by Rev. Stanley J. Krempa
Reprinted by Permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"
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Matthew wrote to show that Christ
Messiah and fulfilled the Jewish prophecies.
"Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it."
"Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me. Whoever receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet's reward, and whoever receives a righteous man because he is righteous will receive a righteous man's reward. And whoever gives only a cup of cold water to one of these little ones to drink because he is a disciple - amen, I say to you, he will surely not lose his reward."
Many years ago, when I was in parochial school, we were taught the patriotic song "Columbia, the Gem of the Ocean." As children, we liked the rhythm, the exultant lyrics and the ease with which it could be sung. We don't hear that song much anymore. I read recently that back in 1930 there was a kind of informal competition between "Columbia" and the "Star Spangled Banner" to become our national anthem. The "Star Spangled Banner" won.
Interestingly, the "Star Spangled Banner," whose wording by Francis Scott Key echoes scenes from the War of 1812, is not only an evocative description of a long forgotten war bet it is also a challenge. As several commentators have noted, the first stanza that we all know and sing ends with a question. "O say, does that star spangled banner yet wave o'er the land of the free and the home of the brave?" It's a question not about the flag but about us. The Fourth of July is a time to look up from what we are to what we are called to be by our Founders. The Fourth of July weekend is a time when politics step aside and we renew the values that made us the "land of the free and the home of the brave." It is very easy for patriotism to become an annual Fourth of July exercise and then be forgotten during the rest of the year.
To maintain a country strong in the rights we were given takes courage, vigilance and active citizenship. It takes effort to be that place where freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom to assemble and freedom of the press are vigorously protected and wisely used. Maintaining our freedoms takes work and vigilance. The rights we have should not isolate us in a personal zone of freedom that ignores others. It is appropriate, therefore, on this Fourth of July weekend that today's reading call us to compassion and care.
America has always seen itself as a country with a mission. We can call it the mission to be the "shining city on a hill" as a beacon of freedom. We can call it a mission to be the last, best hope of mankind. We can call it an experiment whether government of the people, by the people and for the people will remain alive - all this is up to us. Is our mission being accomplished? The values we hold dear are not just rhetoric for Fourth of July celebration. They are made real in parishes and churches all over the land. They are made real at family dinner tables. They are made real in schoolrooms throughout our country.
In this vast land, crisscrossed by many interests and needs, the church remains a community of conscience, holding up not only the beacon of freedom but also the beacon of responsibility. We are a blessed land. That blessing entails an obligation to use our freedoms wisely, to show compassion generously and to serve the Lord faithfully. This is not only how freedom comes alive, but how it stays alive. The flags that fly throughout our country this weekend should be more than expressions of "summer patriotism." They should be symbols of hope to a darkening world.
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