torn american flag

How to Sew America Back Together | #1033

Fr. Joel Homilies

Trinity Sunday (A)

The Diocese is evaluating the feasibility of linking Oconto with Sobieski and having Oconto Falls and Stiles get a separate priest. Two issues have emerged that would need to be addresses: Oconto and Sobieski have 5 weekend Masses between them, and Sobieski for sure would need to drop a Mass. We would need a rectory for the priest in Oconto Falls. The Diocese has held listening sessions with staff and parish leadership regarding these issues.

One thing has emerged from these discussions — people feel that the cluster of 3 parishes have been working well together. “You brought us together, and we have been doing so well together,” people said. I had forgotten that Oconto and Oconto Falls used to be rivals. We put the bulletin together. We did walking pilgrimages and Care Ministry and the shelter meal together. We did Alpha and St. Vincent de Paul together. People started to know each other and feel comfortable in the ‘other church.’ They even felt comfortable going to a different Bible study if they missed the one at their church. “You brought unity,” they said. One person summed it up: “We’ve gotten to know people from the other parishes and we’ve realized, they’re not so bad after all.” This is the journey of unity — from “us” vs. “them” to seeing “them” as “us”, too.

If you’ve ever driving on Highway 43 south of Sheboygan, you’ve seen the huge American flag flying at Acuity Insurance. Tuesday, a big storm ripped through the area and tore the flag in half. Many people saw pictures of the tattered flag and felt it was a symbol of our country and what is happening in the United States of America. We have become ever more divided. It seems as though America is getting torn apart.

A few years back, some football players started taking a knee during the playing of the National Anthem. They were protesting what they felt was mistreatment of people of color, particularly young black men in America. It’s the same complaint that led to the I Can’t Breathe protests and the Black Lives Matter movement. The United States doesn’t have a national conversation, we have a national shouting match. So different sides immediately started shouting at each other. The Packers chose a different tactic. Aaron Rodgers shared that the team had sat down together and had a good heart-to-heart. At the next game when they played the National Anthem, the players all stood together, arm in arm. He Instagrammed about it a few days ago:

It turns out if you want people to stand during the National Anthem, you don’t shout at them for kneeling — you listen to them and you stand with them. When people don’t feel heard or valued, they have a greater tendency to resort to violence. The Packers show us what it takes to sew the flag back together. The forces around us will naturally separate us. We have to work for unity. If we don’t stand arm in arm, we will be torn apart. Do you really believe the words of our Pledge of Allegiance?

I pledge Allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with Liberty and Justice for all.

America is only indivisible when it is a nation under God that is willing to offer liberty and justice for all. If there is only liberty and justice for some, then America will not stand. Let us kneel in prayer for all victims of injustice so that we can rise up and make positive changes in our country.

Thursday, Oconto held a protest over the death of George Floyd. It was believed to be the first of it’s kind in the city. One of the organizers said her black friends had been profiled by police and she wanted to speak up for them. A group of concerned citizens held up signs and demonstrated for two hours. The full police force came out, all 9 of them. There was a counter protestor and even a heckler — a man who felt he himself had been profiled by police. I want to commend our police for their peaceful presence, and I want to commend the protestors for not resorting to violence. This weekend also saw more protests in Green Bay and a continuation of the curfew. But it sounds like police chief Andrew Smith and protestors were working together. If we want to sew America back together, these are the kinds of things that need to happen.

Why should we bother to work on unity? The ultimate reason why we should work towards unity is not found in the pledge of allegiance but in the Creed: I believe in One God, the Father Almighty, maker of Heaven and earth. The ultimate “us” vs. “them” is the difference between the Creator and his creatures, between human and divine. But God isn’t content to live at a distance from us. The whole mission of Jesus is to lead us back into unity with the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

I want to end with a little story, a grace I received to see for myself that the Father and the Holy Spirit are so united with God the Son that they give themselves to us in the Eucharist. The Trinity wants to welcome you into the ultimate Community of love. If the Trinity itself will welcome us, unworthy as we are, how could we refuse to welcome others into community?

God the Father from the Sistine Chapel

(7 June 2020)

Going Deeper: The next time the priest holds up the host at Mass, picture the face of God.