Every 4th of July, parades are held, barbeques are lit, bunting is strewn, and our nation takes a day to celebrate its birthday – the anniversary of the signing of a document that established our core principle that “all men are created equal.” But in addition to the celebration and the pageantry, Independence Day should also serve as an opportunity to reflect on our heritage and what the promise of America means in today’s world.
One of the most common songs we hear this time of year is Katharine Lee Bates’ America the Beautiful. Almost all of us know the first verse by heart – amber waves of grain, purple mountain majesties, from sea to shining sea. But we don’t often sing the second verse, which is a pity, as its imagery of pilgrims yearning for a brighter future speaks quite clearly to contemporary topics:
O beautiful for pilgrim feet
Whose stern impassioned stress
A thoroughfare of freedom beat
Across the wilderness!
A thoroughfare of freedom, beckoning the weary traveler towards a life of opportunity. On our southern border, this is just not a poetic image, but a reality, as thousands of minors, often in their teens or younger, are seeking to tread their own long and difficult path to a future of safety, opportunity, and prosperity. Leaving behind homelands often beset by disaster and violence, these children are hoping that America the Beautiful will one day become a beautiful home to them.
Across the country, Catholic Charities agencies are doing their best to respond to this developing humanitarian crisis. These children, many of them elementary-school aged or younger, are exhausted and alone, in desperate need of food, shelter, and most especially, a caring embrace. No matter what their legal status, leaving a seven-year-old in the desert to fend for herself would be inhumane. As beneficiaries of this great land of opportunity, we cannot turn our back on these children in their hour of greatest need.
This Independence Day, we’ll come together as friends and neighbors to celebrate our nation’s 238th birthday with hot dogs, fireworks, and apple pie, as well we should. But let us also take a moment to reflect on our nation’s founding promise and that beautiful image of a thoroughfare of freedom across the wilderness, beckoning the tired, the poor, and those yearning to breathe free to a future where they can achieve their full God-given potential.