July 2007


A phrase in the first reading at Mass today caught my attention. It was from one of those stories that you’ve heard since you were little– the kind of Bible story that, upon hearing it, immediately conjures up visions of illustrations from the children’s Bible of your past. It was the beginning of the story of Moses.

For some reason, the first line of the reading, even though I had heard it countless times before, sent my mind spinning.

“Then a new king, who knew nothing of Joseph, came to power in Egypt” (Ex 1:8).

We all know what follows. This new Pharaoh, unaware that Joseph had saved his country, decides there are too many Israelites in Egypt and something needs to be done about it. How many years passed between Joseph and Moses? I’m not going to get into trying to date the various bible stories. Suffice to say, enough time lapsed for this new king to be clueless about his past. To be clueless about a huge famine, a guy who could read dreams, and the miraculous survival of Egypt and the surrounding lands, thanks to said guy who could read dreams.

He is ignorant of the past, and look what happens. His world consists of him, his throne, and his country at the present. Forget the fact that he is living as a king in Egypt at that moment because Joseph saved the entire country. Forget the fact that he owes the Israelites his kingship — and his very existence. Nope, he doesn’t realize all of that. He is ignorant of what came before him. All that matters is that which surrounds him at the present and what he can do about it.\

Moses, on the other hand, was very aware of who and what came before him. He must have known the stories of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, or else God’s reference to them when He spoke to Moses (Ex 3:6) would have been pointless. Eventually, Moses wrote down the history of Israel, reminding the people of who they were and from whence they came. It is only in knowing their history that the Israelites could solidify in their minds that they were the chosen people of God. That’s is why the Torah is so intensely sacred to the Jews, and that is why the Psalmist praises the Law (Ps 1:2; 19:7; 119). The Torah gave the people their history and thus, their identity.

Open a history book. Find out who came before you. My generation is a self-centered generation. All that matters to us is our iPods, our internet, and our cell phones. We go through life staring into emptiness, listening to noise, lost in our navels. We think we have all the answers, when we haven’t even started asking the questions. We’re little Pharaohs, only caring about the present and what people can do for us now, instead of seeing how they’ve helped us become who we are.

Thankfully, God brought greatness despite the hardness of Pharaoh’s heart. He will do amazing things despite our selfishness, too… if we can find a Moses open enough to listen.

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I recently heard someone call our country “young.” It was said with that air people use when tossing around facts they expect you take for granted as much as they do. It wasn’t said to be backed up with historical data or facts. It was just a detail tossed out as the speaker proceeded to finish his point about the United States. I would have let it pass, except that the tone annoys me. It annoys me when people say things that they assume are true and assume you believe are true, when really they haven’t stopped to think twice about them. It’s common to say the United States of America are young, so it’s therefore a perfectly valid detail to use in an argument.

No. I disagree. I assume those people who say the United States of America are young are comparing its history to other histories — that of Rome, for example, which has existed since the 9th century BC. But that’s a flawed comparison. That’s comparing a country, the US of A, to a culture. The Roman Republic and the Roman Empire which succeeded it were very different. A citizen living in the time of Cincinnatus would have a different concept of the country than a citizen living in the time of Caligula. And neither one exists today.

I am not about to assert that Rome isn’t older than the US. That’s absurd; on the contrary, I could rant endlessly about why the average Italian is different than the average American just because of the history (or lack thereof) that surrounds each man. But the speaker I referred to at the beginning of this post was not speaking of culture or historical ancestry. He was speaking of a country. And that is the problem with his point.

Is the US of A a young country? Our Constitution was penned in 1787. Since we are a relatively “young” country, I suppose there are scads of countries that existed then that still exist today. The Kingdom of Prussia? Hm, seems Germany has changed quite a bit since 1787. The Austrian Empire? Persia? Any of the countries of the Middle East… oh wait, they were created after WWII, their borders arbitrarily drawn up by the Allies (I must dodge the temptation to give in to that rant right now…).

So 1787. Poland existed as the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, but would soon be tragically swallowed up by surrounded empires. Russia was the Russian Empire, under the rule of Catherine the Great. Mexico was New Spain. Turkey was the Ottoman Empire. Italy would not be a unified country as she stands today for over two hundred more years.

I won’t say there aren’t countries older than us… Portugal, Spain, England. But it seems these are exceptions rather than the majority.

Our Constitution has been in place since 1787. Are we a relatively young culture? Certainly! Are we a relatively young country? No. To say that — and what is worse, to toss it out as if it was a throw-away fact to be taken for granted — cheapens what our Fathers did in 1787. The fact that our Constitution has remained in place, relatively unamended, for over 200 years is extraordinary. It says volumes about the brilliance of the Fathers and, most especially, of Mr. Washington. And, if I do venture to declare, it points to the fact that God was present when it was being drafted.

That being said, it is not only saddening but dangerous that the Constitution is being hijacked today. We have the brilliance of its crafting to thank for our enduring existence. But if we continue to ignore it, we won’t last as a country much longer. “Strict constitutionalists” has become a dirty phrase, it seems. But why? Aren’t we the most powerful country in the world for a reason? Because a dozen men crafted a document in 1787 in which each word had a definite purpose; a document that said what it wanted to say and didn’t say what it didn’t want to say; a document which the Fathers never intended to be “reinterpreted” in such ways so that their original desires became obliterated and ignored.

I suppose that a country who frowns on their leaders admitting religious beliefs (oh no, not that! it might get in the way of their ability to govern and execute laws!) would also frown on their leaders wanting to stand by the document that created their country. Well, perhaps a country like that doesn’t deserve the document. Or the God that inspired the men who wrote it.