The 4th of March 2010 is a date significant for me, because that was the day I became an American citizen. I am a Filipino by blood and heritage. I grew up South of Philly, which is South of the Philippines. My adoptive country is the United States of America.

What does it mean to be an American? I have tried to answer that question myself prior to my swearing in. I found part of the answer in our National Anthem. We are the land of the free and the home of the brave. We are defined foremost by our freedom and our bravery. We have freedom of religion, of speech, of the press and the right of petition. We have the freedom to hope, the freedom to dream, the freedom to pursue our dreams. We have freedom and are free in so many ways!

How much we have has been the hunger and thirst of a few. What we enjoy has been the envy of some. And who we are has been the dream of so many.

A father was talking with his rather rebellious son one day and said, "Every person who lives in the United States is a privileged person." The boy answered, "I disagree." And the father replied, "That’s the privilege."

Freedom has its privileges and limitations. Freedom is not just what is right, but also what is left to be respected. And freedom is not just accidental to our being Americans, but is also essential to our being Christians.

Pope John Paul II said, “Every generation of Americans needs to know that freedom consists not in doing what we like, but in having the right to do what we ought.”

With freedom comes commitment and conscience. With freedom comes obligation and accountability. With freedom comes a deeper duty and a greater responsibility.

Every 4th of July celebration should be a time for us to examine ourselves and the blessings we enjoy. Is the world a better place because we are citizens of this country? Is our community a better place because we are part of it? Is our church better because we are members of it?

You may have heard about the story of a famous French political philosopher named Alexis de Tocqueville. He visited our nation to uncover the secret of our greatness. He traveled from town to town, talking with people, asking questions, examining every facet of our society.

Returning to France, he wrote these amazing words, "I sought for America’s greatness. I found it not in her fields and forests. I found it not in her mines and factories. I found it not in her Congress and great tribunals. It was only when I entered her churches and heard her pulpits thundering against sin and preaching righteousness that I discovered the secret of her greatness." Then he added, "America is great because America is good. If America ever ceases to be good, America will cease to be great."

God is not just in the moral fiber of our history, but can even be found in the financial threads of our economy. Every currency we have in our pockets and every paper denomination we have in our wallets has the word “God” in it, so that we should never forget whom we should trust.

Finally, what does it really mean to be an American? Part of the answer lies in an article I found not too long ago that someone in Pakistan had published in a newspaper an offer of a reward to anyone who killed an American, any American. It was a dentist from Australia who wrote the following to let everyone know what an American is, so they know when they found one.

It read: “An American may be Apache, Seminole, Cree, or one of the many other nations known as Native Americans. An American may also be English, or French, or Italian, Irish, German, Spanish, Polish, Russian or Greek. Or perhaps he or she may be Mexican, Filipino, African, Indian, Chinese, Arab or Pakistani.

An American is a Christian, or Jewish, Buddhist or Muslim or believe in the legends of their own culture. An American is also free to believe in no religion. An American is from the most prosperous land in the history of the world. The root of that prosperity can be found in the Declaration of Independence, which recognizes the God-given right of each person to the pursuit of happiness.

An American is generous. Americans have helped out just about every other nation in the world in their time of need. Americans welcome the best—the best products, the best books, the best music, the best food, the best athletes. But, they also welcomed the least.

The national symbol of America, The Statue of Liberty, welcomes ‘your tired and your poor, the wretched refuse of your teeming shores, the homeless, tempest tossed.’ These in fact are the people who built America. So you can try to kill an American if you must. Hitler did. So did Stalin and Mao Tse Tung and every bloodthirsty tyrant in the history of the modern world.

But in doing so you would just be killing yourself because Americans are not a particular people from a particular place. They are the embodiment of the human spirit of freedom. Everyone who holds to that Spirit, everywhere is, to that extent, an American."

Four months to the day after I was sworn in, let me say that I am not just proud of being an American, but I am also thankful that I am a citizen of the United States. I trust that you are grateful as well.

4 July 2010

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