Declaration. It was kept in a secure case, in some inert gas, so that the document could stay unchanged for as long as is humanly possible. It is protected in the fortress-like National Archives building in Washington. The words of the document may not change like the words of the Pledge of Allegiance did, but we have had to let the meaning change.
Jefferson didn’t really mean “all men.” He was a slave holder. Even thirteen years later when our Constitution was first accepted, American Indians didn’t count and slaves only counted as 3/5 of a person, and that 3/5 wasn’t so that they could vote, but so that their owners could have more Representatives in Congress to help keep them enslaved. It would take a Civil War to get a better reading of “all men.” And it wouldn’t be until the 19th Amendment in 1919 that the idea of “all men are created equal” finally came to mean men as in the generic mankind, as in the more inclusive humankind, as in both men and women are all created equal. To stay true to the thoughts of the Declaration of Independence we had to reinvent the meaning of the actual words of the Declaration. Change keeps the tradition alive.
It probably won’t happen for about ten years, and of course it may never happen, but the US Treasury last year decided to replace President Andrew Jackson’s image on the $20 bill with that of Harriet Tubman. Andrew Jackson owned about 150 people and kept them illiterate at his plantation in Tennessee. Harriet Tubman was herself a slave who fought against this peculiar institution of ours, as they used to say, and even served as a Union spy during the Civil War. Change is slow, and not always steady, and seldom smooth, but change is necessary. At the same time Jackson was President a nobleman and scholar from France by name of Alexis de Tocquevillecame to investigate this American experiment in democracy. One of his insights that he recorded was: “The greatness of America lies not in being more enlightened than any other nation, but rather in her ability to repair her faults.” Can you imagine if we could go back in time to 150 years ago and tell our fellow citizens that the portrait of the President who owned 150 slaves was going to be replaced by the picture of a female slave? It would be unimaginable. Change is not always predictable, but I would hate to imagine what would happen without it. We wouldn’t be able to correct our faults
America is built upon the power of change. Our ability and willingness to adapt has allowed us to reinvent ourselves as Americans time and time again. We were once all white Protestants. There was an actual holiday in Colonial Massachusetts whose purpose was only to mock Catholics. But we adapted and were the better for it. The immigrants who founded this church of ours realized that only in such a nation as this could they ever hope to build a people’s Catholic church. When the delegates gathered for the Special Synod of 1906, Fr. Hodur said these words as he prepared to swear-in the delegates: “What power is it that has brought [us] here, Honored Brothers and Beloved in Christ? What idea has led us to this holy place before the altar of sacrifice? The idea of a Free Church …” We were also mocked for this innovation, but we adapted and are the better off for it. Albert Einstein once said: "The American lives even more for his goals, for the future, than the European. Life for him is always becoming, never being." Change is who we are.
Our faith calls us upon us to do the same. When baptized, says Paul today, we die to our old selves just as Jesus died on the cross, so that we can resurrect “dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” Change is expected from us as Christians, and change is expected of us as Americans. May our prayer on this 241st birthday of our nation be that the changes we seek in our nation walk hand-in-hand with the changes God expects of us so that “under God” may be so much more than just words or a political slogan. And for this may we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen. (+)
Fr. Randy Calvo