Padre Paul’s Ponderings: Celebrate Liberty Daily, Not Just on Independence Day

Padre Paul’s Ponderings: Celebrate Liberty Daily, Not Just on Independence Day

Celebrate Liberty Daily, Not Just on Independence Day

  I’ve always loved Independence Day. Coming at a favorite time of year and going to see some fireworks after a BBQ is always fun, but for me the real impact of the day is that it is a reminder to me of how blessed I am to live in the United States.

In seminary, we started by taking philosophy classes, and I remember a couple of the assignments I selected were to speak about Thomas Jefferson, a man who took freedom very seriously as the author of the Declaration of Independence, and the difference between the French Declaration of the Rights of Man as opposed to our Declaration of Independence. (I was a political science major at the U of M-Twin Cities, but instead of looking at a career working in politics a few weeks after graduation from the “U” I went right into seminary).

The key point from the talk I gave and our discussion as a class was that what made our Declaration unique and what Jefferson got was how our rights come from God, not from the state. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created qual, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness…That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” These are powerful words. It’s what led a group of people who were upset over tea and stamp taxes and taxation without representation to change the world.

Jefferson would also say: “When government fears the people, there is liberty. When the people fear the government, there is tyranny.” I think today, more than ever, these words matter so much.

My concern as an American is many are losing sight of these words and what caused our nation to be born. In Revelation 3: 15-16, we read: “I know your works; I know that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.” Apathy can be a big problem, both in our faith but also in the civic life. To borrow from the country singer Aaron Tippin, “you’ve got to stand for something,” and how true that is. How many people feel like they can’t say something on a matter of faith and morals lest they rock the boat or make people feel uncomfortable? And yet, this is now more important than ever.

This is why I think more than ever today we as Americans need to have renewed appreciation for liberty. Independence Day is celebrated with fireworks because John Adams wrote his wife, Abigail, while at the Continental Congress, writing: “I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary festival…It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.” We’ve done just that, and will again come this Thursday (though my dog Emmett says no need to fire off fireworks incessantly for 2 straight weeks. Please.) But Independence Day for us in 2024 should not mean a quick run to Hudson to get the “good” fireworks and a good BBQ only. Rather it should remind us that our Founders figured it out: our rights come from God, not the government. And we should celebrate them every day of our lives by not being afraid to live them out.

What does this look like today?

  For one, we need to rediscover how to properly argue. Note this does not mean we try to yell louder than they do or always fight fire with fire, or insult. We should not fear talking about our beliefs or fear offending others. Our moral teachings challenge; it’s why the media and some in culture will attack the faith for what we hold, and some social media companies even censor people. But we aren’t doing what is just “politically correct.” Testifying to the truth can be quite counter cultural and we may be censored, attacked, and ridiculed. But it’s why the Founders took Freedom of Speech so seriously in the Bill of Rights. We need to tell the world what it needs to hear, not what it wants to hear.

  Secondly, we should always think carefully about politics, not ignore the subject. What follows is not a recommendation to vote for Mr. Trump or Mr. Biden. But rather than focus on the individual, focus on the issues. Politics and faith intersect. And some moral issues, in particular the issue of abortion, which is always an attack on innocent human life, are of paramount importance. Civil Liberties also matter greatly; just 4 years ago at the height of the pandemic as we dealt with lockdowns, it took the threat of legal action for our church doors to be opened up, so we want people in office who respect our freedom to speak and pray. The Church speaks on major issues we should think about in documents such as “Faithful Citizenship,” and retired archbishop Charles also has an excellent book “Render Unto Caesar” that discusses how we as Catholics operate politically. 

  Third, talk about liberty to children. Our kids need to know how blessed we are to live in this country. Explain to them our history as a nation.

Fourth, try to be engaged in the issues, not just the emotion. We have such knee-jerk reactions these days to some things and get so polarized and angry. An argument isn’t about yelling more loudly than your opponent. Rather we need to discuss issues as Americans and sometimes agree to disagree, but hopefully also find common ground and compromise. Just as we do not want to be “canceled” we should not do that to other people.

Fifth, vote. Be engaged in your government. Write your councilmen, state representative or US Senator. Write a letter to the editor in the paper. Send them an email if you are concerned about an issue. Think about the issues that matter to you and express your opinion on them to people. And of course, vote. We have a primary election here in Minnesota coming up in August, and of course the general election this November. No mater who is in office at any given time about half the people will be unhappy. But sometimes those who complain never get engaged and even worse never vote. Lastly, try to see your neighbor as your fellow American and even more than that, your fellow human being created in God’s image. Sadly with so much polarization we sometimes see our neighbors as our enemies. Try to be more tolerant and patient. Pray for those with whom you disagree. Try to rediscover discussing things.

Lastly, try to see your neighbor as your fellow American and even more than that, your fellow human being created in God’s image. Sadly with so much polarization we sometimes see our neighbors as our enemies. Try to be more tolerant and patient. Pray for those with whom you disagree. Try to rediscover discussing things.

What a blessing it is to live in such a great nation. Let’s never take our freedom for granted, and by all means celebrate with some grilling and fireworks, but most of all remember what it is we celebrate – freedom – and live it out every day.

Have a wonderful Independence Day this week, and let freedom ring.

God bless, ~Fr. Paul

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June 2024

 

 

 

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