On Independence Day Americans remember our founding as a nation when the Declaration of Independence was approved by the Second Continental Congress on July 4, 1776. Traditionally this day is marked by celebrations of national unity and remembrance of those who have served in the armed forces to preserve our freedoms—especially those who have died in the service of our country.
Over the past several months both our country and nations around the world have been enduring a long experience of isolation, loss, and restrictions on our freedom. Everyone wants to see the end of the pandemic that has so shaken our way of life; we want to be free from all those things that have pre-occupied us so we can enjoy our independence again.
Many observers have noted that we have come to understand better what is truly important in life through the trial of the COVID-19 crisis. Knowing what is important in life is especially close to the heart of people of religious faith, who in modern society are often seen as out of step on account of valuing things which the broader culture eschews, and turning away from things which the broader culture values.
Catholics in particular have found that the experience of not being able to take part in the sacramental life of the Church gives us a new appreciation for these signs and rituals that allow us to be touched by the grace of God and that form such a strong part of our heritage of faith. At the same time we are saddened as we see some of our fellow believers drift away as the result of the hiatus of communal worship due to COVID-19.
Maybe we can draw some good from the evil that COVID-19 has visited upon us by consciously embracing the faith that helped lead us through the crisis, extending our gratitude to the people and families and communities which provided us with help when we were in need, and cultivating the virtues that inspired us to assist others along the way. We value these people and communities because of our Christian understanding of each person as being made in the image of God (Gen 1:26-27) and having an innate dignity as a human being, born or unborn, young or old, healthy or disabled.
Seeing once again what is truly important in life should also direct our attention to those realities which transcend particular eras and places and have an abiding significance, the things which fulfill our human desire for wholeness and peace. This is where the COVID-19 pandemic might move us to reflect on the place God holds in our lives, and the manner in which our faith in God sustained us, even if we did not recognize it at the time, through our isolation and lack of freedom.
As Catholics we believe in an incarnate God; that is, we believe that in Jesus Christ God truly became human in all things but sin. This means that we worship a God who understands the mystery of human suffering and endured it in Jesus Christ—so that we might be free of it through our sharing in his resurrection.
In today’s Gospel we hear our Lord tell his followers: “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matt 11:28). This Independence Day may we honor the memory of those who went before us and won our freedom at great cost. May we also profit from the lessons of the recent months, remembering that all that is burdensome in this life has already been borne by Jesus, and all that is truly important has been redeemed by him for our sake. To him let us turn, and find rest from our worries and our labors.
Father Edward Mazich, O.S.B.