Last week we celebrated the Birth of John the Baptist and we heard his call to repentance. We saw that far from involving negative thinking repentance is one of the most positive things a person can do: humbly acknowledge mistakes, seek forgiveness and help to get back on right course.
The power of repentance applies to us as individuals and as a society. Back in the 19th century a Frenchman named De Toqueville observed, "The greatness of America lies not in being more enlightened than any other nation, but rather in her ability to repair her faults."
As a nation we can learn from past mistakes - and we made a lot of them. At the same time we can recognize the good inheritance we have received. This 4th of July we remember the declaration that all men - all humans - are created equal and that our creator has endowed us with inalienable rights - life, liberty and pursuit of happiness.
When our founders spoke about pursuit of happiness they weren't referring to delicious meals or luxury vacations. Nothing wrong with those pleasures, but the founders meant something deeper: What St. Paul says today, "you excel in every respect..." Pursuit of happiness means to strive for excellence, to realize one's full potential. This idea of happiness goes back to the ancient Greeks as well as Christian writers like St. Paul or St. Augustine.
Pursuing excellence is not about outshining others. It does not mean getting people to see how smart I am, how much money I make or what a great car I have. No, St. Paul makes it clear that we pursue excellence so we can do what he calls the "gracious act" - like Jesus who made himself poor to help us. We follow Jesus' example; we pursue excellence in order to care for others.
Paul tells us to bear one another's burdens. (Gal 6:2) As we saw a couple weeks ago, people are living in a world of hurt. We have the opioid epidemic and other crippling addictions. In our abundant society we have people - including members of our families - living under bridges. We see the increase of suicide and the devastation it brings to families. And of course the plague of porn that engulfs children, the young and the not-so-young.
There's no easy solution. The response to this suffering involves what St. Paul talks about today: faith, discourse, knowledge and earnestness. Faith - we walk by faith therefore we have hope. Discourse and knowledge - we want the right words when we encounter a hurting person. Earnestness means diligence - not giving in to discouragement.
So says Paul, excel in every respect: faith, words and diligence. How am I going to remember this? Faith, words, diligence - f,w,d: That stands for front wheel drive, also the abbreviation for forward. So, pray: dear God, help me move forward, to excel in faith, words and diligence.
I hope we can move forward together. Today I begin my 10th year as your pastor. (wait for applause) These have been good years for me and we have been through a lot together. I can honestly say these have been the happiest years of my life. And we were blessed by Sister Barbara and Fr. Valencia. Even in their deaths we can take something to help us move forward.
On August 19 we dedicate a memorial to Sister Barbara. Regarding Fr. Valencia our Knights of Columbus purchased a lovely Dogwood tree that we dedicated on the anniversary of his death. We chose the Dogwood tree for its beautiful blossoms, but then discovered the legend that connects the Dogwood tree to Jesus' passion. I won't give the whole story but recently we saw it flower in the form of a cross with a tiny crown of thorns in the center. The flower begins perfectly white then red spots appear that resemble drops of blood. I took pictures of it that you can see in the bulletin.
The cross is most appropriate for Father Valencia. For him and for the Aymara people, their devotion is the cross: they embrace the cross, they carry the cross and they dance before the cross. Fr. Valencia took his own suffering to the cross. Because of that he could radiate wonderful joy. May his example help us move forward.
To excel in all things means to embrace the cross. Our Founders envisioned a Republic of Virtue where people would use their freedom not for self-indulgence but for excellence. Remember, pursuit of happiness means pursuit of excellence - not to take care of number one, but to care for others. So excel in all things: in faith, in word and in diligence to care for that hurting person. St. Paul underscores this by taking up a collection for the poor in Jerusalem. It's a matter of equality, he says. We'll hear more about equality in coming weeks. Today we ask God to help us excel in every respect faith, words and diligence - to move forward with gratitude for Jesus. Amen.