Today’s readings are chosen from those available for votive masses to be held in connection with the U.S. holiday of Independence Day. The collect prayer for this Mass is beautiful, meriting reflection:
God has given many blessings to our country, not the least of which is an ordered liberty that allows us to live out our faith in peace and security. Each of us has benefitted from others who have gone before us, who have passed along their wisdom and the fruits of their labor with the hope that we might use their gifts worthily and share them generously.
The first reading from Isaiah describes a wilderness that becomes a garden land – a reference that calls to mind the beauty I see each morning in rural America. The good earth brings forth an abundance of food to sustain us and our fellow creatures. We are privileged to enjoy a land of peace and beauty. Isaiah includes the wonderful image of an ox and a donkey roaming free, a vision that reflects both abundance and security. Although we fence in our livestock (as an ox or donkey might be a traffic hazard), perhaps we can appreciate features of that image in other contexts, as when good neighbors, friends, and family members enrich our lives through peaceful collaboration.
Sometimes we face storms, pests, droughts, and other difficulties. Our ancestors also faced them and persevered without the benefit of modern technologies we sometimes take for granted. The earth is good, but it is not utopia. Perhaps even more substantial difficulties emerge from within, generated from our own sinful nature. For millennia, we have seen that we are prone to wound one another. The Psalm for today reflects a prayer for justice, to stop the oppressor and to defend the weak. We earnestly desire these things, but we know that full realization will require transformation of the human heart that can only come through the reign of God. The coercive power of human government, no matter how good it purports to be, has its limits.
Today’s Gospel tells us that loving God requires us to keep His word, doing what is right instead of pursuing our own desires. We cannot prevent all of the wounds that may come, but we are expected to rein in ourselves. We need the Holy Spirit to guide and empower us in this work, as well as the grace of repentance and forgiveness when we fail.
The reading from Colossians reminds us to exercise damage control, choosing love, mercy, and forgiveness rather than grievance, hatred, and vengeance. We are called each day to “put on” these things, just as we dress ourselves to prepare for the weather. It is difficult work to forgive, and this work will continue until the Lord returns. We cannot do it without God’s transforming power, which he offers to us as we choose to draw near to our Lord and to resist the adversary who seeks to destroy us.
Lord, grant that we may be grateful for the blessings we enjoy as a nation. Help us in our weakness, turning our hearts toward you and away from selfish desires that offend you. Lead us on the high road that leads to life. Help us to live generously and to show your mercy so that we may receive mercy ourselves, removing barriers that keep us from the path of peace. Thanks be to God.
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