You know the time; it is the hour now for you to awake from sleep. For our salvation/ Joshua is nearer now than when we first believed; the night is advanced, the day is at hand. Let us then throw off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us conduct ourselves properly as in the day… put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the desires of the flesh. Second Reading for the First Sunday of Advent.
Our last election saw candidates from two angry branches of the electorate competing against each other through their chosen candidates. Tom Hanks, in a Saturday Night Live skit, captured that difference through the game of Black Jeopardy. He played the white contestant, and competed strongly, as his answers were the same as the minority contestant answers, until the final round. “What lives Matter.” One identified with minorities, the other with citizens of European descent. Their commonality, they both identify as poor, working class. If we do not fix our problem, Germany of the 30’s gives us fair warning. In the meantime, the one thing that is clear is that in half a century we have learned nothing. If we want to know what the issues of the day are, just ask what they were 50 years ago. The only difference is that they have festered for two quarters of a century.
Another great American wrote most of the words that follow. Another great American wrote a song, “Cats in the Cradle.” The song was about how one generation insists on making the same mistakes as the last one. They are the same issues. We know not when Christ will come in the clouds. In Hebrew the word for cloud used in Matthew 26:64 is עַנ. The Hebrew word for “poor” used in Matthew 5:3 is .עֲנִ Now, listen to the words of that first great American and ask what is different, if anything, because now is the time.
Advent comes to remind America of the fierce urgency of Now. Now is not the time to settle for second best, because the opposition is even worse than who or what we choose to lead us. Now is not the time to argue for non-negotiables on the one side against some supposed disagreement between those who argue for solutions, which do not work, against other solutions which our own pope has already told us, has never worked in world history. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of income inequality to the sunlit path of justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksand of injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children.
Seven Score and thirteen years ago, a great American, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. In a sense, Advent comes to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men would be guaranteed the “unalienable Rights” of “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” That is where the pursuit of Happiness presumes a reasonable chance of success. America has defaulted on this promissory note, insofar as her poorest citizens are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the poorest of Americans a bad check, a check, which has come back marked “insufficient funds.”
We refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. Advent comes to cash this check, a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.
There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, “When will you be satisfied?” We can never be satisfied as long as the poorest American is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality, as we count the number of unarmed Americans killed by the hands of those paid to protect them. We can never be satisfied as long as maids, and janitors, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities in which they work. We cannot be satisfied as long as basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one. We can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their self-hood and robbed of their dignity.
We cannot be satisfied as long as our poorest citizens cannot vote because they do not have a plastic card or a birth certificate, and a citizen in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until “justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.”
Let us not wallow in the valley of despair, I say to you today, my friends. We face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”
I have a dream that little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, the thickness of their wallet or the size of their market portfolio, but by the content of their character. I have a dream today!
I have a dream today! I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; “and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.”
This is our hope. With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood, as St. Augustine says in Book 2, chapter 21 of his City of God. With this faith, we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day. And this will be the day — this will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with new meaning:
My country ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the Pilgrim’s pride, From every mountainside, let freedom ring!
If America is to be a great nation, this must become true. So let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania. Let freedom ring from the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado. Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California.
Not only that: Let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia. Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee. Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi. From every mountainside, let freedom ring. And when this happens, and when we allow freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual: Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!
Put on the armor (ox’s hoof) of light; let us conduct ourselves properly as in the day, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the desires of the flesh. Christ did not have ox’s hooves on his body. He had the cross. He did not have wealth. He had is poverty, and the ability to heal. Putting on Christ/being Christian/Christ like, means caring for all of those Martin Luther King Jr. spoke about. It is not settling for second best.
Professor Woodrow Wilson once said that every man sent out from a university should be a man of his nation as well as a man of his time, and I am confident that the men and women who carry the honor of graduating from this institution will continue to give from their lives, from their talents, a high measure of public service and public support.
Let us focus instead on a more practical, more attainable peace– based not on a sudden revolution in human nature but on a gradual evolution in human institutions–on a series of concrete actions and effective agreements which are in the interest of all concerned. There is no single, simple key to this peace–no grand or magic formula to be adopted by one or two powers. Genuine peace must be the product of many nations, the sum of many acts. It must be dynamic, not static, changing to meet the challenge of each new generation. For peace is a process–a way of solving problems. With such a peace, there will still be quarrels and conflicting interests, as there are within families and nations.
So, let us not be blind to our differences--but let us also direct attention to our common interests and to the means by which those differences can be resolved. And if we cannot end now our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity. For, in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future. And we are all mortal.
Finally, my fellow Americans, let us examine our attitude toward peace and freedom here at home. The quality and spirit of our own society must justify and support our efforts abroad. We must show it in the dedication of our own lives–as many of you who are graduating today will have a unique opportunity to do. But wherever we are, we must all, in our daily lives, live up to the age-old faith that peace and freedom walk together. In too many of our cities today, the peace is not secure because the freedom is incomplete.
The field of Catholic Action is extremely vast. In itself, it does not exclude anything, in any manner, direct or indirect, which pertains to the divine mission of the Church. Accordingly one can plainly see how necessary it is for everyone to cooperate in such an important work, not only for the sanctification of his own soul, but also for the extension and increase of the Kingdom of God in individuals, families, and society; each one working according to his energy for the good of his neighbor by the propagation of revealed truth, by the exercise of Christian virtues, by the exercise of the corporal and spiritual works of mercy.
This concession places a duty on all Catholics to prepare themselves prudently and seriously for political life in case they may be called to it. Hence it is of the utmost importance that the same activity… be extended to a suitable preparation and organization for political life. Above all else he must remember to be and to act in every circumstance as a true Catholic, accepting and fulfilling public offices with the firm and constant resolution of promoting by every means the social and economic welfare of the country and particularly of the people, according to the maxims of a truly Christian civilization, and at the same time defending the supreme interests of the Church, which are those of religion and justice.
This all means not starting to plan for the next election as we did the last one, the February before the election. The time to plan for the 2036 election is today. Now is the time. The first speech above spoke of, “We cannot be satisfied as long as our poorest citizens cannot vote because they do not have a plastic card or a birth certificate, and a citizen in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote.” The same problem exists today. Now is the time to start resolving the problem by looking for the young people Pope Pius X spoke of and preparing them for public office and then helping them run for public office.
We must find candidates willing to support all of Catholic Social teaching. He currently does not sit in the halls of power. He sits in a classroom at one of our 283 Catholic colleges and Universities, a Political Science Major. Maybe he is a recent graduate, looking for a job, or a student having completed his academic load, now looking to fulfill his practicum. Now is the time to look to find him. It means following the teachings of Catholic Action, now, looking for candidates now! It means looking for secular leaders and church leaders willing to carry the load, Now!