God is First
Dear Friends in Christ:
This weekend we celebrate the 245th anniversary of our nation’s independence. We are indeed a nation greatly blessed by God. By divine grace and by the sacrifice of blood, toil and labor, our beloved nation, The United States of America, continues to stand as a beacon of hope to the world and a witness to liberty, justice, equality, peace and progress. Is our nation perfect? Are our citizens above reproach? Is our history without blemish? Of course not. Even with the recent troubles and current divisions our nation continues to be blessed. Our problems, challenges, and failures do not erase the great blessings we have received, and continue to enjoy, or the accomplishments we have achieved. However, we cannot and should not take these blessings and accomplishments for granted. Reflecting on our nation, we should be grateful to God and continue to pray for our nation, our people, and our leaders. We pray that we may continue to strive to be a force for good for our citizens and for our global neighbors. We pray that we may always be resolved to protect the innocent against tyranny and oppression. We pray that we will continue to work to make our nation a society of peace and justice; always protecting life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and recognizing that these fundamental rights come not from the government but have been endowed to us by our creator. In addition to prayer, we must work to ensure and protect the exercise of these rights by our participation in the political process and fulfilling the duties of our citizenship.
As Catholics in the United States we enjoy the great gift of liberty to exercise and practice our faith. We enjoy this liberty even while many of our brothers and sisters in the faith are being beheaded, tortured, imprisoned and persecuted, around the world by lawless terrorists and oppressive governments. Our exercise and enjoyment of religious liberty here in the United States has not always been the case. Our nation’s history too is replete with disgraceful examples of religious intolerance and prejudice. Just as we must continue to fight against racism and bigotry, we must continue to work to eradicate religious intolerance. The threat against our religious liberty is real and there is evidence of its gaining strength today. As secularism accelerates in society and, as Catholics and other believers become less and less informed about the true nature of faith and the true nature of government, there has been an erosion of our “first and most cherished freedom”. There is a growing anti-religious, anti-Christian, and anti-Catholic sentiment in society and law. Sadly, and disturbingly, in many instances these attacks against religion are being led by people who claim to be Catholic! This scandal is to their and our great shame. By statute and by regulation, there has been a general reduction and redefining of The Establishment Clause of the Constitution.
The First Amendment states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion; or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” The attacks on religious liberty are an illegitimate reduction of the free exercise of religious practice and to the freedom of worship. Today there are many efforts that go far beyond this and are outright attacks on people and their religious beliefs. In recent years elected federal officials have questioned the acceptability of judicial nominees and others because they were faithful and observant Catholics! This is a significant loss for our nation, and it is an attack on every citizen’s rights. This is happening across our nation and at all levels of government (federal, state, and local). Americans are being denied the free exercise of living and practicing their faith in contradiction to our nation’s Constitution. Increasingly, many Americans who profess the Christian faith, in particular Catholics, are being denied the right to act according to their religiously informed consciences. Acting according to their faith is now placing many Christian Americans in violation of the law of the state. Our first and most cherished freedom, upon which all the other rights we exercise (free speech, free press, free assembly, petition against grievances) depend, is being curtailed and circumscribed. This is true for individuals and churches. Our failure to stand up and protect these rights given to us by God and guaranteed by our Constitution and defended by the blood and sacrifice of our citizens is not only a loss for us today but for all those who come after us.
Our Catholic bishops and priests, joined by many other religious leaders and others of no religion or sect, have spoken courageously about the danger of this erosion of our liberty. We speak as loyal and faithful citizens who love our country. We speak as pastors and as citizens grateful to live in such a great country and committed to keeping our country faithful to the highest standards of freedom and justice for all her citizens. We speak with all due respect for our government officials but with a greater respect for our fellow citizens and for what is right. Like St. Thomas More, husband, father, statesman, and martyr for the Catholic faith, we should all strive to say, “I am the king’s (nation’s) good servant, but God’s first” – not only in word but in action. God bless America!
In pace Christi,