Independence Day

Today’s readings: Isaiah 57:15-19 | Psalm 85:9-14 | Philippians 4:6-9 | John 14:23-29

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

Famously begins the Declaration of Independence, signed by representatives of the American colonies on July 4, 1776.  Sometimes, I think, it seems we have strayed pretty far from the ideals found in this wonderful document.  Just that first sentence says a lot about who our forefathers wanted us to be: it acknowledges the Creator God who gives people a dignity and rights: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  These rights must still be vigorously defended today.

The right to life seems like a no-brainer.  But as our society has become more complex, the right to life has been somewhat blurred.  When does life begin?  What lives need to be protected?  The Church, of course, calls for a vigorous defense of life at every stage from conception to natural death.  That means abortion is wrong, embryonic stem-cell research is wrong, euthanasia is wrong.  These convictions make for difficult conversations, but life is and always will be a basic human right.

The right to liberty is similarly blurred in today’s society.  Nobody wants anything to infringe on their freedoms.  And nothing should.  But being free people doesn’t mean that we’re free to do whatever we want.  Our freedom cannot, for example, impinge on the freedom of another person.  Our freedom cannot allow us to harm another person.  Saint Paul says that “for freedom, Christ has set us free.”  Our freedom has a purpose, and that purpose is that we can then freely choose Christ, freely choose God, freely choose love.  None of that happens in a coerced way.  Freely choosing God means that we must be willing to freely choose all that that choice entails, without threat of harm from another.

And finally there is the pursuit of happiness.  We Christians believe that happiness will never be perfectly obtained in this life.  We long for the happiness of the kingdom of God, that place we were made for in the first place.  We have the right to pursue reasonable happiness in this life, and we have a right to exercise the means to pursue the most excellent happiness of the world to come.

We Catholics teach that with all these rights come responsibilities.  We have a responsibility to protect the rights of others, to keep our nation from harm, to work for lasting peace in the world.  Toward that end, we are mindful and grateful of the work so many have done to secure our rights and freedoms, both those who have gone before us and those still fighting wars today.  We, of course, know that as we pursue peace and freedom, we will only perfectly attain that in Christ.  In our Gospel today, he offers us peace that the world cannot give.  In our prayer, then, we long for the day when war will be no more, and the peace that is the presence of Christ will rule over a world still in need of the perfection of life, liberty and happiness.

In the last line of the Declaration, our forefathers pledged themselves to the great task of building a nation based on these inalienable rights: “And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.”  May we always make the same pledge that our nation may always be great.

Independence Day

Today’s readings: Isaiah 57:15-19 | Philippians 4:6-9 | John 14:23-29

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. 

That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…

So begins our nation’s Declaration of Independence, a document of inestimable worth, authored by passionate men.  The independence that document brought came at the price of many lives, and so that independence and the rights it brought forth, must always be vigorously defended and steadfastly maintained.  Almost 200 years later, the bishops of the Church, gathered in synod for the second Vatican Council, spoke boldly of the specific liberty of religious freedom.  They wrote:

This Vatican Council declares that the human person has a right to religious freedom. This freedom means that all men are to be immune from coercion on the part of individuals or of social groups and of any human power, in such wise that no one is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his own beliefs, whether privately or publicly, whether alone or in association with others, within due limits. 

The council further declares that the right to religious freedom has its foundation in the very dignity of the human person as this dignity is known through the revealed word of God and by reason itself. This right of the human person to religious freedom is to be recognized in the constitutional law whereby society is governed and thus it is to become a civil right.  (Dignitatis Humanae, 2.)

So the Church teaches that the right to free practice of religion belongs to each person as part of their fundamental human dignity.  A person’s right to form a relationship with, worship, and live in accord with the God who created them is foundational to all civil liberties.  And while having this right in a nation’s constitution is important, actually putting it into practice is another matter entirely.

In our nation, the free practice of religion was so important that those passionate men took the radical step of breaking ties with the country of their patrimony, and forging a new nation.  Because of that, we have inherited the freedom they fought hard to arrange.  But again, we have to be vigilant to protect that freedom, or it can become just words on paper.

Freedom of religion was never intended to be freedom from religion, a notion that well-meaning agnostics, atheists and secularists have sought diligently to popularize.  The Church teaches that true freedom isn’t some misguided notion of being able to do whatever on earth we want, regardless of the needs and rights of others: our own freedoms are never meant to impinge on the freedom of another.  As Saint John Paul said, “Freedom consists not in doing what we like, but in having the right to do what we ought.”

So it is important on this Independence Day, to take a stand for freedom that is truly free, to defend the freedom to which our Founding Fathers dedicated their lives, and to insist that our freedoms are not just freedoms on paper, but instead, true freedoms, extended to every person.  Because it is that freedom that leads us to our God.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus gives to his Apostles, and to us, the peace that comes from the  abiding presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives.  That Spirit leads us to truth and peace and ultimately into the presence of God himself.  Blessed are we, free are we, when we put aside everything that gets in the way of the Spirit’s action in our lives and impinges on our true freedom to walk with our God.

In the last line of the Declaration of Independence, our forefathers pledged themselves to the great task of building a nation based on freedom: “And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.”  They gave everything so that we might all be free.  May we always make the same pledge that our nation may always be great.

Independence Day

Today’s readings

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. 

That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…

So begins our nation’s Declaration of Independence, a document of inestimable worth, authored by passionate men.  The independence that document brought came at the price of many lives, and so that independence and the rights it brought forth, must always be vigorously defended and steadfastly maintained.  About 200 years later, the bishops of the Church, gathered in synod for the second Vatican Council, spoke boldly of the specific liberty of religious freedom.  They wrote:

This Vatican Council declares that the human person has a right to religious freedom. This freedom means that all men are to be immune from coercion on the part of individuals or of social groups and of any human power, in such wise that no one is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his own beliefs, whether privately or publicly, whether alone or in association with others, within due limits. 

