By Fr. Glenn Jones
A happy La Fête Nationale for all you French folk out there, or “Bastille Day” for we non-French speakers. Americans have camaraderie with you in having our independence day so near your own, as we benefited the early assistance of the likes of the Marquis de Lafayette in our own struggle for independence. Viva la France! … y’all. Let Le Marseillaise ring all around.
In recalling these days of independence, one cannot help but admire that dogged determination and self-sacrifice offered by those who were in the midst of those landmark historical times and events. A difficult way they traveled as they set a course through uncharted waters, and had they been dissuaded by initial struggles, we might not have these celebrations to this day. What a different world we might be living in today. Who would have thought that a motley crew of farmers and tradesmen could prevail over the mightiest empire of the day?
Such unexpected results came to mind in reading the texts for the Mass Saturday—the story of Joseph and his brothers in Egypt near the end of the book of Genesis. You may recall that out of envy, Joseph had been sold into slavery by his brothers, but by divinely-influenced turns of events, Joseph eventually came to great power and authority in Egypt. Years later when his brothers come under his authority, they fear for their lives lest Joseph vindictive. But, in beautifully poignant assurance, Joseph simply says: “Have no fear. Can I take the place of God? Even though you meant harm to me, God meant it for good, to achieve his present end, the survival of many people.” (Genesis 50:20)
What a wonderful foreshadowing Joseph gives of the forgiveness that Jesus would teach centuries later: “Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you…” (Luke 6:37-38) and “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ [sounds like our world today, doesn’t it?] But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven…?” (Matthew 5:43-45)
But secondly, and more to our beginning theme: We never know how events will turn out over time. For instance, who would have thought that Nelson Mandela—imprisoned for decades—would become President of South Africa. We’ve all heard rags-to-riches stories such as Bill Gates and Michael Dell beginning their huge tech empires out of garage workshops, Abraham Lincoln the rail splitter becoming one of our greatest presidents, and no small number of popes beginning life in poverty. They came to their positions only through dogged determination.
We tend to easily get discouraged or to despair when things don’t go how we’d like, or the way that we expect or plan. Yet everyone endures hardships and trials to one degree or another in their lives; in fact, such things are what can make us even stronger. Our lives are a bit like the stock market: there are swings both to the good and to the bad, but the successful person learns from hardship and continues to work (and pray) for a trending “bull (good) market” over their lifetimes—hopefully to our greater spiritual and happiness profit.
When we’re down, we Catholics read the lives of the saints, for in those accounts is much long-suffering and difficulty, yet dogged determination especially in those times of sorrow and woe. The saints knew that whatever their trials and struggles on earth, their true reward was not from temporal success or failure, but by fidelity to Christ … remembering St. Paul: “…we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” (Romans 8:16-18)
How similar St. Paul’s declaration to that which must have been filled in the minds of those who struggled for independence in America and France over two centuries ago—to struggle for a greater good. So … if THEY fought so determinedly for an earthly treasure, so to speak, would not the wise endure through all struggles to obtain the Heavenly treasure? The early American colonists and French fought against perceived tyranny to have freedom; we Christians struggle to obtain something infinitely better, as St. John tells us … a “…new Jerusalem…[where] the dwelling of God is with men. He will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself will be with them; He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:2-4)
The early leaders of the American colonies declared in the Declaration of Independence: “…with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.” Not upon an easy road were they setting out upon; they knew that untold struggles awaited. But they accepted the challenge nonetheless, determined to work for a greater good. May WE also have such fortitude to work for a greater good … despite hardships, despite sadness, despite disappointments … always seeking the welfare and benefit of all.
“Do nothing from selfishness or conceit, but in humility count others better than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:3-4)
Rev. Glenn Jones is the Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe and former pastor of Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church in Los Alamos.