America needs renewal. Economic and political renewal. But also spiritual, moral and cultural renewal. We all know this. But it’s hard to tell what we can do about it.
That’s one of the reasons I wrote my new book, Immigration and the Next America (Our Sunday Visitor, $11.95; www.olacathedralgifts.com). It is a book about immigration. But it’s also a book about the American “soul.” The book grows out of my conversations with many people and my reflection on some of the signs in our society. Like many of us, I have a sense that we’re traveling in uncharted directions. We can see the “next America” coming around the corner, and it makes us worried. I believe we have lost our sense of America’s purpose and what makes this country unique. So in this little book, I try to “return to the sources” of America. I try to reflect on our history and founding principles. I try to think about what is America’s story, and what is this nation meant to be in God’s plan for the salvation of the nations. In his last book, Blessed Pope John Paul II reminded us: “The history of all nations is called to take its place in the history of salvation.” It’s easy to get caught up in the many dramas of politics and current events. But we have to remember that God has a plan for creation and for history. America’s founders understood this. Their Declaration of Independence reflects this way of thinking. The Declaration begins with a kind of profession of faith — that the “course of human events” unfolds within “the laws of nature and of nature’s God.” It ends with a kind of prayer, as the Founders entrust their revolution to “the protection of divine Providence.” At its first beginnings, America was conceived as a spiritual project. Hundreds of years before the Founding Fathers, Christian missionaries settled this country. For them, this land was “the end of the earth” and the “new world” that Jesus Christ promised in the Gospels. They dreamed of sharing Christ’s salvation with the peoples they found here. America’s founders dreamed the same dream in a different language. They dreamed of a nation where men and women from every race, creed and national background could live in equality — as brothers and sisters, children of the same God. Like the missionaries before them, they believed their dream was God’s dream for the human family. That’s why our national debate over immigration is so important. It’s not only a debate about border security and fixing our broken system for determining who gets into our country. It’s really a debate about our identity as a nation. It’s a debate about America’s soul. Our history teaches us that America is a nation of immigrants with a missionary soul. In the history of nations, only America is founded on a “creed” — on a belief in the divine dignity and destiny of every person. And because of this creed — and the commitment of every generation to living out this creed — America has become home to a beautiful diversity of peoples from every part of the Americas. That’s what is being decided in our political debates — our commitment to the dream of America, America as it was founded to be. Do we still believe in that dream? This is a question for us to reflect on during this coming week, when we remember our nation’s founding, July 4, 1776. This week, we also celebrate the founding of the first of the California missions by Blessed Junípero Serra at San Diego on July 1, 1769. I will be traveling this weekend to our neighboring Diocese of Monterey to take part in a ceremony to commemorate the 300th anniversary of Padre Serra’s birth. And I’m looking forward to the Huntington Museum’s important exhibit on “Junípero Serra and the Legacies of the California Missions,” that will open on Aug. 17. I have a great devotion to Blessed Junípero Serra. I believe his legacy is important for understanding — and for renewing — the soul of America. Especially now, we need to remember that America was born from the Christian mission of Padre Serra and many others. Our national character and identity are deeply marked by the Gospel values they brought to this land. This week, let’s pray for one another and let’s commit ourselves to working together for the renewal of our nation. Let’s ask Our Lady of the Angels to help us renew our nation in the image of her founding promises of universal rights rooted in God.
Archbishop Gomez’s new book, “Immigration and the Next America,” is available for preorder at the Cathedral Gift Shop (http://www.olacathedralgifts.com/immigrationandthenextamericarenewingthesoulofournation.aspx). Follow him at www.facebook.com/ArchbishopGomez.