The council further declares that the right to religious freedom has its foundation in the very dignity of the human person as this dignity is known through the revealed word of God and by reason itself. This right of the human person to religious freedom is to be recognized in the constitutional law whereby society is governed and thus it is to become a civil right.  (Dignitatis Humanae, 2.)

So the Church teaches that the right to free practice of religion belongs to each person as part of their fundamental human dignity.  A person’s right to form a relationship with, worship, and live in accord with the God who created them is foundational to all civil liberties.  And while having this right in a nation’s constitution is important, actually putting it into practice is another matter entirely.

In our nation, the free practice of religion was so important that passionate men took the radical step of breaking ties with the country of the patrimony, and forging a new nation.  Because of that, we have inherited the freedom they fought hard to arrange.  But again, we have to be vigilant to protect that freedom, or it can become just words on paper.

Freedom of religion was never intended to be freedom from religion, a notion that well-meaning agnostics, atheists and secularists have popularized of late.  The Church teaches that true freedom isn’t some misguided notion of being able to do whatever the heck we want; our own freedoms are never meant to impinge on the freedom of another.  That was the mistake of Israel in today’s first reading, and the prophet Amos takes them soundly to task for it.  He even prophecies that that misguided notion of freedom will lead them into exile, which in fact it does.  God’s view of freedom is that we are free to love as God is free to love.  He has freely chosen to love us; we are invited to freely choose to love him too.  And when we do, that love has an impact on what we believe and how we live, or at least it should.  And we have the right to live that impact without coercion from any other person, or group, or earthly power.

So it is important on this Independence Day, to take a stand for freedom that is truly free, to defend the freedom that our Founding Fathers dedicated their lives to, and to insist that our freedoms are not just freedoms on paper, but instead, true freedoms, extended to every person.  Because it is that freedom that leads us to our God.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus asks the sinful tax collector Matthew to follow him.  And he does.  He exercises his freedom to walk away from the sinfulness of his past life and pursue new life of dedication to our Lord.  We are all called to follow our Lord in one way or another.  Blessed are we, free are we, when we put everything that impinges on our freedom aside and follow him.

In the last line of the Declaration of Independence, our forefathers pledged themselves to the great task of building a nation based on freedom: “And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.”  They gave everything so that we might all be free.  May we always make the same pledge that our nation may always be great.

Independence Day

Today’s readings: Ezekiel 3:17-21; Psalm 8; Colossians 3:9b-17; Matthew 25:31-46

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…

So begins our nation’s Declaration of Independence, a document of inestimable worth, authored by passionate men.  The independence that document brought came at the price of many lives, and so that independence and the rights it brought forth, must always be vigorously defended and steadfastly maintained.

The Liturgy of the Word today shows just exactly how important this is.  Yes, it’s good for people to be free from despotic rule, but there is more to it than that.  So in today’s Gospel, Jesus gathers his disciples and paints for them a picture of what the final judgment will be like.  When we think about judgment day, we often picture something that will happen to us as individuals, and indeed, that is one aspect.  But the really important judgment comes about not as individuals, but as nations.  Indeed, Jesus tells us that the nations will be assembled before him when he comes in glory, and these he will separate like the sheep from the goats.  It’s not an individual picture here at all.

So this makes exercising our rights a matter of great importance.  We can’t be a people who don’t take the time to vote, because the leaders of our nation can either lead us to salvation or to damnation.  We can’t be people who decide how to vote a matter of simply “what’s in it for me,” but instead must give due care to consider the welfare of our nation as a whole, and the influence that we exert on the world community.  We have to be a nation who brings others to Christ and gives witness to the Gospel.  As Ezekiel prophecies in our first reading today, woe to us if we don’t!

It’s a sobering thought, but not one that we should feel is insurmountable.  Since that momentous day of July 4, 1776, we have been a people that has vigorously defended the rights that bring us to peace in this life and salvation in the next.  We have defended life.  But as our society has become more complex, the right to life has been somewhat blurred.  When does life begin?  What lives need to be protected?  The Church, of course, calls for a vigorous defense of life at every stage from conception to natural death.  That means abortion is wrong, embryonic stem-cell research is wrong, euthanasia is wrong.  These convictions make for difficult conversations, but life is and always will be a basic human right.

We have defended the right to liberty, but that right is similarly blurred in today’s society.  Nobody wants anything to infringe on their freedoms.  And nothing should.  But being free people doesn’t mean that we’re free to do whatever we want.  Our freedom cannot, for example, impinge on the freedom of another person.  Our freedom cannot allow us to harm another person.  As we heard in last Sunday’s second reading, Saint Paul tells us that “for freedom, Christ has set us free.”  Our freedom has a purpose, and that purpose is that we can then freely choose Christ, freely choose God, freely choose love.  None of that happens in a coerced way.  Freely choosing God means that we must be willing to freely choose all that that choice entails, without threat of harm from another.

And finally there is the pursuit of happiness.  We Christians believe that happiness will never be perfectly obtained in this life.  We long for the happiness of the kingdom of God, that place we were made for in the first place.  We have the right to pursue reasonable happiness in this life, and we have a right to exercise the means to pursue the most excellent happiness of the world to come.

In the last line of the Declaration, our forefathers pledged themselves to the great task of building a nation based on these inalienable rights: “And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.”  May we always make the same pledge that our nation may always be great.

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