Celebrating the 4th of July, Independence Day!
When I grew up, there was a real and serious devotion to the week of the 4th of July. My neighborhood had a street gathering every night. Everyone shared fireworks (mostly firecrackers and sparklers) and we played Sousa marches on the record player every day. We would watch special programs on T.V. - special because the channels would air them every night, and special because they were re-enactments of events that brought us to this week. Around the dinner table, my Dad told us stories about famous people who came here from other places and how they--and we--were blessed by that possibility. On the evening of the 4th, we all headed to the Mall with blankets and coolers to watch the bombs bursting in air high above the Lincoln Memorial. Thanks to my family and my community, I have a patriotic streak a mile wide and a deep reverence and appreciation for all that has made this nation great.
How distressing are our current times! In discussing the holiday with my daughter, I was told that many people she knows are boycotting the 4th of July because “we aren’t great, or even good.” She said that because of the race conflicts, political upheavals, and the general division between people, they don’t want to celebrate our country anymore. I get it. How ashamed I felt - I feel - that I have done a poor job of teaching and witnessing to the truth of the greatness of our country. I told her I agreed with her, that I also feel the strain of our times and the hate, discord, political corruption, division on so many levels. But I l also told her of a greater truth worth celebrating.
It is Freedom we are celebrating. Not the chaotic every-man-for-himself freedom some believe is the guarantee of our Declaration of Independence, but the responsible Freedom dreamt of by our Framers which could lead the world and provide for a new day. The same Freedom that allows each person to behave badly is the Freedom that encourages us to live nobly. It is Freedom that makes possible a sweet land of liberty of which we sing. It is Freedom that raises a flag, that cries out to every mind and heart to believe that integrity will guard the threshold of industry and opportunity. And it is Freedom that keeps safe the hopes and dreams of every person and blows the spark of Liberty into the Torch Light of Freedom.
I told my daughter that we have failed. We have dimmed, or allowed the Torch Light of Freedom to be dimmed and traded Liberty and Justice for All, for a self-serving and ultimately self-defeating false security. We have picked and sliced the gift of freedom apart and claimed the pieces for ourselves that best serve us individually. Suffering in self-righteousness, we falsely proclaim ownership of Freedom and deny those same principles to others as if they are ours alone. We have tried to weaponize Freedom itself, and twist Liberty and Justice into a bauble for our key rings.
Yes, I told her, we have failed, and sadly this is not a surprise. In fact, it is the norm. There is no mistaking the dream of the Framers, their vision of the true power of Freedom. There is a good reason they tried so hard and fought so long for the scraps of paper we know as the Declaration of Independence, The Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. They came from a world where true Freedom was myth, where tyranny and corruption were the norm, and where Liberty and Justice were bought and sold like wheat. They came here with the dream of a better world and of a system that raised everyone up and left no one behind. They failed as well.
Things imperishable will always be housed in perishable vessels.
Freedom was a core value of the framers because it is the gift of God. They were well acquainted with fighting the good fight along with St. Paul and of struggling, as we all do, with the base nature of our humanity. Their effort to provide a foundation was an effort to give everyone who followed them the best chance possible to rise above that nature and embrace the vision of what Freedom truly means. This is their gift; this is our celebration.
Those who don’t want to celebrate the 4th of July this year should be the ones holding the Flag the highest! They may be the ones who understand our failure and who are empowered by the possibility of our success. The Stars and Stripes represent Resurrection, from acceptance to triumph, from complacency to action, from fear to assurance. The night was dark, the winds blew cold, hope was lost. But the light—that sky-shattering light showed that our Flag was still there!
Our Flag and the Freedom it stands for is still here! If we celebrate true Freedom every day, if we hold on to Liberty and Justice for ALL, if we risk our false security and embrace that we are One Nation Under God, that all people are created equal, and that life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness is something that we guard for each other, then we will fulfill the dream.
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Father Bill Burk†