July 4: Independence Day—USA

Optional Memorial; Liturgical Color: White


   <<<      “…nobis donet en patria.”      >>>

Father hunger—the primordial longing to impress, to emulate, or just to find dad—moves us more fundamentally than any thirst for mom. Mom’s warm love and constant presence is typically assumed. She is always near. We spend the first nine months of life sheltered inside her sanctuary, a memory of closeness and protection buried deep in our psyche. But dad comes later, a remote creature orbiting around mother and child with a deep voice, sandpaper face, and rugged hands. Knowing him, and loving him, takes some work, and for that reason seems more worth it. The desire for a pater, a father, goes hand in hand with our need for a patria, or fatherland. To be a citizen of the world is not to be a citizen at all. The world is not a country. We don’t want to be born at sea, drifting under a flag, any more than we want to be born into family. We want to be born into a family. We want to master one language, stir upon hearing one hymn, and stand with our civic siblings to honor one flag. We want, and need, to love a patria. Independence Day of the United States of America commemorates the founding events of a country as worthy of admiration and appreciation as any country ever was. The United States merits respect for a thousand compelling reasons, but honoring her also points to the inherent limits of even the healthiest love of fatherland.

There are only a few things a man will die for: family, religion, and country being the most obvious. To emigrate to the United States many immigrants have, for centuries now, disrupted family life, bid farewell to well-loved homelands, abandoned historic family farms, and been absent from spouses and children for months and years. Why? Because it was worth it! A country worth dying for is a country worth dying to get into. No country has ever afforded its citizens what America has afforded them. Its success is unequalled. And yet, for all of its flourishing opportunity, robust legal structures, and protection of human rights, the patria of the U.S. is not, and no patria could ever be, Heaven itself. A country provides meaning, but not ultimate meaning.

When Americans die they will not be judged by Uncle Sam. An old man with a long white beard wearing a star-spangled waistcoat will not stand before the individual soul. Uncle Sam won’t judge anyone because Uncle Sam doesn’t exist. He is as real as the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, or Lady Liberty. The Statue of Liberty consists of a rigid iron frame draped in thin copper. That’s it. “She” rusts. Meaningful secular holidays invite reflection upon what kind of truth perdures and upon the difference between two close cousins, faith and patriotism. Jesus Christ is not like Uncle Sam. He is not an anthropomorphism, a depiction in human form of a non-human reality. We have statues and paintings of Jesus Christ for the same reason we have statues and paintings of George Washington—because the camera hadn’t been invented yet. If there had been cameras in first-century Palestine, Jesus’ face would be as correctly shown as Abraham Lincoln’s.

Our crucifixes don’t symbolize God. They show God. Jesus is not a metaphor. He is not the human representation of ethereal God-like qualities. Jesus thundered with the authority of God, referred to Himself as God, and performed Godly acts, including the ultimate miracle of raising Himself from the dead. Jesus doesn’t represent something else, or someone else, that hides behind a curtain or a mask. Our love of God, then, should run deeper than our love of country because God will, by definition, never end. Mighty Rome ended. Weeds grew, and still grow, in the bustling forum where Julius Caesar was knifed in the back. America’s raw military power, global cultural reach, and thumping economy will not last forever. Countries rise and countries fall, but God and His Church will endure.

Geological time uses immense spans of millennia, ages, and eons to capture the reality of glacial movement, tectonic shifts, and continental splitting. We should use similar references of time when describing the vastness of God. A two-thousand-year-old Church is ancient of days in man-time. But in God-time the Church is just a babe rocking in a cradle. Geologically we would understand this. Theologically we should as well. The United States will pass into history in one blink of God’s eyelashes. So we should love more what deserves more love. We should love less what deserves less love. And we should live more fully only for a deathless God who grants endless life in a true homeland that will never cease.

God the Father, may our hearts bear a deep love for our earthly fatherland as an extension of our love for You, our Father in Heaven. May our one heart burst with love for all those that deserve our love, most especially our family, our nation, and our Church. Amen.

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