Ez 2:2-5, 2:23-24; Psalm 123; 2 Cor 12:7,-10; Mk 6:1-6

When a was a young priest ministering for a small parish in the countryside, I used to have coffee after Mass with a kind teacher, Mrs. Maria Casadei. Once she told me that, as the only English teacher in the local small rural school, she had the mixed pleasure of teaching her own three sons. She said that they begged her not to call on them in class, use them as examples, or tell any family stories—to which she agreed. On the first day of class – she said – they each would choose a seat in the far corner and even refused to make eye contact. But making it to the high school English class was a rite of passage for the rest of the students, who were eager to participate in Mrs. Casadei’s class. Her sons were confused by that, and one day her oldest asked her: “Mom, do they know who you are?” She told me that she was sure her son was referring to the fact that she was “just” a mother. To which she responded: “And you? Do you know who I am?” Familiarity can blind people’s eyes. And so it was with the people that watched Jesus grow up; the people in his neighborhood—as we have just heard in today’s Gospel. They were astonished and took offense at him. Why? Because they were too familiar with Jesus—they were used to him and his presence around them for years, so they were not able to recognize his true identity, his power, and his grace. For that very reason Jesus could not perform any miracles there. They were no longer able to be amazed by God! This is what happens even today when people stop praying, searching for truth, looking for the Mystery, as if Jesus were just a good man, a moral or social example or even a message to follow and nothing other than that. Please, do not get used to Jesus Christ—the Son of God.

Today is the Fourth of July—Independence Day. The second sentence of the Declaration of Independence says: “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.” 245 years later Americans still enjoy the freedom that the Declaration of Independence called forth for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. And you know what? This is amazing. This is my kind of place. I am so happy that God called me to live in America. I mean, the US, California, Orange County and especially as your pastor. There are a lot of less comfortable places in this world where there is little or no freedom at all. Places where life, liberty and pursuit of happiness are a “pipe dream”. For some on this planet the biggest goal is to have life and there is little hope for much else. Let us think for a while about the challenges our friends Sharaz and Romella must face every day, for example. That is why Americans are called to rejoice and celebrate today. But also to remember that the freedom they received was not for granted. Americans shall be still amazed by the gift of freedom. Please, do not get used to freedom—the distinctive of America!

So, what is the appropriate way to celebrate Independence Day, especially as Christians? By rejoicing with family and friends, of course. But also celebrating the independence of “one nation” by staying “under God.” As Christians we are called to continually be amazed that when we are free in Christ no one can enslave us any longer. Because nothing can rule over our souls. Nobody can jail our spirit. You know, no one can be sure that America is more or less loved or blessed by God than any other country. But I personally feel that Americans, as a nation, have been especially blessed by God. In the Bible, when Israel stayed under God, then God stayed over them. America was founded “under God” and I believe God has blessed Americans for that. So, let us never be too familiar—never get too used to the gift of freedom guaranteed by the sacrifice of so many great American patriots, and persevere so that all might enjoy the blessings of life, liberty and the pursuit happiness. And let us never be too familiar—never get too used to the spiritual freedom guaranteed by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, and keep growing in our faith and common commitment to each other with “a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence,” as the Declaration of Independence says at its end. Because, when we think about it, although 245 years seems like a long time ago, the United States of America and the Saving Grace of Jesus Christ are like two ingredients combined in a very unique experiment. (Of course, we are in the middle of it so it’s hard to see it objectively). But what the Founders created with the great Declaration presented to the world for the very first time the model to freely grow the Kingdom of God without threat or limit. We, not only Americans, but everyone in the world, are the recipients of the vision cast by this great model of individual political and spiritual freedom.

Today, my dear brothers and sisters, be amazed and grateful to be Christians, to be free, and to be one nation under God, in the Kingdom of God. For this is the spiritual promise of the Declaration of Independence.

God bless you, and God bless the United States of America

Fr. Gianni Passarella