Independence Day Reminds us to Testify to the Truth
Every year on Good Friday, we read the Passion from John, and while there is so much to think about with the reading of the Passion, one of the lines that always strikes is from Pilate in John 18:38. He says to Jesus “What is truth?”
It’s a question many people have had through time, because truth can often become whatever it is people want it to be. As Pope Francis has said, “the tyranny of relativism is the spiritual poverty of our time.”
Unfortunately in man’s search for truth, many have done evil actions because they are duped, or ruled by emotion. It’s what has led to the rise of Communism, Fascism and tyrants up and down history. It’s what led to abortion and slavery being accepted. It’s what led to Jim Crow laws and institutional racism in many parts of our country for some 100 years after reconstruction to the Civil Rights movement. And in recent weeks, it is also what has led to violence against people and destruction of property, with some protests becoming mob actions that have destroyed businesses and toppled statues.
As the Irish statesman Edmund Burke said, “all tyranny needs to gain a foothold is for people of good conscience to remain silent.” How right he is. Silence allows evil actions to continue, and it’s up to you and me to speak up for what we believe in, but also to express our opinion on things that matter to us.
As our nation celebrates her birthday, it’s worth thinking about the importance of exercising our freedoms now more than ever. Sadly with such polarization, it seems some have gotten good at shouting or getting after others online, and a number of others would prefer just not to deal with it and remain silent. For the Christian though this isn’t an option. As we heard a few weeks ago in the Gospel from Matthew 10: “What I say to you in the darkness, speak in the light; what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops.”
Jesus is preparing the apostles here for their ministry, and He gives us the same commission through our baptism and confirmation. Yet apathy is such a huge problem. We can’t give up on the world though, but rather need to be engaged in it.
For one, we need to know our faith. If you read through the what our founders wrote, they create compelling arguments for our government and the rights of the individual in the Declaration of Independence and Federalist Papers. Arguing though takes work. In debate class in high school, before there was any debate there were trips to the library to make note cards and research various source materials. Sometimes we are good at picking up a quick soundbite or latching onto something without knowing the full facts. Remember faith formation is something that’s life long; we need to be able to articulate what it is we believe in to grow in the faith and to pass it on.
Second, we need to listen to other people before we try to correct or put them on the right path. Emotion can be powerful, and sometimes a person is speaking because of fear or anger or painful experiences they have gone through, or they may have learned bad actions from their own parents or circle of friends. By showing empathy we can gain an understanding of where they are coming from and why they feel as they do.
But then, we also must act. Not overreact, but act. Last week in Saint Louis, a young priest, Fr. Stephen Schumacher, was in Forest Park in Saint Louis defending an equestrian statue of French King Louis IX, who is a saint and the namesake of the city. He tried to explain that the saint had nothing to do with Africans and fought against Muslim Arabs, who themselves conquered North Africa. A group of people were there who were angry about the statue wanting to tear it down. People shouted at him, but he was undeterred. When there was vandalism to the statue’s base, faithful Catholics cleaned it up. I applaud the young priest for going down there and trying to engage in dialogue, because sometimes we can be intimidated from standing up for what is right. Hopefully people listened to what he had to say (many shared his speech online) and did some thinking, in the same way that people do at abortion clinics when they come across sidewalk counselors. On the bigger issues, sometimes it can be difficult to go to a march or a peaceful protest, but being a witness is important, even if it seems everyone else holds a contrary view. It might be the media portrays the most vocal in society as being greater in numbers than they actually are. But amongst family and friends, we need to act too when we see people going down the wrong road. There comes a point where a person has to make their own decisions – think of the younger son who takes his share of the inheritance and leaves his father. But it doesn’t mean we can’t meet them where they are at and confront them with the truth.
All of this takes incredible fortitude. The founders of our country took a stand against tyranny. They risked everything and would have surely been killed had they been captured by the British. But they believed in the rights of the individual. There are many forms of injustice in the world today; some are victimized by racism; some in the law enforcement community face lack of support and hate from others in the community, media and politicians; immigrants are mistreated; the unborn are killed in the name of “choice.” Evil and sin know no political party or ideology. But they will continue to spread and others will both be ignorant and learn evil actions when we do nothing and say nothing. If our Founding Fathers would risk so much, maybe we can risk being disliked or hated by people, because if we work through that emotion, we just might do so much to help a person discover what the truth really is.
Have a wonderful Independence Day with your family, and celebrate your freedom by living it out every day of the year.
God bless, ~Fr. Paul
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