The celebration of Independence Day in the United States this year will inevitably bear the weight of two unexpected but deeply impacting occurrences: the global pandemic which has come to our shores from elsewhere and, especially, the explosive response to racial injustice which has begun here and has spread worldwide.
Fully aware of this, we approach this day as people of faith, an almost “natural” approach since our country’s founding documents are laced with scripturally inspired phrases that have been woven into our nation’s self-understanding.
To guide our reflection as Catholics on this day, I have chosen a scripture passage from among several optional readings: Isaiah 32, 15-18.20. “[When] the spirit from on high is poured out on us then will the desert become an orchard . . . Justice will bring about peace; right will produce calm and security. . . .”
Isaiah simply states that the desire for calm and security, a natural reaction to times of tumult, will be satisfied only by justice and right. Already, individuals and groups are stepping forward with proposals for how to bring about an end to racial injustice and to right the wrongs that afflict us. But lest we move forward with the illusion that this justice and right can be brought about by human labor alone, Isaiah directs us to their ultimate source: the spirit from on high, God.
Indeed, the very concept of justice is not a human creation but stems from the book of Genesis. There we are told that human beings, all human beings, are made in the image and likeness of God.
The famous phrase in Declaration of Independence which asserts that all human beings “have been created equal,” was not invented by the minds of the document’s authors. Its source is made evident by the phrase that follows: “they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights. . . .”
Without a doubt, we can and must find concrete ways to realize the high ideals presented in this Declaration which remains the heart of today’s celebration of Independence Day. The horizon given by faith, however, awakens us to the need for conversion of hearts and minds to the simple truths articulated by the book of Genesis and echoed in the Declaration of Independence. Without deeper conversion, strategies for achieving greater justice run the risk of remaining words on pages which fail to translate into deeds.
May the Holy Spirit rain down upon us this Independence Day, to renew and refresh the nation we love by converting the eyes of our hearts that we might see and know we are brothers and sisters created in the image and likeness of God. May that truth, more deeply felt, move us to live that truth in justice and right.
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