14th Sunday in Ordinary Time
2 Cor 12:7-10
I was given a thorn in the flesh…. to beat me and stop me from getting too proud.
Just before Thanksgiving last year, I received word from the United States government that my application for citizenship had finally been approved. It was a surreal feeling, reading the letter they sent me. Six years of waiting, hoping and praying had not been in vain. Six years of dealing with lawyers, bureaucrats, of crippling fear each time I stood in front of an immigration official – all of that was over. I was to be an American.
Though I’ve been living in this country for some time now, I looked at everything anew with my ‘immigrant’ eyes. I remember thinking to myself then that the love a new immigrant feels is not dissimilar to that of a born-again Christian. The same devotion filled my heart. I wept every time I heard the Star-Spangled Banner or America the Beautiful. I thanked God very hard at virtual mass, for answering my prayers. I walked around seeing everything with new eyes. America was in the throes of election fever at the time. There were calls for a recount. People were angry on either side of the aisle. There were protests. Even in my own home, members of my family regarded each other with caution and, at the worst of times, contempt. But me, I saw democracy, representation and free speech in action; and was filled with gratitude.
First generation immigrants like me, the ‘tempest tost’, come here seeking something – liberty, opportunity, sanctuary, equality, acceptance, peace. When I gush out loud about my happiness, I am often shushed down by a litany of grievances from both my American and non-American friends and family. Gun violence is out of control in America. Income inequality is a huge problem. Homelessness cannot be fixed. Racism is systemic. Yes, it is undeniable that we have our issues. And no, they are not trifling ones that can be sorted out easily. They are serious and may take years to address. Yes, we are a nation of strong, opinionated, rebellious people. Some would even call us “hard of face and obstinate of heart”. But what we are not, is apathetic. We argue because we care. We fight because we each think our causes are worth fighting for. And we protest because it is our constitutional right to voice our opinions.
I love this great country. I am so grateful to be here. Yes, there are thorns in our flesh that wound us, there are issues that divide us and make us weak. But perhaps all of this is so that we take a hard look at who we are, who we were and what we would like to be. Maybe these thorns in our flesh were given to us so that we learn humility, so that we accept that we are not that city on the hill. We are not perfect. We need grace – His grace – so we can heal, forgive and move forward. We need His grace if we are to live out the high ideals our great country stands for.
This will be my first 4th of July as an American citizen. I remember my first 4th of July in America. I was in Boston at the time. I had spent the day walking the Freedom Trail, soaking in the atmosphere. In the evening, I wandered down to the Charles River to watch the fireworks. When it came time for The Star-Spangled Banner, people went quiet. They stood up, put their hands on their hearts and sang in voices, cracked with emotion. When it was over, strangers hugged, people whooped, smiled, cried. It was very moving. I was later told that no one does July 4th like the people of Boston. Ok, maybe that’s true, but perhaps we could ALL do it like the people from Boston this year. Perhaps we could declare for ourselves a day of liberty from division. A day of liberty from anger, contempt, cynicism, finger-pointing, blame. We all want the same thing – a better place than the one we were born to. I came here seeking it and I wholly believe that I have found it. It is not perfect, but its heart is in the right place and with His grace, I know we will heal and move forward. I know we will get there.
Happy 4th of July to all our American readers. And to everyone else, please be a little patient with us.
(Today’s OXYGEN by Sharon Soo)
Prayer: I pray for healing, for forgiveness, for empathy and awareness for all of us. I pray that we learn to see ourselves in our brothers, that we learn to see the face of Christ in those He puts in our lives.
Thanksgiving: I give thanks to God for leading me here, for the life He has given me, and the people He has put in my life.