This weekend we celebrate the 238th anniversary of our independence as a nation. It is an opportunity to thank God for all of the blessings we have received as citizens of the United States as well as members of the Body of Christ.
This week’s readings remind us of whom we should keep as our model. The first reading from Zechariah echoes what we hear during the Advent season when we anticipate the birth Christ. We look for a savior who is meek and comes to proclaim peace to the nations. Our responsorial psalm calls us to praise God’s name forever. The reading from Romans reminds us that God’s Spirit dwells in us. Therefore, we need to live spirit-filled lives. The Gospel reading from Matthew is often read at funerals. Jesus invites us to come to him when we are burdened with life and he will give us rest.
As we celebrate our freedom, the Gospel reminded me of the poem, “The New Colossus,” by Emma Lazarus which is on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty. It reads:
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame, with conquering limbs astride from land to land; here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand a mighty woman with a torch, whose flame is the imprisoned lightening, and her name Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command the air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame. “Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she with silent lips. “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!”
I don’t know if Ms. Lazarus had Matthew’s Gospel in mind when she wrote this poem, but it is quite a juxtaposition when reading the two passages alongside one another. On the one hand, Jesus wants us to place all of our burdens on him, yet as Christians we are invited to lead others to Christ and also to be Christ for those who are burdened. On the other hand, Lazarus’ poem reminds us that we need to be people who welcome those who are downtrodden and become a beacon of hope. In addition, we need to show others the way to salvation and a better way of life.
Whether we are citizens of the United States or members of the Body of Christ (and as Catholic Christians living in America, we are both), the mission is the same: We invite those who are burdened to experience the grace of hope and salvation.
As you celebrate the Fourth of July holiday this weekend, take time to thank God for the many gifts and blessings you’ve received. Pray for those who have sacrificed in order that you may enjoy your freedoms. Especially pray for those who have given the ultimate sacrifice and died in the service of our country. May God bless the United States of America.