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The Catholic Moment: God bless America

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Thursday, July 2, 2009

By Scott Mussari

“While the storm clouds gather far across the sea. Let us swear allegiance to a land that’s free. Let us all be grateful for a land so fair. As we raise our voices in a solemn prayer.”

These are the introductory lines penned by Irving Berlin to the song “God Bless America.” His first draft was written in 1918 but was put aside and remained unfinished until 1938, when Kate Smith sang it on her radio show. Although this particular opening verse is rarely used and unfamiliar to most people today, the song became an instant hit and has remained a popular and pious prose since. It has proclaimed hope during periods of war and praise during times of peace. It has rallied our nation and nearly became our country’s official national anthem.

God bless America. What does it truly mean to be blessed by God? In its purest sense, a blessing is the church’s way of distinguishing the holy and spiritual in the normal and common occurrences of our lives. The term originated in formal liturgical celebrations such as the Mass and evolved into an informal term for the masses. It has shifted from the seldom spoken sacramental phrase of “Bless me, Father, for I have sinned” of the past, to the frequent habit of “Bless you” after a sneeze of the present. Unfortunately, as the usage of the word its derivatives broaden, it lessens its impact.

Land that I love. If we sincerely subscribe to the notion that God has blessed our nation, we must scrutinize how our actions reflect this belief. If we presume our Creator had and continues to have a presence in our land, then certainly the way we care for and about it would be evident. How readily do we treat the streets and the woods as our own personal dumping ground? How often do we trash and pollute our waters and air?  How conscious are we of the vast resources of energy and food we consume that inevitably leave only a fraction to be divided and rationed among others? 

Stand beside her and guide her, through the night with a light from above. God shines a divine light to lead us through any darkness. But we often decide to ignore God’s direction and choose to follow through on our plans. The path illuminated for us is to nurture our country and its inhabitants, but when this seems too challenging we look away and lose our focus. We want to affix our eyes not on the people or things we need to help, but rather on the things that fill our needs.   

From the mountains, to the prairies. To the oceans, white with foam. Everything is a blessing. Our world screams out with its scenic beauty, and every face and facet of life around us gives witness to what God has given us. From nature’s landscape and panorama to our neighbor’s companionship and friendship, the blessings are apparent. But many of us have a tendency to take them for granted and to forget to be grateful for them. We fail to appreciate all God has bestowed upon us and our nation.

God bless America. My home sweet home. It’s ironic what people prefer to know about our homeland. Many of us can recite more names of celebrities’ babies than we can our congressional leaders, or we understand more about a sports team’s draft-day strategy than we do about basic public policies. Perhaps we ought to develop a more active and meaningful involvement within our society. Doing so would enable us to better collectively as a country and individually as a Catholic use the blessings to bring glory and honor to God.

God has clearly blessed the United States. Maybe it is time America strives to bless God.

Scott Mussari is the director of faith formation at St. Columban Church in Loveland and can be reached at smussari@stcolumban.org.

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