Dear Friends in Christ,
This weekend we celebrate Independence Day. It seems odd to celebrate the Fourth of July amidst the Coronavirus pandemic and the incidents of civil unrest that continue to erupt around the country. But we should celebrate our freedom and thank God for the innumerable blessings we enjoy as Americans. It is indisputable that our country is indeed one of the most blessed nations in the history of the world. Few seem to be aware that before President Trump several politicians have used the phrase “Make America Great Again” including Presidents Reagan and Clinton and even Hilary Clinton in 2008! We sing in America, The Beautiful, ‘God has shed His grace on thee.” Indeed, He has. That is what has made our America truly beautiful and great. It was true in the past. It is true today and will be the reason for our future beauty and greatness. What diminishes our beauty and our greatness is when we squander those graces by forgetting that God is the true source of our blessings.
The recent protests are in many ways, but not all, infantile and silly not to mention misguided and in too many instances harmful and evil. Peaceful protests and demonstrations are venerable, appropriate and legitimate forms of expression in a democracy. Mob rule and riots are not. The right of free speech and the right of assembly are enshrined and protected in our Constitution. Destruction of property; public or private, and disorderly conduct and unlawful behavior are not. Ours is not a perfect nation, we are not a perfect people. That should not be a surprise to anyone nor is it the essence of who we are as a nation. Truth in fact, we are a great nation comprised of good people striving to become an even better nation. Anarchy is not the remedy for our imperfections nor is it the prescription for a more just, free or prosperous society. The founders of our great republic knew this as have people throughout the ages. What makes America great is not the perfection or impeccability of our leaders or citizens but our commitment to liberty and justice. As Catholics we know better than most that every saint was once a sinner and every sinner can repent and become a saint! It is not by accident that so many around the world continue to see America as a beacon of freedom that still gives hope. That shining light of freedom has been purchased by American blood shed over the years along with great amounts of sweat and tears. The enjoyment and exercise of that liberty endowed to us by our creator, enshrined in our founding documents, and defended in blood is dependent upon the morality and virtue of our citizens. The Scriptures teach us, “Virtue exalts a nation, but sin is a people’s disgrace” (Prv 14:34). Our liberty is brought to us by our democracy. However, democracy cannot survive without moral individuals. Democracy without morality devolves into a battle of power, a contest of the strong over the weak. A democracy that becomes untethered from morality and virtue will cease to serve the common good and be the instrument of freedom. One of the truths that democracy teaches is that might does not make right.
Just as there is an essential difference between might and right, there is also a difference between morals and values. All societies, even tyrannical and oppressive societies and forms of government, have values. Even Socialist and Communist governments have values. They value the Party over the people and the state over individuals’ rights and freedoms. What enables a democracy and its fruits to thrive however is virtue. As the 19th century political writer, Alexis de Tocqueville, observed in his famous work Democracy in America, what makes America great is not the many natural resources of the land but the morality and virtue of her people. This he rightly saw was formed and cultivated in the churches and religious practice of America’s people.
If we truly want America to be great, regardless of our political affiliation; if we really want to strive to make our country a more perfect union for all citizens; if we sincerely desire to be the shining city on a hill for the world and for future generations; if we see our destiny and our glory as a nation that promotes and protects life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, then we must, as a people, and as individuals, turn to God, our creator and source of our blessings and freedoms. We must work to make America more virtuous by being virtuous ourselves and teaching virtue to our children. We must strive to be moral persons and people of good character. We should strive each day to act ethically – individually and corporately. We should esteem moral conduct and reject immorality in all of its forms. As the American patriot and one of our founding statesmen, Patrick Henry, stated at the time of the American Revolution, “Bad men cannot make good citizens. It is when a people forget God that tyrants forge their chains. A vitiated state of morals, a corrupted public conscience, is incompatible with freedom. No free government, or the blessings of liberty, can be preserved to any people but by a firm adherence to justice, moderation, temperance, frugality, and virtue; and by a frequent recurrence to fundamental principles.”
It should not surprise us that we have such civil unrest at a time when we as a society are experiencing an abandoning of religious practice and adherence. It should not surprise us that we have such political and social divisions when our values are no longer rooted in morals and virtues. It should not surprise us that we have corruption in our society and in our institutions (church, government, commerce, education, media) after decades of moral decay. Racism is truly evil and has damaged our country. Yet when we look at institutional, systemic and cultural immorality, ignorance and irresponsibility, we see even greater evil and harm. The moral decay and the decline of marriages and families, the moral decay of our citizens and institutions, the devaluation of good character and citizenship, the evaporation of virtue, and the eradication of religion from the public square, have done far more damage to our country. Immorality, ignorance and irresponsibility have affected people of every race, creed, class and segment of our nation. Hand wringing and complaining, protesting and rioting, are not solutions and neither is turning away and pretending it does not affect us. Ignoring the problem and hoping everything will get better is not a good plan. Nor is the solution to abandon, abolish or give up on our institutions. Rather, we need to restore and renew.
For us as Catholics and as Americans one of the greatest gifts we can give to this country that has afforded us so many privileges and opportunities, is to be great and faithful Catholics. We build up America when we live our Catholic faith with zeal and vibrancy. When we work to make our marriages strong and work to keep our families together, that makes a difference. When we raise our children to be faithful Catholics and responsible, hardworking citizens – that makes a difference. When you and I offer the example and make the contribution of faithful citizenship, we make a better America for people of all faiths and people of none. When we live moral and virtuous lives and encourage others to do the same, we make our democracy stronger. A moral life is a responsible life, it is an enlightened life; it is a noble life; it is a life of freedom.
Happy Fourth of July!
In Pace Christi,