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Some Aspects of Independence Day - July 4th, Civil Religious Liberty, & Authentic Christian Freedom – Part I

From a conference given to the Discalced Carmelite Nuns in Little Rock and Missionaries of Charity.
        Thanks to the Internet's historical data, offered free as a public service, we can affirm that precisely 240 years ago, the Declaration of Independence from England, was signed by the Continental Congress of the original 13 colonies of the USA. That was on July 4, 1776, in Philadelphia. The first newspaper to print the Declaration was the "Pennsylvania Evening Post" on July 6, 1776. On July 8th, the Declaration had its first public reading, repeated later that same day in Philadelphia's Independence Square. Church bells pealed for both public readings. And the "Province Bell" in the tower of Independence Hall would later be named 'Liberty Bell' after the inscription – "Proclaim liberty throughout all the land / Unto all the inhabitants thereof." The first Independence Day celebration took place the following year, in 1777. By the 1800's the tradition of parades, picnics, and fireworks were established as the way to suitably keep 'America's big Birthday'.

        As the founding fathers severed the umbilical cord from King George III's England, they, by way of an introduction to the document they were drafting, referred to the "laws of nature and of nature's God" as entitling them to 'declare their grievances against the crown', and their 'independence' from it! And the next document immediately professed certain "truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights and that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."

        When we Catholics hear that declaration, we think immediately of the "Natural Law" written on our hearts. A Law written in our very nature by the Creator of the world and its peoples. That Law binds all governments which it supersedes; all human institutions need to heed and follow it to fulfill their own natural objectives. The Natural Law is the foundation of all human society; it calls all human societies to an international sensibility of communality under the One divine Origin of all nations.

        The United States is known internationally as the 'Land of the Free'; personal freedom is its hallmark. Now, we Catholic-Christians are particularly concerned with the "Right of Religious Freedom", both personal and civic. And so, let us consider the following in order to go deeper into the natural phenomenon of freedom and its purpose.

        Here allow me to address what I consider 'misconception' of our contemporary American-secularist mentality, with its atheistic tendencies:  -we have grown up with the legitimate notion of the separation of Church and State. Multiple times I remember reading Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI's agreeing with the contemporary Western conviction that it is better for the State to be separated from any particular Church -- better for the State, and better for the Churches! But our present society is identifying 'God' with any mention of 'church' at all, or with any 'religious stance' taken by an individual person in the name of religious 'conscience'. Surely, no institutional church is God himself, nor is God a particular church. To the "Separation between Church and State", we say 'YES'! We American Christians accept and promote it. But the total separation of 'State from God' is not the meaning of this juridical separation. Even the little cash money in our pockets exhibits: "In God we trust!" -- and the inauguration of any American president since George Washington has included prayers and a benediction by a religious minister. Surely neither of these traditions is in violation of the U.S. Constitution. At least, not so far...!

        God help us American Catholics come to a deeper sense of what our human freedom IS. That quest requires that we seek help from divine revelation. For divine revelation reveals not only 'mysteries' that we could never discover without explicit divine revelation ('mysteries', strictly speaking like the Blessed Trinity); but revelation also includes 'natural truths' that our sin-clouded minds tend to miss or obscure (e.g., the 10 Commandments as Natural Law). So revelation aids our intelligence and our undetermined freewill to know and operate within the ample range of our deepest identity and the full potential of personal freedom.

        It is precisely our intelligence and freewill that specify us as "human beings". And revelation helps our minds recognize that our God-given freedom (wounded by sin [i.e., turned in on itself by pride]) is not for self-aggrandizement! Liberty is "freedom for" .... Freedom for something else! That something 'for which we are free' is the attainment of our own Purpose in Life, and everybody else's Purpose. Otherwise, our use of freedom is not for GOOD. Individuals and societies of people have legitimate goods to be attained that benefit both their temporal and eternal wellbeing: - and taken together, we speak of 'wholistic wellbeing' - i.e., wellbeing of our composite of spirit, soul, and body (Paul in 1Thes 5:23); i.e., wellbeing in time and in eternity....

To be continued...

Written by Fr. Sam Anthony Morello, OCD
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