America at 234: humility and hope

There are two kinds of people: Those who are humbled, and those who are about to be.

That wisdom shared at the annual Catholic Charities “Light of Hope” dinner earlier this month by Major League Baseball coach Rich Donnelly (see story, page 10) certainly also applies to nations. And it’s something to consider as the United States prepares to celebrate its 234th birthday on July 4.

As mighty as we are militarily and economically, as beautiful as are our land and seas, as abundant our resources, as free and brave and independent and resourceful our people, we as a nation are not above being humbled.

The oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is the latest example. Despite our ability to change the course of world history with our armies, or put a man on the moon with our technology,

we have been powerless for two months to stop a leaky pipe — albeit a mile beneath the sea. And in a disaster of enormous proportions, one of our shining seas is sadly turning into a mucky one.

In a commentary published June 19, Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said the “sense of powerlessness and delay” in resolving the oil spill offers a lesson about the limits of technology. He said he hoped people would draw from the disaster a lesson of prudence and care in the use of the earth’s resources.

“Perhaps we can also draw a lesson in humility,” he said. Father Lombardi warned about what could happen if more complex technological advances get out of hand, such as “those affecting the energy hidden in the heart of matter or moreover in the processes of the formation of life.”

The Fourth of July is a moment of great national pride. We celebrate our freedoms, and honor the sacrifices of all those who through the generations have joined our founders in pledging their “lives, fortunes, and sacred honor” on our country’s behalf. We have achieved great, great things, and our nation stands for high ideals.

But if the fireworks we enjoy this holiday are to be lights of hope, the day must be one of renewal as well as celebration. Renewal of, as our Declaration states, “a firm reliance on the protection of Divine providence” — our founders’ humble acknowledgement of a far greater, lasting power. Renewal of our commitment to be active citizens, not taking our freedoms for granted, lest we lose them. And a renewal of our pledge to safeguard in law and practice everyone’s “unalienable rights” of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

Those are three appropriate birthday gifts to give our beloved country, ones that offer hope that the pie on our national plate will be more often apple than humble. — Thomas J. Dermody

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