Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!
These are the words from a poem by Emma Lazarus which is inscribed on the pedestal of the famous national symbol, the Statue of Liberty.
They very much echo a sentiment of Christ’s words in our Gospel for this weekend. “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.”
This nation was founded on such ideals of being a place of rest and freedom from oppression, injustice, and tyranny. And many an immigrant have found this country to be such a place, leaving behind the trials and difficulties of their homeland to find a better life here.
But, unfortunately, this has not been that for ALL people who have come to this country…it is an ideal that we over the centuries have struggled and continue to struggle to live into.
And while progress has been made: slavery abolished, the civil rights movement, etc…it’s a slow painful process, we’re still not there yet. There are unfortunately many systemic injustices that carry over into our day. While many of us (and I hope ALL of us), are not personally racist, generations of systematically enslaving a people, and then systematically treating them as second-class citizens, still has lingering effects, if often unintentional.
This is a very real example of the Biblical sense of generational sin, of sin and iniquity carrying on to “third and fourth generation” (Exodus 20:5; Numbers 14:18). The Bible isn’t saying that God is unjust punishing people for crimes that are not their own BUT RATHER, it speaks insightfully into the nature of sin, that sin always hurt more than just ourselves and sometimes we deal with the fallout of peoples’ sins even for generations to come. (i.e. systematic racism OR i.e. the cycle of abuse, that abusers were often themselves abused at one point).
So what must we do as Christians? We are called to share in Christ’s work of reparation for sin first and foremost through prayer and penance. By praying intentionally for healing (offering one’s rosary, prayer at Mass, or special personal time of prayer for that specific intention) and even offering penitential practices (i.e. fasting, or offering some other small discomfort/sacrifices as prayerful union with Christ’s saving work on the Cross).
But besides prayer and penance, we are called to be “salt of the earth and light of the world” to be “leaven” or “yeast” for society. To be and active force of good to influence, to push, to guide, to fight for these ideals, for our country to become what God intends it to be: not a place of systematic injustice, oppression, racism, but truly a place of “liberty and justice for ALL.” Where we defend and fight for the protection and respect of EVERY human person, from conception to natural death and everything in between regardless of race, ethnicity, nationality, etc.
This Fourth of July, during these strange times of uncertainty, of global pandemic, of disturbing footage of police brutality seemingly driven by racial biases, of peaceful protests, of angry riots…
…may we as Christians pray in a particular way for continual healing, for moving forward as a country. And perhaps we may not just sing but PRAY the words of some of our patriotic songs…
America, America, God shed His grace on thee…
America, America, God shed they every flaw…
…Till all success be nobleness, And every gain divine.
God bless America, land that I love
Stand beside her and guide her
Through the night with the light from above.