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“When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” — Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776. As of tomorrow, that document and the United States will be 243 years old.
The fact that we are given the rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is one of the Declaration’s greatest statements—slowly, we are realizing that it applies to everyone—but if I were to find fault with those rights, it would have to be that in many cases, we take those rights to the extreme and in the process, those rights become the source of our selfishness. Instead of it being our collective rights, it becomes my individual rights to pursue my life, my liberty, my happiness and to heck with everyone else’s. I don’t care if you get what you want, as long as I get what I want. Instead of seeking the greater good, we seek our own personal good.
St. Augustine, in his Confession, talks about the fact that he did not like to study. He’d much rather play. In the process of discussing this, he also points to the error in the education system (in his time, but I would also say in ours). He writes, “They [his parents and teachers] considered not in what way I should employ what they forced me to learn, unless to satisfy the inordinate desires of a rich beggary and a shameful glory.” He did not like to study and he did not like the reason behind education, because it was all about him and how he could get ahead. Education was about self, not about learning for the betterment of others and society.
We have the rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, but like Augustine’s educational system, we can see these rights applying solely to self, us as individuals, with no responsibility for the life, liberty, or happiness of others, and in fact, in some cases, the other can be used as a means or tool to our own happiness.
It is hard to know who said it, but it is true: “People were created to be loved. Things were created to be used. The reason why the world is in chaos, is because things are being loved and people are being used.”
The words of Jesus that we read in our Gospel lesson are from the Sermon on the Mount. That sermon is not about self. It is about neighbor, stranger, enemy, righteous and the unrighteous. It is about how we, as a Christian people, are to live in the world—loving God and loving our neighbor. So, as that Christian people, remember that your pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness cannot be at the expense of the other, and in truth, should be for the betterment and glory of the other, knowing that “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of [Jesus], you did for [Him].”