5 Jul 2015
14th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B
It’s kind of a dream, when you think about it; the dream of the perfect city, the perfect nation where everybody’s free, where music fills every breeze; a land where God is the Light that inspires people to live in true wisdom and love. It’s the dream of a place we can call home forever.
Of course, we know of this place from Scripture: the “holy city, the New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven.” A city built on the foundations of fidelity, mutual respect, and love for God and neighbor. And we know about it through our Catholic Tradition, our worship, our values, beliefs and practices. Of course, it’s a vision also written into the hearts and minds of all good people; they don’t necessarily have to be Catholic to see it.
The founders of our country had at least some vision of that perfect nation in mind when they drew up the Declaration of Independence. They laid the foundational principles for a new nation this side of heaven where, as they put it, “with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.” The vision was of a nation bound together under the guidance of God.
And this vision, this dream of a perfect nation motivates people to wage war against that which tries to undermine it. It’s a vision that moves prophets to speak against injustice, terrorism, and tyranny. The Prophet Ezekiel tells us how that motivation happens. He says, “As the Lord spoke to me, the spirit entered into me and set me on my feet.” God puts it into us to dream the vision of this perfect homeland where he himself is the sun that lights the day, where he himself is the peace which binds all people together.
And God says (in so many words): “That’s what I’m trying to build. Dream about that perfect city. See it as I see it. Now, stand on your feet and keep your eyes fixed on that holy city—because I’m going to send you out as a prophet to be an advocate of that perfect nation.” “As the Lord spoke to me, the spirit entered into me and set me on my feet,” not always to wage war, but always to be a prophet—to be a prophet and an advocate of that free and heavenly nation, even as others fight against such a vision.
I imagine Ezekiel was probably feeling both excited and a little anxious. It’s one thing to have the dream put in front of you by God. It’s another to go out and help God bring that perfection nation into reality. And I imagine the founders of our country may have felt something similar. Independence Day was a short-lived celebration as the hard work began to bring the country to birth.
And we can all imagine what that feels like. After all, we’re made to continue Christ’s prophetic ministry in the world. And the prophet is always torn between the vision of what can be and what the reality is.
We hear in the news about an adult abusing a child. Maybe they were hit or burned as a punishment. A little kid scarred for life. And we hear about spousal abuse; we see abuse happen, maybe it’s physical or verbal or psychological. And that should never happen. Just think of all those ads we see on TV and the internet, using sex to sell insurance, or making a man or woman appear stupid to get a point across. Think of human trafficking and the whole pornography industry. It’s all abuse. And it should never happen. But when it does, we see it goes against God’s vision of a just and free society and we feel our prophetic blood boil.
In just the same way, intentional abortion should never happen. It’s a gross violation of human dignity and that inalienable right to life given us by our Creator. A society which opens the door to abortion is a nation that’s not living up to the vision of that perfect civilization, that heavenly city. And we get angry that the massacre of the holy innocents happens again and again in our country. Our prophetic heart is torn in two—we know what should be and what can be, but we see what the reality is.
And there a lot of people with prophetic hearts who come to the Sacrament of Reconciliation. As I sit and hear people’s confessions, it’s becoming more common to hear people say things like: “Father, I’m so upset by the direction our country is taking; it’s tearing me apart. Father, I have to confess that I wouldn’t be sad if ‘bad things’ happened to certain people in our government—I feel terrible, Father, I feel so guilty for thinking those thoughts against charity and goodwill—but I feel them in my heart, Father. I feel torn and I don’t know what to do.”
Just like Ezekiel and all the prophets, we see the values of real life, liberty, and happiness. And we see them being thrown aside in favor of greed, materialism, and superficial pleasure. And we’re torn. We see it happen. We see it happen to others and even to ourselves—and we’re torn. It’s written right there in our Declaration of Independence what we strive for as Americans. And it’s written in our souls by God what we strive for as Catholic Christians—we strive for real life, and liberty and happiness.
And so, what else can our prophetic hearts feel when we see those inalienable human rights and religious freedoms trampled on? What else can we feel when we see the innocent child, the hard-working laborer, the kind and loving people around us belittled because they try to live up to God’s vision of a more perfect society? We feel the astonishment and shock that Jesus feels when he is rejected and his prophetic Heart is ripped open.
As we know, in his travels, Jesus went to his home place. He went to the people he knew, the people he wished the best of all things for—only to find that their passions were for something other than what he had to offer. He preached to them a vision from on high, a beautiful, compelling vision of a heavenly nation. He spoke divine wisdom to them, and he did “mighty deeds” as a little preview of what could be.
He preached to them a message of independence; a message of freedom from slavery to sin and unjust oppression, and the idea of being free to follow God as a friend. Jesus knew the holy city well and that’s the vision he preached: the vision of peace and forgiveness, and the value of working together under the guidance of God for a more just and happy society.
But those people in his hometown wouldn’t hear it; they couldn’t hear it. They couldn’t accept his prophetic vision. They had their own vision of what could and should be. Maybe the prayer that should’ve been on their lips was the psalm from today: “Have pity on us, O Lord, for our souls are all too full with the contempt of the proud.” Yes, they were prideful and put stock in their own vision, not God’s vision.
The words that God spoke to Ezekiel could have easily been said Jesus as well: “Hard of face and obstinate of heart are they to whom I am sending you.” And, as Jesus was sent by the Father, so we are sent by Jesus to be prophets in the world, in our country, in our neighborhoods, in our families. And he sends out with the same words: “Hard of face and obstinate of heart are they to whom I am sending you.”
We preach to others the vision of that holy nation we have received from God. And we can expect some resistance. The founders of our country spoke the prophetic word of “independence.” And King George III wasn’t too happy when he got wind of it. The American colonies had rejected his vision of what society should be like and, instead, tried to implement a more just society built on a heavenly vision.
But we speak the prophetic word anyway. The vision of that truly free nation compels us to get on our feet and continue to build this truly independent and free nation. It’s our blood as Americans to do that. And it’s in our soul as Catholic Christians to do that.
We are, each of us, a prophet of God’s vision for a free and thriving nation—the heavenly Kingdom. We hold the ideals of independence very close to our hearts. And we continue the work of the “founder” of our nation, the original voice for independence in the world: Jesus Christ, who came to proclaim liberty to captives, recovery of sight to the blind, and freedom for the oppressed.
On this Independence Day (weekend), we celebrate an act of Congress; we celebrate an act of defiance against oppression and tyranny. But, more profoundly, we celebrate God’s vision of a more perfect society where, “with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.”
In a free and just society, in the heavenly Kingdom, the phrase: “This is what I want and I don’t care what anybody else thinks” should never be heard. Freedom requires love. Love requires mutual respect. And respect for God and one another builds the nation.
It’s ironic that we celebrate our independence most when remembering our absolute dependence upon God and the charity of our neighbors. The foundation of independence is utter dependence. That’s the vision, the dream of a truly free and holy city built on mutual dependence and love, where the bond of peace is God himself.
It’s a high ideal, for sure. But with God’s guiding wisdom and the pledge that we’re in this divine building project together, that holy and more perfect nation can come about. And it begins here at the foot of God’s altar. We gather as a people who, ideally, respect one another and come together to seek the wisdom and strength of the one God. Right here, in the liturgy, is a picture of what we aim for as Americans and, more fundamentally, as Christians.
We approach the altar of God saying those words of the psalm: “Our eyes are fixed on the Lord, pleading for his mercy.” Our freedom depends on him. Our nation depends on him. And through him we will be free.