Happy Birthday America! Jesus’ Thirst For America!
Deacon Patrick Constantino
My reflection is from the Gospel of Matthew 10:37–42.
Jesus said to his disciples: “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me. Whoever receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and whoever receives a righteous man because he is a righteous man will receive a righteous man’s reward. And whoever gives only a cup of cold water to one of these little ones to drink because the little one is a disciple—amen. I say to you, he will surely not lose his reward.”
The Gospel of the Lord!
Praise to You Lord Jesus Christ!
As we celebrate our nation’s birth, it would be good for us to ponder what American citizenship has meant to many people over the past two hundred years plus, and what it means to many who seek to enter our land today. People, including many of our own ancestors, have gone to extraordinary lengths to make America their home.
What is it about this land that has made it so attractive to the rest of the world? Doubtless many people come here looking for work. They are tired of eking out a subsistence living in their own land. They know this is truly a land of economic opportunity. Most of them come here and work hard and become an asset to their community and to our country. Others live in lands torn with crime or outright oppression by their own government. They come here looking for security.
It’s interesting in a sad way. Few people die in traditional warfare nowadays, that is, war between nations. Most people who die today from violence are killed either in crimes or they are the victims of terrorism or they are victims of violence from their own governments. There are still some very cruel authoritarian governments in many parts of the world. So people come to America as they have for 200-plus years for economic opportunity or to flee crime or persecution in their own countries.
Who can blame either group? Particularly if we have a family, we will go to extraordinary lengths to provide them with a better life. But there is another reason people have risked their very lives to come to this land. And it’s summed up in one word: Freedom, blessed freedom!
That’s what America has stood for more than anything else since its founding two hundred plus years ago. It was founded by a group of individuals who had an amazing vision of a better way of structuring government: of the people, for the people, by the people.
Freedom. What a powerful word. What an amazing idea. Freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of worship, freedom to pursue one’s dream—we dare not take these things for granted. And so on July 4th, we enjoyed picnics and parades and fireworks to celebrate, as gener’ations have before us, the gift of freedom.
For Christians, however, every worship service ought to be a celebration of freedom—for the most important freedom available in this world is the freedom only Christ can bring—freedom from sin and death, freedom from fear and failure, freedom from anger and vindictiveness.
Perhaps we should replace our Call to Worship with fireworks and our organ with a brass band. Why? Because nearly 1800 years before our ancestors fought at Valley Forge, someone else died for our freedom. On the cross of Calvary a man named Jesus of Nazareth gave up his life to free us from every scourge that would crush our spirits and bring us down to sub-human activity.
“You have been set free …”writes St. Paul. Do you know what that means? St. Paul uses the image of slavery. Paul lived in a world where slavery was practiced on a widespread basis. Some people were enslaved because of military conquest. Others were enslaved because they could not pay their debts. But the people he was writing to knew the life of a slave to be a miserable one. Imagine living at the mercy of the whims of a master who, if he chose, could be cruel and vindictive—one who could whip you or banish you or even have you killed. Of course, Paul himself knew what it was to be bound in chains while languishing in prison.
You and I may have difficulty relating to slavery. Probably none of us will ever wear chains around our arms and legs. But there are many people in our land who live as if they are bound with chains. I’m thinking of those who have become addicted to drugs or alcohol or tobacco or pornography or a host of other vices that have preyed on humanity since the dawn of time. A recovering alcoholic will tell you the first step to overcoming an addiction is to acknowledge addiction has taken you prisoner. Addiction can be a terrible master. I may seem to be making light of a serious situation. I don’t mean to be.
It’s important to understand we can be addicted to a great many things. Some addictions can even be beneficial. For example, some people are addicted to exercise, which most of us could use more of. Psychologist William Glasser authored a book several years ago titled Positive Addiction. Glasser notes how some people actually improve their lives through developing what he calls addictions to positive endeavors. For example, he believes a person who jogs one mile a day not only strengthens his heart and his lungs but he increases his self-confidence and imaginative powers as well.
Though he uses language more suited to his time, this is basically what St. Paul is saying. In this passage Paul is saying we can be addicted to sin, which includes everything that would pull us down and keep us from being what God created us to be … or we can be addicted to God who will help us, if we will let Him, increase our sense of well-being bound by chains of love to God. This is to say there is no greater freedom in the world than the freedom that God gives through Jesus Christ.
Whether it is freedom from a debilitating habit or freedom to simply be the very best we can be, there is something about being connected to Christ that allows us to experience a richness to life those without Christ will never experience. That sounds like to me that with all the background and experiences, we have with Christ, we can be all addicted to Christ.
That can happen to a person. Maybe it’s happened to us. Maybe at one time in life we were addicted to one of the many vices in this world that lures people and then traps them. But one day we met Jesus and he took the chains of addiction off and set us free—free to be a new person with a new heart and new spirit. Maybe we were bound by a different kind of addiction. Maybe we were bound by self-righteousness and a condemning spirit. Maybe Christ has freed that spirit in us to love and to be loved.
Whatever our situation, there is one who longs to take off any chains, even if it is simply the chains of a meaningless and self-centered preoccupation with our own needs. He wants to help us make a new start. He wants to be our Friend, our Ally as we seek to live an abundant life, filled to the brim with a joy that surpasses understanding.
Today is the day that can happen. Will we join our life to that of Christ? Then we will be able to say that glorious chant that we first heard from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr: “Free at last. Free at last. Thank God Almighty, (I’m) free at last.”
Let’s thank God for freedom this day, and let’s open our hearts to the One who gives us freedom in this world and the world to come. Jesus, I trust in You! Amen!
Hope you all had a happy Fourth of July!
On July 1, 2022, Patrick Constantino retired as a Deacon for the Roman Catholic Church in Hawai‘i, after serving for thirty-five years and becoming on June 18, 1987, the first Deacon of Filipino ancestry for the Roman Catholic Church in Hawai‘i. For twenty-two years, he served as Administrator at Holy Rosary Church in Pā‘ia, St. Rita Church in Ha‘ikū and St. Gabriel Church in Ke‘anae. His last assignment before retiring was at St. Joseph Church in Makawao.
Prior to his ordination, Constantino was in government—first appointed in 1966 as Assistant Sergeant of Arms by the Speaker of the House Elmer F. Cravalho. When Cravalho became Maui’s first Mayor, Constantino became his Executive Assistant—the first of Filipino ancestry. Later, Constantino became the first County Treasurer of Filipino ancestry and the first County Grants Administrator and Risk Manager of Filipino ancestry.
Constantino is married to his lovely wife Corazon for sixty-one years.