Jacob, part of whose story we hear in the first reading today, is an important figure in the history of salvation. He is the grandson of Abraham, and the son of Isaac (whom Abraham almost offered as a burnt sacrifice to God). He is the father of Joseph, under whose protection the Israelites went into Egypt during a time of famine, setting the stage for the later exodus under the guidance of Moses. Lastly, he is also known by the name Israel, and his twelve sons were the founders of the twelve tribes of Israel. To Jacob, as also earlier to Abraham, God promises a multitude of descendants, and He also promises that in Jacob and his descendants “all the nations of the earth shall find blessing.”
God is always faithful to His promises, and despite the ups and downs of the people of Israel’s relationship with Him, He brings this promise to fulfillment in Jesus, Who was born into the Israelite nation. Christ brings salvation to all mankind, and it is only through Him that we can be saved. That is why missionary work is so important; baptism in Christ Jesus is the only guaranteed way to salvation, for people of any nation anywhere in world.
At times, when it is especially necessary, those blessings, power and glory of God are revealed in visible signs and miracles, as we heard in the Gospel reading today.
Now, as much as ever, we as individuals and as a nation need God’s grace. Today we celebrate our nation’s political independence, won and preserved through the generous self-sacrifice of countless men and women. However, there is a more important struggle for independence that is still on-going: to free our own lives and our nation from the dominion and effects of sin. We have lost some ground over the past several decades with the media’s increasing glorification of vulgarity and vice, and legislation that gives official government sanction to the destruction of innocent life and to the redefinition and destruction of the natural institution of marriage between a man and a woman.
As we celebrate the wonderful gift of our nation and all the benefits and opportunities it has given us, let us also pray that our country’s public and private institutions will be guided always by the truth and by a correct understanding of compassion and human dignity. Laws, secular institutions, and means of communication, can neither force us to sin nor preserve us from sin, nor is that properly their task. But if they work to promote true integral human development, they can give us an environment which fosters virtue and in which our faith can thrive. May God help us all to take the steps which are in our power to set our nation on the path to greater independence from sin and the influence of the devil, so that we can all live with the true freedom of the children of God.