“Perhaps we chose to come to this country, or it was our parents or grandparents, or even further back that family came here with hopes and dreams and determination. For others among us, being here is directly related to forbearers being brought here as slaves. For many of us there are a variety of situations and circumstances that have led us to where we are today. The best way we can acknowledge the freedoms that we enjoy is to work to assure that they will not be eroded for the generations that follow us. We also must be vigilant that these freedoms do not encroach upon the freedom of others. Without justice there is no freedom. Even as we give thanks for what we have, we realize we are part of a larger world where in many places there are people longing for the same freedoms that are ours. May we pray and work for the freedoms that recognize the dignity of all our sisters and brothers.” -Father Grassi, St. Gertrude’s Church (emphasis added)
I felt so grateful for Father Grassi’s words this Sunday, the 4th of July. It has been interesting experiencing the approach of this holiday surrounded by this beloved assortment of activists and anarchists who view it with such antipathy. Interesting, and at times frustrating. Ambivalence, I can understand. How can one take an honest look at all the blood that has been shed, and all the injustices committed in the name of the Nation, for the sake of “Freedom” and not feel the need for repentance and critique as well as thanksgiving and celebration? Yet, we are a people of great privilege. That word too though is one that, amongst those of us who desire to remove from ourselves the mantel of power, can be seen only in a negative light. We are people of privileges that ought to be acknowledged and celebrated because they are privileges that we would desire for all people. If we ignore these unmerited gifts, there is the risk that we may begin to think that we’ve earned them, that we deserve them and that those who don’t have them must not have earned them, must not deserve them. There is the risk that if we ignore them, we will obliviously swallow them in excess. Neither enjoying them nor sharing them, all while others are deprived, waiting, working, struggling.
Mass ended with “America the Beautiful” as our closing hymn. I felt the influence of the afore mentioned ambivalence creeping in as it was announced. “Really?” I thought, “this is what we want to end with?” While singing, I realized I’d never learned any lyrics beyond the first verse. Here is the second, for those who might be in the same boat as I:
O beautiful for pilgrim feet
Whose stern impassioned stress
A thoroughfare of freedom beat
Across the wilderness!
God mend thine every flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self-control,
Thy liberty in law!
Singing the first few lines I thought about how little most of with the legal label of “citizen” can relate to the struggle indicated here. How many of us bear the blisters and burns and calluses of “pilgrim feet?” How many are familiar with the wilderness? My mind immediately recalled images of the desert, that sun-scorched scape that blurs the boundaries between the United States and Mexico. I thought about the pilgrims I met there. I thought about the “stern impassioned stress” that drove them from their homes and families; that burdened them along their treacherous trek; and that enveloped them as they were branded “illegal,” put in cages, processed through courtrooms, shipped away to unfamiliar cities full of unfamiliar people and promptly forgotten by those who can cross borders with barely the flick of a passport because of where they were born.
I feel fortunate to amongst those born here. But that fortune weighs heavy. My mom has often said, “From those to whom much has been given, much is expected.” I’ve long felt the truth of this as an individual. I feel it now also as a resident of the United States.
“America! America (incidentally, when we use this word, do we forget that we are only North America? There are South and Central nations that share our name!)! God mend thine every flaw; confirm the soul in self-control, thy liberty in law.