How strange to be in Eternity, in the New Earth which is to come, on the birthday of this temporal country. That’s where you are, in whatever rite in whatever country you attend the Holy Eucharist. If you are at Mass or Divine Liturgy, you are in Heaven and not on earth.
I wondered what things like nations and patriotism look like, in the Place which will still endure after all nations have passed away.
The gospel had the answer. The gospel was the strangest of all.
Jesus then said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”They answered him, “We are descendants of Abraham, and have never been in bondage to any one. How is it that you say, `You will be made free’?” Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, every one who commits sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not continue in the house for ever; the son continues for ever.So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed. I know that you are descendants of Abraham; yet you seek to kill me, because my word finds no place in you. I speak of what I have seen with my Father, and you do what you have heard from your father.”They answered him, “Abraham is our father.” Jesus said to them, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would do what Abraham did, but now you seek to kill me, a man who has told you the truth which I heard from God; this is not what Abraham did. You do what your father did.” They said to him, “We were not born of fornication; we have one Father, even God.” Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I proceeded and came forth from God; I came not of my own accord, but he sent me.”
Glory be to You, O Lord, Glory be to You.
Abraham’s children do the work of Abraham.In the eyes of God, you don’t become a child of Abraham by being born of a certain father or a citizen of a certain country. You become a child of Abraham if you do Abraham’s work. The Jews of Jesus’s time didn’t like this. They were patriotic in the wrong way; they wanted to assert that they were better than other people, because of their ancestry and because they were back living in Israel now, instead of in Babylon or any of the other places to which they had been scattered.
But God refused to see them that way. He saw Abraham, in the ones who believed God and tried to carry out His commands. He saw Abraham in the ones who did what Abraham did. Prostitutes and tax collectors, Centurions and Syrophonecians, got into the kingdom of Heaven before those particular bodily descendants of Abraham, because they repented and did Abraham’s work.
I love my country. I criticize the Ohio Valley often enough; there’s plenty to criticize. But I do realize how privileged I am to be even in this stricken part of this beautiful country instead of somewhere else. I am privileged– I didn’t control where I was born, and I wouldn’t have had much control over whether I could migrate here, if I’d been somebody else. I love the geography of this country; the mountains and beaches I’ve written about, all the places I’d love to travel to if I could afford it. I love most of the people here, and I love the principles on which we were founded.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
What beautiful truths on which to found a country. What a beautiful thing, to be an American.
But God doesn’t see me as special because I was born in the United States, or because my parents were, instead of somewhere else. In the eyes of God, children of Abraham do Abraham’s work. I suppose, to God, Americans do America’s work.
And when has the United States ever been totally faithful to the truths we hold self-evident? About as often as Abraham’s biological children all through the Bible managed to do Abraham’s work, I suppose. That’s not a good track record. For the children of Abraham there were shining examples– Moses most of the time, Joshua, Solomon for about the first half of his reign, Elijah carried to Heaven in a chariot. And then there was everything else. I think, if we’re honest, the United States is about the same.