Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Independence Day

Continuing my recovery from knee surgery, I was able to celebrate Mass privately in our house chapel this past Sunday. I was happy to be standing unassisted long enough to do so with sufficient dignity and decorum. But the experience also highlighted how much I missed my parish community and the joy of celebrating Sunday Mass with a congregation. 

Since it was the Sunday before July 4, I also missed singing My Country 'Tis of Thee as the final hymn. Besides being my favorite patriotic hymn, it has the added advantage that, if anyone present is ambivalent about celebrating the American Revolution, he or she has the alternative option of imagining that the other side won the war - with the same song but with different words! 

Of course, there are those who have reservations about ever singing patriotic hymns at Mass. Personally, I agree that hymns should praise God -  in contrast to so many banal late 20th-century liturgical songs in which the congregation primarily praises itself! 

Undoubtedly, an excessive diet of patriotic hymns would rightly saddle one with a certain spiritual indigestion. In moderation, however, on appropriate occasions, they remind us that, however exacting the requirements of our citizenship in the kingdom of God, those demands do not dispense us from the compelling, if limited, loyalties and duties which our earthly existence inherently imposes upon us - to family and to other human communities which are part of the givenness of living in a social world of space and time. 

Thus, in the mid-1960s, the Second Vatican Council warned: “They are mistaken who, knowing that we have here no abiding city but seek one which is to come, think that they may therefore shirk their earthly responsibilities. For they are forgetting that by the faith itself they are more obliged than ever to measure up to these duties, each according to his proper vocation. Nor, on the contrary, are they any less wide of the mark who think that religion consists in acts of worship alone and in the discharge of certain moral obligations, and who imagine they can plunge themselves into earthly affairs in such a way as to imply that these are altogether divorced from the religious life. This split between the faith which many profess and their daily lives deserves to be counted among the more serious errors of our age.”(Gaudium et Spes, 43)

That problematic situation, against which the Council warned, is if anything, even more challenging today than it was in the still at least superficially Christian West of the 1960s. On the one hand, a society increasingly secular in its self-understanding finds it more and more difficult to hold itself morally accountable and to appreciate the Church's role as mater et magistra. On the other, even those who purport to be among the most conscious of the rightful demands religious obligations in relation to political interests have increasingly been among those tempted to subordinate the former to the latter. Since at least the 1980s, a certain sort of religiosity has increasingly privileged the political in its calculations - on of the factors that has contributed to our contemporary religious and political impasse in the US.

As is generally the case with revolutions, only a minority supported American independence in 1776. Probably one-third of the population remained loyal to the Crown, while another third waited it out to see which faction would win. Much of the motivation for the Revolution was the desire of come colonists not to pay taxes - a problem which has sadly persisted throughout our history and corrupted our political culture. The movement for independence was also connected with a desire to be freed from imperial restraints on expansion into Native territories and with a Protestant hostility to Canadian Catholicism.

But no nation or polity is untainted in its origins or perfect in its present. July 4 is a day for hot dogs and fireworks, for affirming what is best about our country, despite its flaws and failures, and for recovering our diminished sense of national purpose and aspiration. 

Our father's God to, Thee,
Author of liberty,
To Thee we sing.
Long may our land be bright
With freedom's holy light;
Protect us by Thy might,
Great God, our King!

No comments:

Post a Comment