“Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” Colossians
Today as I give thanks for being an American, I recall a snowy night in 1975 when I went to the Omaha airport to greet a family of five Cambodian refugees being resettled here. They wore summer clothes and carried all their possessions in their suitcases. They had fled the genocidal Pol Pot regime in their homeland where being literate (or even wearing glasses) was a death sentence. These horrors were eventually documented in the acclaimed movie “The Killing Fields” but all we saw were five scared, freezing people with no idea of their fate in this strange new place.
Quickly we supplied them with warm coats and moved them into a modest duplex furnished by the St. Vincent de Paul Society. During the following months, our community rallied to help this family and others from Vietnam and Laos learn English, get jobs and eventually join the mainstream. Soon our refugee friends were serving pizza as well as rice at ethnic celebrations and listening to Vietnamese and Hmong rock bands. A few years later, young people who spoke no English when they arrived were graduating from college. A member of our family became Omaha’s first Cambodian police officer and married into a prominent Irish-American family. Only in America!
Today’s readings challenge us to reflect on what God expects of us because our ancestors had the wisdom and courage to flee Ireland’s potato famine, Hitler’s Holocaust or wars and conscription, desperate poverty and religious persecution elsewhere. Maybe we are even among “ God’s chosen ones” that St. Paul refers to in his Letter to the Colossians. As such, we must extend “heartfelt compassion” and “kindness” to others such as todays refugees from oppression, murder, famine and war and others in need.
Sometimes we fail to realize just how fortunate we are – something that students on my department’s recent “backpack journalism” trip to Uganda will never take for granted again. After meeting people in refugee camps and viewing the sites of mass murders, they have a new sense of both their insanely good luck in being born here and their responsibility to the larger community of God’s people.
Today I pray that God will continue to bless our country and that we will all live out both St. Paul’s admonitions in Colossians and these timeless lines from America the Beautiful: “America, America, God shed his grace on thee. And crown thy good with brotherhood from sea to shining sea.’
Happy Fourth of July!