WASHINGTON, DC (Catholic Online) - This Sunday is the 4th of July, the day when people will gather all over the United States of America to celebrate Independence. Fireworks will light up the sky, families will gather and we will all pause to remember those who gave their lives so that the promises set forth in that Declaration of Independence could inform a new Nation. Their courageous Declaration, signed on this date proclaimed: "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"
The Declaration of Independence was the birth certificate of the United States of America. The words are still memorized by at least some of our schoolchildren and can bring a tear to the oldest American eye with little effort. The principles they communicate have informed our history as a free people and inspired our neighbors in other parts of the world to stand up against all forms of tyranny. As we reflect upon the text this weekend we need to remember that our forebears were not declaring their independence from Divine Providence. Rather, they were trusting in the primacy of the Governance of God over their own lives and their noble undertaking.
They sought independence from a monarchy which had become tyrannical precisely because it had forgotten the implications of the primacy of Divine Providence. The principles set forth in that Declaration were a rallying cry which called forth extraordinary sacrifice. They were rooted in something much greater than political expediency. That is why those principles became a measuring stick against which all governments of men would be measured in the future.
The courageous men who signed this document were influenced by the great treasury brought to Western Civilization by the Christian Church. They believed there actually were truths to be held and that those truths are self evident. Those truths include the existence of unalienable rights which are given to all men and women by a Creator. They believed that those truths and those rights can be discerned by all men and women because they are revealed by the Natural Law which is written on all human hearts and is a participation in God's law.
Certainly, not all of the American founders were Christians. For example, Thomas Jefferson was more of a Deist than a classical Christian. He had a fondness for the French Revolution which was cut from a very different set of principles than the American Revolution. His Bible, with all references which he considered to be superstitious cut out with scissors, has been well documented. However, he was a man who understood the true sources of our liberties. It is Jefferson's words which still speak from the third panel of the Memorial built in his honor: "God who gave us life gave us liberty. Can the liberties of a nation be secure when we have removed a conviction that these liberties are the gift of God?"
Of the 56 men who signed the Declaration, Charles Carroll of Carrolton, cousin of the Archbishop John Carroll of Baltimore, was the only Catholic signer. At the time of his signing it was illegal for Catholics to hold public office or to vote in Maryland. Yet, he still pledged with all of the signatories: "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." He knew the importance of the vision of freedom, rights and liberty which that Declaration proclaimed in those three profoundly simple but supremely powerful words: "We Hold These Truths." The question which must be asked as we celebrate our Independence this weekend is a sobering one, What Truths do we Still Hold?
There are competing visions of the human person, human dignity, human rights, and human freedom at work in many of the institutions which were formed in response to this Declaration. The recognition of the preeminent Right to Life so clearly set forth in the words of this Declaration is currently being undermined by the positive/civil law of the very Nation which they helped to birth. How can a Nation which has enshrined the killing of innocent children in the womb in its positive law claim that that it still recognizes the unalienable right to life?
The child in the womb is our first neighbor. Certainly all of the American founders would agree it is wrong to kill an innocent neighbor. She is the first legal immigrant with her citizenship assured if she can make it out of the birth canal alive under the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. How can we read Jefferson's words, "God who gave us life gave us liberty" and not see the evil of a jurisprudence which puts the police power behind the ... intentional taking of her life by pretending to find the "right" to commit such a heinous crime within a so called "liberty interest" of the same U.S. Constitution?
The second part of Jefferson's statement cries out for an answer on this 4th of July: "Can the liberties of a nation be secure when we have removed a conviction that these liberties are the gift of God?" I anticipate some of the responses to this article. Some will ask "Does everything come back to abortion for you?" The answer is "YES" because the entire infrastructure of human rights and freedoms is at risk when we fail to recognize the preeminent Right to Life. Liberty itself is at risk when there exists in our positive law a so called "right" to kill the very human person required to receive them or to exercise them.
On this day I will join with my family in celebrating the promise of the Declaration of the Declaration of Independence. Like millions throughout the United States of America we will pause to thank God for the privilege of living in this Nation. Then, we will rededicate ourselves to working for the more perfect application of the principles which inspired the founders. They beckon every succeeding generation to sacrifice again to secure the blessings of liberty for all.
No matter how diverse the American founders were in their religious convictions they all affirmed the truths this Declaration proclaimed and recognized that the unalienable rights which flowed from them were given not by civil government but endowed by the Creator. The implication is obvious; they could not be taken away by civil government either. On July 4, 2010, we should celebrate our Independence by reaffirming our Dependence on God and proclaim together again together that we hold these truths!
On April 18, 2005, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger presided over Mass in St. Peter's square. The entire world was mourning the death of the Venerable John Paul II and the conclave was gathering to discern who would succeed him in the Chair of Peter. IN a stirring homily he refelcted on the readings of the Mass, asked a probing question and shared a prophetic insight:
"How many winds of doctrine have we known in recent decades, how many ideological currents, how many ways of thinking? The small boat of the thought of many Christians has often been tossed about by these waves - flung from one extreme to another: from Marxism to liberalism, even to libertinism; from collectivism to radical individualism; from atheism to a vague religious mysticism; from agnosticism to syncretism and so forth. Every day new sects spring up, and what St Paul says about human deception and the trickery that strives to entice people into error (cf. Eph 4: 14) comes true.
"Today, having a clear faith based on the Creed of the Church is often labeled as fundamentalism. Whereas relativism, that is, letting oneself be "tossed here and there, carried about by every wind of doctrine", seems the only attitude that can cope with modern times. We are building a dictatorship of relativism that does not recognize anything as definitive and whose ultimate goal consists solely of one's own ego and desires.
"We, however, have a different goal: the Son of God, the true man. He is the measure of true humanism. An "adult" faith is not a faith that follows the trends of fashion and the latest novelty; a mature adult faith is deeply rooted in friendship with Christ. It is this friendship that opens us up to all that is good and gives us a criterion by which to distinguish the true from the false, and deceit from truth. We must develop this adult faith; we must guide the flock of Christ to this faith. And it is this faith - only faith - that creates unity and is fulfilled in love."
The next day, April 19, 2005, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger took the name Benedict XVI and filled that chair, chosen by the successors of the Apostles for the task.
As Catholics who are also Americans we know all too well the ravages of the "dictatorship of relativism" in our own Nation. The only way forward is through cultivating and living this adult faith of which Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, spoke. It is time that we take our place in proclaiming that there are truths which can be known and they must order our lives together. It is time to take up the task of the New Evangelization in this Nation which we love. It has become mission territory. We are the missionaries. May God Bless America.