In God We Trust
Inscriptions on the ten-dollar note I pulled out of my wallet to pay for a cup of a tall coffee at Starbucks yesterday inspired my reflections on the readings for this Sunday’s mass. To be precise, the inscriptions “We the People” and “In God we Trust” on the front and back of the legal tender respectively instruct on the theme of virtues of humility and trust. My research reveals that through the act of Congress and the president's approval, “In God We Trust” was declared the national motto of the United States in 1956. Although the motto, “In God We Trust,” first appeared on the 1864 two-cent coin, it wasn't until 1957 that it made its first appearance on paper money. The recognition of God’s protection and lordship over America during the Civil War inspired this decision. In other words, America came to an awareness of their faith, hope, and trust in God’s love and mercy as the reason for the nation’s existence and sustenance through the turmoil it experienced. It is not just because we, the people of America, are the only exceptional people on the face of the earth- all God’s people are unique in their way; instead, our greatness comes from our trust in God.
The phrase “We the People” begins the 52-word paragraph preamble to our constitution. Enshrined in the paragraph are promises and principles that define our nation. But it also contains a potential for a prideful turn to self, what St. Augustine calls “curvatus in se,” that is, to turn in upon oneself. We can become self-dependent to the extent of denying our reliance on God’s grace. We must avoid the danger of trusting in ourselves or relying solely “on human strength,” as Jeremiah says to us in the 1st reading. This turn to self or ego leads to idolatry. We may start thinking that the world revolves around us because we lack the virtue of humility. When we rely on the Lord, in humility, Jeremiah says the Lord will bless us “like a tree by the waterside that thrusts its root to the stream” (17:7-8). In this regard, Jesus’ beatitude and woes in Lk 6 make sense. The inversion of shared understanding of what brings us happiness- from health, wealth, prosperity, power to weakness, sickness, poverty, and humiliation- teaches us to trust in God and not ourselves for true happiness. You are blessed when you are poor, hungry, and despised if you trust in God and center your lives around him.
The biblical understanding of Greek “Makarios” and Latin “Beati” is the root of the unique blessedness we experience when we trust in God. This blessedness is an enduring one, an eternal one. The joy from this blessedness is not transient or temporal; it is realized fully in heavenly reward. Jesus has reversed our understanding of the source of true and lasting joy. It flows from the absolute reliance on God and not on human strength. This new and different way of looking at life leads us to ask ourselves, what or who do we depend on for our ultimate joy and happiness? God or self? As for me and my household, in God we trust.
We celebrate World Marriage Day today and Valentine’s Day tomorrow. Therefore, I take this opportunity to impart God’s blessings on all married couples and lovers. May your love for each other be rooted in the love of Christ crucified.