This month our country celebrates 245 years of liberty and justice for all. We proudly proclaim our sincere dedication to these two values, liberty and justice, whenever we pledge our allegiance to the American flag, which symbolizes our democratic republic. From our foundation in 1776 we decided that we would not only maintain our unique diversity as separate states but also come together as one nation, under God, with a firm determination that we would never be divided at any moment or by any adversary, foreign or domestic.
As we reflect on these ideals we cannot help but recall the occasions when we, as individuals and as a society, have fallen short of such standards by permitting various forms of captivity and condoning blatantly unjust practices. For these trespasses, we ask forgiveness from God and pardon from those who suffered.
Pope Francis proclaimed this year in honor of St. Joseph. How can a silent, humble carpenter who lived in a very different culture during a very different era be a model of the virtues of liberty and justice today?
Liberty Through Obedience
At face value, the concept of obedience may appear to be in direct opposition to liberty. The notion of following directives from others, even legitimate authorities, could be seen as impinging upon our own prerogatives. This is not true. On the contrary, St. Joseph’s obedience to the will of God provided the grace, strength and liberty he needed to be a steadfast guardian for the Holy Family. If Joseph had turned a deaf ear to God’s messengers he would never have had the faith, confidence and freedom to seek shelter in a Bethlehem stable, or relocate to Egypt to flee from a murderous tyrant, or accept the confusing reply of his 12-year-old foster child who claimed He needed to be teaching in His Heavenly Father’s house (Luke 2:49). How often do we perceive obedience to God’s will as an infringement upon personal choice? The truth is that obedience to God’s law liberates us from sin just as obedience to domestic law liberates us from anarchy.
Justice Through Love
Fair is fair. In justice, the instant he discovered that his fiancée was pregnant, which rendered her an untrustworthy mate and a serious threat to the community, Joseph had every right to break off their engagement and have nothing else to do with Mary. Moreover, under the law in those biblical times, he would have been acting justly if he had her and her unborn child publicly condemned to death. He did not have them stoned. Rather, he took her under his roof, and protected, supported and sacrificed himself for her and Jesus for many years. In doing so, Joseph relinquished the old law of justice through retaliation and adopted a new law of justice through love, plus he did this some decades before Jesus began preaching about it! “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth…’ But I say to you, love your enemies” (Matthew 5:38, 44). How closely do we mirror Jesus’ words and Joseph’s actions these days? When people hurt us, do we seek civil revenge or do we display Christian love and reconcile with our neighbor instead?
Holy Homework: Sometime during the month of July, preferably on the fourth, let’s slowly, thoughtfully, prayerfully recite the Pledge of Allegiance, asking God, through the intercession of St. Joseph, to bless these United States with liberty (through obedience) and justice (through love) for all.
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