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God bless America: Reflecting on the Founding Fathers, and on God’s gift of freedom

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The following is the prepared text of Bishop Malooly’s Fourth of July homily at the Cathedral of St. Peter.

 

Today we join with our fellow citizens in celebrating the Fourth of July, that day when our founding fathers declared their independence and their freedom from tyranny. We also join with our fellow Catholics in observing the close of this Fortnight for Freedom, the past two weeks when we have reflected on the great gifts of freedom we enjoy and how we can work to preserve them for the future.

As Catholics we celebrate all this in the context of the Mass—the celebration of Jesus’ death and resurrection that brings us salvation and true freedom. At this Mass, and at every Mass, what Jesus did then happens for us now. He gathers us together, he speaks to us in the Scriptures, he feeds us with his Body and Blood, and he sends us out to share the Good News with others.

Crowd Waving Stars and Stripes FlagsIn our First Reading today, we heard from the prophet Ezekiel. The Lord appointed him as his representative to the people and called Ezekiel to be a watchman. He was to be a witness to the people. What Ezekiel saw and heard from the Lord, he was to share with the people. Sometimes that message was going to be a challenging one. Ezekiel would have to confront those who had wandered off the path and encourage them to return to the ways of justice and peace, to return to the Lord’s friendship.

Now, when the Lord gave Ezekiel this role, it was not just for those who needed to hear that message; it became a responsibility for the prophet. If he did not speak the Lord’s words to the people, the prophet himself would be at fault.

This is true for followers of Christ. We have heard the Good News of freedom that Jesus brings. And that message is entrusted to us to share with a world, a society, and a country in need of hearing that message. It is our responsibility to speak those words that are necessary in the public square so that our world might be a better place and so that we may experience for ourselves the fruits of the freedom Jesus brings.

Rev 10 FFF-2016In our Gospel, Jesus shows us how we are to go about doing that. In the passage we heard from St. John, Jesus appeared to his disciples after his Resurrection, he showed them his hands and his side, he gave them his peace. This Easter gift of Jesus is not something that he gave only once. It is a gift that he holds out to people of every time, and it is a gift that he offers to us today.

In our world that is all-too-often marked by discord and disunity, the peace that Jesus gives is greatly needed. We need to receive Jesus’ gift of peace in our public discourse when some vilify their enemies; we need to receive Jesus’ gift of peace in our society, especially when a gunman’s bullets cause chaos, panic, and the horrific loss of life as we experienced in Orlando just a few short weeks ago. Yes, our world needs peace and Jesus appears to us, his disciples today, to give us that desperately needed peace.

But, he doesn’t just give us his peace to insulate us from the world. After he gave his disciples this gift, he sent them out. Jesus said, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” Jesus himself is the model for all who follow him. We are sent out into the world just as Jesus was sent from heaven to us. Christ became the faithful witness to the Father’s mercy and showed us how much the Lord truly loves each of us. And so, every Christian must follow the example of Jesus in sharing this Good News.

Pope Francis, when he addressed our Congress this past September, said “It is important that today, as in the past, the voice of faith continue to be heard, for it is a voice of fraternity and love, which tries to bring out the best in each person and in each society.” We have to be witnesses. We have to let our voices be heard. In his speech, Pope Francis singled out four exemplary Americans who were witnesses not only to the great legacy of our nation’s past, but also to freedom which God gives.

In this Fortnight for Freedom, we have followed our Holy Father’s example and have looked at those who have gone before us in following the way of Christ. Witnesses to Freedom has been the theme for this year’s Fortnight.

These past 14 days we have been inspired by the example of the great saints and followers of Jesus, from the first centuries of Christianity like St. John the Baptist and Ss. Peter and Paul, to witnesses from our very own day like the 21 Coptic martyrs of Libya from 2015 and the Little Sisters of the Poor. Each in their own way continued to be a watchman for the people of their time. Each drew close to Jesus and was able to share the Good News of his love and the freedom it brings to their society.

Inspired by their witness to us and drawing close to Jesus whom we will receive in Holy Communion again this morning, may each of us be witnesses to freedom, giving voice to our faith and works of service to build up our country into a land where liberty and peace continue to thrive.

God bless America!