All of us are quite familiar with inaugural addresses, especially when presidents of our country take office and begin their elected terms. Some of these addresses are, of course, more memorable than others. Unfortunately much of the content of these inaugural addresses bear little relationship to the actions of these presidents subsequent to their addresses. John F. Kennedy’s memorable inaugural address might be an exception. I have a framed copy of it because it’s such a classic.
Jesus Christ gave an inaugural address shortly after He returned from spending forty days and forty nights in the desert preparing for His public ministry. He returned to His own hometown of Nazareth to begin His public ministry. His inaugural address is what you just heard reported in the Gospel (Lk 1:1-4; 4:14-21) account for the third Sunday in Ordinary Time:
“He came to Nazareth where he had grown up, and went according to his custom into the synagogue on the Sabbath day. He stood up to read and was handed a scroll of the prophet Isaiah. He unrolled the scroll and found the passage where it was written: ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.’ Rolling up the scroll, he handed it back to the attendant and sat down, and the eyes of all in the synagogue looked intently at him. He said to them, ‘Today this scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.'”
Can we make Christ’s vision come true? It seems to me that the answer is “yes.” And to the extent that it isn’t yet true, we can work to make it come true. As a matter of fact we must make it come true. A huge part of our human misery is found in our human rejection of that visionary declaration of Jesus Christ. We can, however, do our part to make it come true if we put aside our human differences, accept our commonly shared humanity, and live as members of one human body in shared common good. We, you and I, by the way we live our lives and relate to others, ought to be able to say: “Today this Scripture passage is being fulfilled in your hearing.”
But we know that we Americans have a long way to go in order to live in fulfillment of the scriptures. Here, I think, are some of the issues which we Americans need to address:
The phrase “separation of Church and State” has been twisted into a new phrase; “separation of religion from society.” Every year there are those who want the celebration of Christmas to be suppressed and supplanted with a celebration of what they want to call The Winter Holidays. Abortion, euthanasia, the degrading of marriage, and dissolution of what we mean by the word “family” along with a bogus morality that is nothing more than simply “don’t get caught”, all are ravaging our culture. Freedom of choice has been changed to mean you have license to do what you feel like doing so long as you get away with it without getting caught. This was not the vision of our forbears when they established these United States over two-hundred years ago.
All too many Americans are of the opinion that religion and moral norms are a matter of private, personal preference. We are told that our faith should have no bearing in our public activity, and that religion, politics, and the norms to which we should hold our public school teachers and elected public officials should be purely secular. Separation of Church and State is continually invoked. We are entitled now, I think, to ask whether separation of religion and morals from public life has brought us to the crisis in which we presently find ourselves in our American culture and society.
Liberty and freedom of choice, our nation’s Founding Fathers believed, are grounded upon our acting morally with each other. President Thomas Jefferson once wrote,
No nation has ever yet existed or been governed without religion. Nor can be. The Christian religion is the best religion that has been given to man, and I as chief magistrate of this nation am bound to give it the sanction of my example.
Lack of morals has a lot to do with sexual exploitation, respecting women, abuse of children, the abuse of power, exploitation on the part of our corporate executives, the norms to which we hold ourselves as a civic society, and all of that is expressed, or ought to be expressed, in the highest public officials we elect to office. When listening, however, to TV talk show experts expounding on the terrible tragedies that have occurred in our country, have you ever heard them talk about morals? No. The discussions look to psychology and ignore morality, treating morality as if it’s irrelevant.
On the walls of the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, D.C. you will find this quote: “God who gave us life gave us liberty. Can the liberties of a nation be secure when we have removed a conviction that these liberties are the gift of God? Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just, that his justice cannot sleep forever.”
Jesus Christ’s vision, values, and activities matched the words of His inaugural address. He died to bring freedom to those held captive in webs of lies and deceit, to those held captive in addictive behavior patterns, along with freedom to those held captive and victimized under exploitative power. His vision brought us light, light in which to see the truth plainly and simply, so that we could say “yes” plainly and simply when we meant yes, and “no” equally as plainly and simply when we meant no.
The consequences of separating religion, morals and values from our public life are manifestly disastrous and can only lead us into deeper darkness and imprisonment under the domination of exploitative and corrupting power. Does anyone need further proof than that which is presently before us all to see in our television programs and in our newspapers?
The Bible, you see, isn’t so much as a creed to be accepted, as it is a task to be accomplished. We, with Christ, can be out there in the reality of our world making His vision come true. We can be bringing good news to the poor, liberty to those held in the slavery of addictions and compulsions. We can be giving the light of knowledge and vision to those who are blinded by this world’s darkness, and release those held in the bondage of contempt and prejudice.
Too many people, even nominal Christians, are spending too much time debunking the Bible, debunking religion, and trying to secularize our children and our world. They should be asking the question: Why can’t we make it all come true?
Christian values are not altogether different from the values of other great world religions. Respecting life, living in honesty and truth, establishing justice, working for peace, and building up our families are all things that we Americans should be about. To be told that we should keep our values to ourselves is totally un-American, a denial of our freedom to speak openly and publicly about what we hold to be true, and a denial of our basic human and civil rights. Keeping our values to ourselves ultimately leads to the downfall of our nation.
The Spirit of the Lord is upon you. He has anointed you and given you His gifts of wisdom, understanding, knowledge, steadfastness and courage. Live your commissioning boldly and courageously. With those first apostles, burst out of your private rooms and go out into the public square and there, along with those apostles, proclaim the values and the freedom that Jesus Christ suffered, died and rose from the dead to give us. Because of Christ, St. Paul wrote in his Letter to the Romans, we are destined to walk in the glorious freedom of the children of God.