In our Gospel today we hear those very well-known and beautiful words of Jesus: “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest”. On the base of the Statue of Liberty we read the words: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses…” In other words, our beautiful Lady in the Harbor is but echoing the message we hear on the lips of Jesus: “Come to me”
As we celebrate the birth of our nation this year, it is good for us to remember that the Lady in the Harbor doesn’t make any distinction between those who have come to this country voluntarily or brought here in chains. The Lady in the Harbor is color blind.
At this moment in our nation’s history it is good for us reflect on the Lady in the Harbor’s invitation to come in the light of Jesus’ words: “Come to me” We hear Jesus not only invite us to come but also to learn from Him who is meek and humble of heart.
Our celebration yesterday reminds us of how rich we are, not merely in material possessions but much more importantly in the freedom we enjoy as citizens of this country. We have the greatest freedom since humans first walked this planet. We cherish our freedom even as we lament the license it can and sometimes leads to. We praise those first responders and medical personnel as well as volunteers who have reached out to those most in need. We live in a blessed country, but we must not forget for a moment that it can be destroyed by selfishness and greed. How sad that we have politicized ourselves. Refusing to follow the pandemic guidelines is a sign of selfishness. We all claim to follow the Golden Rule: “Do unto others what you would have them do to you.” Wearing a mask, keeping a good distance between people are ways we have of showing our love for one another. Science is telling us how easy it is to spread this terrible virus. Is the only way we know how to socialize is to be at a bar with a lot of other people where we meet over alcohol? If that is true, we have to ask the Lord to bring us to a new way of looking at reality! If that is true, it is telling us something about ourselves. When we look in the mirror, do we not only see our own reflection but Jesus there as well? He encourages us to live His way, the way of humility and love for one another.
Ours is a country rich in natural resources, rich in its people in all their diversity, rich in the wide-open spaces of land and fertile soil. So, it is good for us amid all this richness to hear Jesus tell us to be like Him, meek and humble of heart. As Pope Francis keeps reminding us, have we treated these rich natural resources with humility? Are we humble enough to listen to what our earth is telling us? Francis keeps telling us that everything is interconnected. The environment problem, the race problem are parts of a greater spiritual problem. As we go through this pandemic, this terrible virus is challenging us to face the deeper problems that we need to have the humility and courage to be able to face. We are being called to conversion of heart.
We pray this morning that as a country we may be humble. After all, what we have has been given to us. We did not make the ground fertile; we did not put all those natural resources under the earth and in the mountains and on our seacoasts. As a country we need to take our place among the nations of the world in humility, respecting other nations and their differences, trying to help other nations rather than dominate, and, yes, even admitting our mistakes, our faults and, dare I say, sins. A great nation has to be a humble nation or else it will fall of its own weight; it will collapse over its own self-importance. We all know the many examples of this written on the pages of history.
A humble nation is a nation that remembers its own history. We are all from someplace else; once we were all exiles and immigrants. This nation, however, made a place for us; in our humility we now have to try and make a place for those new immigrants who continue to come to our shores. They too have heard the voice of the Lady across the waters; they too yearn to share in the richness of the freedom that is ours. Do you remember the film director, Frank Capra? He directed “It’s a Wonderful Life” On his 85th birthday the film industry gave him a special honor. In his acceptance speech he recalled that, when he and his family got off the boat from Italy and finally arrived in Los Angeles, his father knelt down and kissed the ground. Then, Capra said: “I want to do what Poppa did. I kiss the ground of America, because I have had the chance to live here, to work here. I kiss the ground.”
Just before Jesus utters his invitation to come to Him, He prays to the Father in thanksgiving. “I give you Thanks, Father, Lord of heaven and earth” Jesus gives thanks that the Father has revealed the Son to us; Jesus gives thanks that He and the Father are one. In like manner today we give thanks. We do that every time we come to the Eucharist; we give thanks to the Father through His Son in the Holy Spirit. Today our thanks is for our country and nation. How blest we really are! Each day may we turn to God in a prayer of thanks for the gifts that have been given us.
Even though this is a very sad time in our country’s history, we love our country. On the back of our currency the words “In God We Trust” are plainly written. May we trust that God will give us the grace to cherish our freedom even as we lament the license it can and sometimes lead to. We live in a blessed country, but we must not forget for a moment that it can be destroyed by selfishness and greed. Democracy is a fragile reality that can easily be lost unless we all work together to live out the motto: ”E pluribus unum.” So, today, like Frank Capra, we express our thanks. Today, in the spirit of Jesus we say: Thank you, Father, for your gifts. We pray that the Spirit will teach us how to be a nation that is truly humble and thankful. Today we hear again the words of the Lady in Harbor and the words of Jesus: “Come to Me” May God give us the grace to realize what the acceptance of that invitation really means for each of us at this time in our history.