Okay, so this blog post in going to be very heavy - after this one, I promise they will be entitled "Thoughts on Painful Saturday Morning." But in light of recent events in Egypt, I've been stressing a lot, and worrying a lot and praying even more - and with these three elements, I've accumulated a lot of thoughts that I'd like to share with anyone who cares to read.
As I was walking to Church this morning, I couldn't help but think how lucky I am. I was not followed or harassed by the police on my way; I did not have to pay off anyone to let me worship my God; throughout Mass, I did not worry that my small place of prayer may be a target of a suicide bomber; and I live in a country where Sunday exists within the weekend, an observed day of rest.
My roommate asked me a few weeks ago, why I go to church every Sunday. I didn't have a ready answer. I mumbled something about a moral obligation, and how it helps me mentality to make it through the week. But my answer should have been, that I go because I can. It may sound like a tremendously impersonal explanation, but after all, isn't gratefulness the very essence of religion? Today I am grateful for a great number of people who helped shape the life that I am able to live.
In 1649, Maryland became the first British Colony in America to allow for the freedom of religious practice with its Maryland Act of Toleration, or an Act Concerning Religion. As most of you know, on July 4, 1776 the founding fathers of our great nation sent their grievances to England and declared our independence. There was no partying in every street, no updating of facebook statuses, no "Happy birthday, U.S.A.", no celebratory newspaper articles. We hadn't won anything yet. That day, the birthday of our nation, was not a day of celebration, it was only the first step of a long and difficult journey. Those who had the audacity to sign the Declaration of Independence had committed treason, those who supported them, were guilty by association. During the War of Independence, from 1776 until 1783, a span of seven years, men stood up and fought and died for what they believed was their God-given right of freedom, of having the ability to hold their lives in their own hands. When our founding fathers drafted our Constitution, the First Amendment granted citizens freedom of religion, based on precedence of the Maryland Act. Since then, all Americans, voters, educators, lobbyists, representatives, and leaders have held the responsibility of upholding that freedom.
In 1914, my great-grandfather, Alfred Gemayel, sought refuge in Egypt after he and his brother, Pierre, were sentenced to death in Lebanon for opposing the oppressive Ottoman Empire. In Egypt he was able to raise a family and they lived in relative affluence and peace. When the Muslim Brotherhood became prominent in Egypt and threatened the Christians during the Arab-Israeli War, my grandparents, Elie and Jacqueline removed their family from danger by seeking refuge in New York, where my great-aunt Mary took them in. They left everything behind them so that their children and grandchildren could continue the practice of their faith without fear.
I don't know if I would have had the courage to petition a king for my colony's religious freedom as Lord Baltimore did. I do not know if I would have had the courage to sign the Declaration of Independence as our founding fathers have done. I do not know whether I would have been courageous enough to fight against an unbeatable army, nor have had the perseverance or energy to not lose hope for seven years as the American patriots did. I don't know if I could have left my country of birth, my home, my family, my friends, my job, my language, to secure freedom for my posterity as Grandpa and Grandma did. I don't know if I could have sacrificed space within my home, attention from my children, and money from my salary to ensure that others could enjoy my freedoms as Aunt Mary did. But the least I can do to show my gratitude, is drag my hung-over butt out of bed every Sunday morning and thank God for the blessings I have and do not deserve. So that's why I go to church - because so many people have sacrificed everything they had so that I can.
The freedoms we as Americans enjoy, were (and I know this sounds cliché) not free. They come at a great cost, great sacrifice, and continuous hard work. For that reason, I am skeptical of the present "revolution" in Egypt. I can easily imagine Americans staging protests of tens of thousands of people - just look at the annual March for Life, or some of the events from this past summer, such as Glenn Beck's Restoring Honor Rally, or Jon Stewart's Restoring Sanity Rally. It doesn't take much to get people to come out and protest for causes in which they believe. Don't get me wrong, I believe it to be extremely noble for people to give up their time and maybe even their reputation or safety to protest, but I view the ouster of Mubarak as nothing more than the signing of the Declaration of Independence; a monumental moment from a historians perspective, but a mere symbol for those living through the times. I just hope that the people of Egypt realize that this is only the beginning, that there will be a struggle, and a dangerous power vacuum. I guess I'm afraid of freedom that comes too easily. Easy freedom doesn't last - just look at the Russian, Chinese, and French revolutions. The mob ruled the minds of the people and they ended up with worse rulers than they had ousted. I pray that the people of Egypt realize that democracy means that their fate is in their own hands, and that if they do not take their responsibility seriously, their unalienable rights will be trampled upon. They have accomplished a great feat of freedom from an autocratic ruler, but I believe it is a time for action and not celebration as their freedom to's have not yet fully been realized.