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Independence Day
By Norm Langenbrunner
Source: The Catholic Telegraph
Published: Monday, June 28, 2010
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The Fourth of July is arguably the closest we Americans come to a national religious celebration (Thanksgiving is a contender). Of course we maintain that proverbial wall of separation between church and state, but Independence Day does focus on a creed (the Declaration of Independence), on a liturgy (picnics, bells and fireworks) and on a memorial (that moment when our founding fathers pledged their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor).

The heart of our national creed is the self-evident truth that "all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights." The reason for forming a government or rebelling against a tyranny is the preservation and promotion of those God-given rights. In 1776 the colonies, "appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions" and relying "on the protection of Divine Providence" declared their right to be free and independent states.

John Adams wrote to his wife that succeeding generations will celebrate a great annual festival with pomp and parade and "solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty...from this time forward forever-more." His prediction of this kind of liturgy and celebration finds an echo in cemeteries, parades and churches across the land.

Somewhere in between the beer and hotdogs (bratwursts in Cincinnati!), in the midst of red, white and blue bunting, there is a moment on the Fourth of July for remembering the courage and sacrifice of our nation's founding generation and succeeding generations who have imitated them. From the Lincoln Memorial in DC to the sunken Arizona in Pearl Harbor Americans pause to remember and many whisper a prayer of thankfulness and praise.

The wall separating government and religion is not so high that Americans must deny either their politics or their religion. When Thomas Jefferson coined the expression "wall of separation" he was assuring members of the Danbury Baptist Association that his administration would in no way impinge on their freedom of religion. Although some in later generations took his words to mean "freedom from religion," was affirming "freedom of." The Constitution guaranteed it.

Our founding generation did not intend to establish a theocracy; the federal government would impose no national religion, no church-mandated laws. Individual states might have to deal with that question, but not the federal government. Yet, having said that, neither did our forefathers intend to ban God or religion from the republic.There were concerns that 18th-century Roman Catholics might be required by the pope to impose their religious beliefs on the new nation. Some papal documents rejected the idea of separation of church and state. But the country's first bishop, John Carroll, in 1784, praised the American system and thought freedom of religion a good way to foster unity of faith.

This perception challenged the presidential election of John F. Kennedy in 1960 because he was Catholic. Kennedy, in a campaign speech to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association, emphatically confirmed his belief in separation of church and state, and added, "I believe in an America where no Catholic prelate would tell the president (should he be Catholic) how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote."

In 1965 the Second Vatican Council declared that human beings have "a right to religious freedom" and Pope Benedict XVI in 2008 praised separation of church and state as "a guarantee of freedom and autonomy."

Two ideas clashed in Robert Frost's poem "Mending Wall": "Something there is that doesn't love a wall" and "Good fences make good neighbors." Our belief in separation of church and state is like that: just as disconcerting and just as necessary.

Norm Langenbrunner is a regular columnist for The Catholic Telegraph, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, which is currently on a summer publishing schedule. This special edition of his column appears only on AmericanCatholic.org.


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Nativity of St. John the Baptist: Jesus called John the greatest of all those who had preceded him: “I tell you, among those born of women, no one is greater than John....” But John would have agreed completely with what Jesus added: “[Y]et the least in the kingdom of God is greater than he” (Luke 7:28). 
<p>John spent his time in the desert, an ascetic. He began to announce the coming of the Kingdom, and to call everyone to a fundamental reformation of life. </p><p>His purpose was to prepare the way for Jesus. His Baptism, he said, was for repentance. But One would come who would baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire. John is not worthy even to carry his sandals. His attitude toward Jesus was: “He must increase; I must decrease” (John 3:30). </p><p>John was humbled to find among the crowd of sinners who came to be baptized the one whom he already knew to be the Messiah. “I need to be baptized by you” (Matthew 3:14b). But Jesus insisted, “Allow it now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness” (Matthew 3:15b). Jesus, true and humble human as well as eternal God, was eager to do what was required of any good Jew. John thus publicly entered the community of those awaiting the Messiah. But making himself part of that community, he made it truly messianic. </p><p>The greatness of John, his pivotal place in the history of salvation, is seen in the great emphasis Luke gives to the announcement of his birth and the event itself—both made prominently parallel to the same occurrences in the life of Jesus. John attracted countless people (“all Judea”) to the banks of the Jordan, and it occurred to some people that he might be the Messiah. But he constantly deferred to Jesus, even to sending away some of his followers to become the first disciples of Jesus. </p><p>Perhaps John’s idea of the coming of the Kingdom of God was not being perfectly fulfilled in the public ministry of Jesus. For whatever reason, he sent his disciples (when he was in prison) to ask Jesus if he was the Messiah. Jesus’ answer showed that the Messiah was to be a figure like that of the Suffering Servant in Isaiah (chapters 49 through 53). John himself would share in the pattern of messianic suffering, losing his life to the revenge of Herodias.</p> American Catholic Blog Let us pray to Our Lady, that she may protect us. In times of spiritual upset, the safest place is within the folds of her garments.

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