I have spent about eight years of my Jesuit life living in the United States. The first time was in the beginning of the 1980s, when I was a scholastic in philosophy studies at St. Michael’s Institute (Gonzaga University) in Spokane, Washington.
Later on, in the 2000s, I was assigned to St. Paul, Minnesota for several years as novice director. Both periods were very significant for me. The time as novice director counts as one of the ministry assignments that I am most grateful for.
As well, over the years, I was often in the USA for meetings and programs related to my responsibilities in Canada. One of the many gifts of those experiences was recognizing and deepening my personal sense of a Canadian identity and how radically different that is from the identity of someone in the United States.
As others have said, I became more Canadian by living outside the country. I have strong views on both nations, but I did my best to keep those to myself and not rankle my hosts. Of course, that meant that I did all I could to avoid sitting in a television room as people watched the news.
Today is Independence Day. It is a sacred day for many in the USA. The citizens of that nation have enjoyed freedoms that have been envied by men and women in many parts the globe.
Many have settled there as immigrants, often escaping war, oppression or famine in their homeland. People continue to flee to the USA, hoping to share in the life and freedoms found there.
Like so many others, I’ve had strong reactions to what I have seen and read about in that country in recent years. As they celebrate their freedom and independence, we can contemplate the many individuals in that nation – whether citizens or illegal migrants – who are in need of their own personal freedom, whether it be freedom from the evils of racism or freedom for contributing to a better life for those in need, freedom from the sort of independence that shuns reliance on the rest of the world or freedom for accepting the outsider.
We have seen so often that the colour of one’s skin or the socioeconomic reality means that there are many men, women and children who are without freedom. My own hope is that they can share in the American dream.
The nation has produced many wonderful people and great gifts for the betterment of the world. I hope and pray that that can continue and that those who feel left out can share in it.
The 19th century poet Walt Whitman called America the greatest poem. What he meant is that the power of poetry and democracy come from an ability to make a unified whole out of disparate parts. Whitman has a short piece, called America.
Centre of equal daughters, equal sons,
All, all alike endear’d, grown, ungrown, young or old,
Strong, ample, fair, enduring, capable, rich,
Perennial with the Earth, with Freedom, Law and Love,
A grand, sane, towering, seated Mother,
Chair’d in the adamant of Time.
We at igNation wish our readers in the United States a happy Independence Day. May all who call that land home relish in that unified whole!.