I hope you had a great celebration of the Fourth of July! It’s always a great day to celebrate with family and friends with a cookout. I celebrated with my family at my sister’s home in Saratoga, New York. It was great time with my brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, and even the little grand nieces! Good food and good fun was had by all.
Of course, the Fourth of July is more than the cookouts and fireworks. It is a celebration of the freedoms we enjoy and sometimes take for granted. It’s a day to remember the blessings we have received in our nation. It is also a time to give thanks to the many men and women who have sacrificed their lives for our freedoms and those who continue to protect and serve us.
On July 4, 1837, John Adams spoke about the meaning of Independence Day at a celebration in Newburyport, Massachusetts. He stated: “Why is it that, next to the birthday of the Savior of the world, your most joyous and most venerated festival returns on this day , the Fourth of July? Is it not that, in the chain of human events, the birthday of the nation is indissolubly linked with the birthday of the Savior? That it forms a leading event in the progress of the Gospel dispensation? Is it not that the Declaration of Independence first organized the social compact on the foundation of the Redeemer’s mission upon earth? That it laid the cornerstone of human government upon the first precepts of Christianity?”
His words continue to ring just as true for us as Americans in the 21st Century. We celebrate our nation’s birth under God. Our freedom as citizens of this nation must be tied to our faith as Catholics. The two cannot be disconnected if we are truly to be both dutiful citizens and faithful disciples.
Religious freedom is a fundamental right we celebrate as Americans. It means that the government cannot coerce people into acting against their consciences. This is important for all people, not just people of faith. A government that makes one group choose obedience to the state over obedience to faith and conscience can force any group to submit to the state's demands.
Religious freedom underlies all other freedoms for everyone. People of faith need religious freedom to have the space to serve others. Oftentimes, religious liberty disputes arise when religious organizations are expected to sacrifice aspects of their faith in order to continue to serve the surrounding community. But it is our faith that in-spires us to serve. After the federal and state government, the Catholic Church is the second largest provider of social and charitable services in Rhode Island and in the United States. Challenges to our religious freedom often comes from a mistaken view of religion, a view that sees religion as good only if it conforms to every value that happens to prevail today.
However, the good that religious institutions do is inseparable from the parts that challenge prevailing norms. Religious convictions must stand, in and out of season. When faith groups or people of faith violate their consciences, they undermine the whole mission of their ministry. People of faith and faith-based organizations must be free to make contributions to the common good of our society.
As we continue to enjoy this summer season, let us reflect on what it means to be an American Catholic in the 21st Century. The U.S. Bishops in their recent Statement on Religious Liberty have provided an excellent reflection for us. They state: “We are Catholics. We are Americans. We are proud to be both, grateful for the gift of faith which is ours as Christian disciples, and grateful for the gift of liberty which is ours as American citizens. To be Catholic and American should mean not having to choose one over the other. Our allegiances are distinct, but they need not be contradictory, and should instead be complementary. That is the teaching of our Catholic faith, which obliges us to work together with fellow citizens for the common good of all who live in this land. That is the vision of our founding and our Constitution, which guarantees citizens of all religious faiths the right to contribute to our common life together.”
Enjoy the summer!!! Enjoy your freedom! Do good. Be well. God Bless. Go Sox!!