In our church calendar, today is the feast of the apostles Saints Simon and Jude; in our secular calendar, it is Statue of Liberty Day because on October 28, 1886, President Grover Cleveland formally took possession of the world-famous statue given by the people of France to those of the United States.
Just last month, I had the joy of seeing the statue again. Our travel group had gone aboard the Holland-America liner “Eurodam” on the morning of September 6. That afternoon, the ship left her berth in the Hudson River and began her cruise up to Quebec. By happy coincidence, we sailed past the Statue of Liberty just as a huge, bright-orange sun was going down behind it, silhouetting the impressive monument at the end of a beautiful day. The last words of the poem by Emma Lazarus about the statue came back to me: “I lift my lamp beside the golden door.” It has indeed been a golden door for millions who came to our shores seeking a better life than they had previously, and the statue is an appropriate gift to the people of the United States who celebrated their centennial of freedom in 1876 from the people of France who celebrated theirs in 1889.
Now, let’s go back to Saints Simon and Jude. There were two men by each of those names among the twelve apostles of Our Lord. But Jesus changed the name of one of the Simons to “Peter” and we speak of the other couple as Saint Jude and the traitor Judas Iscariot. I have a special affection for Saint Simon because my Jewish great-grandfather was Simon Braun who came to this country from Germany about the year 1840, and married a Catholic lady of French background in Houma, Louisiana. Thus he gave me my Jewish family name and my kinship to the chosen people of Israel; fortunately, his wife gave me my Catholic identity and French cultural background.
So today we can celebrate the foundation of his Church by Our Lord upon the foundation stones of the apostles; we can celebrate our national freedom and all that it brings to us, and the friendship between our country and France. One of France’s other important gifts to us was the leadership of the Marquis of Lafayette during our revolutionary war. Very conscious of that, the commanding officer of the American troops that arrived in Paris to help France free itself from German occupation in 1917 stood at the grave of Lafayette and said, famously, “Lafayette, we are here.” Thank you for seeking God’s truth. God bless you. Father Victor Brown, O.P.
Note: This Message was composed some years ago.