Independence Day helps us to appreciate our blessings Print
Seeing with Jesus' Eyes
Thursday, Jul. 02, 2009 -- 12:00 AM

Independence Day offers us an opportunity to thank God for our country's blessings. Some visitors from poorer countries express amazement at the cornucopia of blessings that we Americans enjoy and sometimes take for granted.

We celebrate some of our blessings when we sing "America the Beautiful." The words "God, mend thine every flaw" from this song can also invite us as responsible Catholics and citizens to try to help make America even more beautiful.

Independence Day is a federal holiday when we celebrate the anniversary of the day that the Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776. On this day we can also thank God for the brave men who risked their lives and fortunes to eventually sign this great document.

Endowed by the creator

According to Bishop Paul Swain, the words in the Declaration of Independence that we Catholics should especially recall are, "We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness."

The Knights of Columbus help us to remember the creator as the source of our blessings when we recite the Pledge of Allegiance. They led the movement to include the word "under God" in the pledge, which was approved by President Dwight Eisenhower on June 14, 1954. Later the president thanked the Knights for their efforts.

'Because America is good'

America's belief in our creator as the source of our equality, freedom, and pursuit of happiness was recognized by Alexander De Tocqueville, the French historian and statesman who visited the United States to try to discover the secret of its greatness.

In Democracy in America, published in two volumes in 1835 and 1840, he observed, "Not until I went into the churches of America and heard her pulpits flame with righteousness, did I understand the secret of her genius and power. America is great because America is good. If America ever ceases to be good, America will cease to be great."

When God is alive in our lives, God can empower us to act morally and charitably towards others. Sharing our blessings sends the message that Americans are good, charitable people who care for the most vulnerable of humanity.

According to no. 1889 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, "Charity is the greatest social commandment -- that is love of God and neighbor. It respects others and their rights. It requires the practice of justice and it alone makes us capable of it."

Religious freedom

America must be careful not to impose its will and the American way on others by military might. This can send the message that justice comes about by force. Freedom and liberty must be combined with responsibility to the natural law, the rights of others, and the will of God.

Some openly try to remove God from our society under the guise of separation of church and state. Secular humanism and original sin helps to produce Americans who deny God and who seek to impose freedom from religion.

Our nation has roots steeped in the commitment to religious freedom -- the freedom to seek and to find equality before God under the established government. The Catholic colony of Maryland and other colonies were founded partially because of the desire for religious freedom.

A visiting priest told me that one of the God-given blessings of America is that when we disagree on important issues, we dialogue, debate, and vote. In his country when people disagree, there is a greater temptation to resort to violence or go to war.

Personal conversion also needed

Good civil laws can help us to do what we ought, but an inner personal conversion is also needed. In paragraph 1896 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church it is stated, "where sin has perverted the social climate, it is necessary to call for the conversion of hearts and appeal to the grace of God. Charity urges just reforms."

Efforts to protect life, promote peace and other God-given rights are stronger when Catholics live the teachings of the Church. As Catholics we have the right to use our freedom to urge elected representatives to enact just laws that support the exercise of virtue.

Independence Day offers us the opportunity to appreciate the blessings of our country and work to make it better. We can become more responsible Catholic citizens who ask God to mend the flaws in our country and ourselves.

We can pray for our government and our fellow citizens during these difficult financial times. Or we can respond in some other way that the Spirit leads us. May the Holy Spirit fill us with wisdom and courage so we can help to make America more beautiful in the eyes of God, America, and the world.

Fr. Don Lange is a pastor emeritus in the Diocese of Madison.