Friday of the Thirteenth Week in Ordinary Time
(Amos 8:4-6; 9-12)
What makes a nation great? As we Americans rest on our anniversary of independence, we might ask this question to take pulse of our progress over 232 years.
We need to distinguish material and spiritual indicators of greatness. Certainly, a nation that provides all its people with ample physical resources – food, clothing, housing, medical care – is on a track of greatness. Although some critics charge that parts of our population have low nutrition levels and substandard housing, generally Americans live better than most of the world. This is so even with the country continually opening its doors to impoverished immigrants.
Spiritual indicators of greatness are social virtues that enable people to live together in peace. Adherence to laws, toleration of differences, and willingness to sacrifice for the common good show that a nation has a strong social fabric. In the reading from the prophet Amos today we might note negative examples of other social values. Amos chastises the people of the Northern Kingdom of Israel for disregard of the poor and for dishonesty in business.
Amos further tells the Israelites that one day they will miss the word of God. He means that by ignoring God’s law, found in the Pentateuch, the people will lose their moral compass. The new situation will find them vulnerable to internal turmoil and external domination. “Darkness in broad daylight” is a metaphor for the people forgoing their relationship with God who has always provided the light of wisdom. Sackcloth and shaved heads are signs of slavery to foreign powers.
The United States has not squandered spiritual greatness like ancient Israel. Still there is need for constant vigilance and even present concern. Americans in general have less appreciation now than a generation ago for religion, a critical element of their moral compass. Also, the huge number of Americans incarcerated indicates contempt of law, another crucial part of morality. Finally, young Americans need to ponder the individualism and narcissism which their generation is noted for. These cancers can erode the fibers of social solidarity, also necessary for morality and indicative of national standing.