Dear St Francis parish family,
The anniversary of the birth of the United States of America on Independence Day ( July 4th) falls on a Sunday this year. Sunday is, and always should remain, The Lord’s Day, and we should give our first thoughts to celebrating the Eucharist – the Sacrament of Salvation that gives us liberty of spirit for eternal life! Nevertheless, this July 4th I am reflecting upon how faith in God, and in particular, religious values, played a central part in our country’s founding. Rather than use my own musings, I’d like to share with you a few simple, yet profound words of the founders of our nation, at the time they risked all – life, family, honor and treasure – to begin the greatest adventure in human liberty and justice ever undertaken in the modern world:
George Washington, in his presidential Farewell Address of 1796 declared, “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism, who should labour to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens.”
Even Benjamin Franklin, whom historians note was one of the more colorful and irreverent of the founders, made a plea for God’s help during the Constitutional Convention of 1787 when the delegates reached an impasse that threatened a breakup of the union: He said, “…the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth – that God governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without His notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without His aid?” Franklin asserted that without God’s help, the founding of our country would succeed “no better than the Builders of Babel.” He urged the delegates to always invoke God’s assistance by praying before every session of the legislature.
Of course, the evil of slavery was still present in the beginning of the United States, a blindness to the violation of human dignity that took another 85 years, and a Civil War, to correct. Not all founders were deaf to this issue, however. Benjamin Rush in 1773 courageously called upon the ministers and preachers of the colonies to denounce slavery at the same time they advocated liberty from tyranny, writing, “The plant of liberty is so tender a nature, that it cannot thrive long in the neighborhood of slavery. . .Ye ministers of the gospel – ye who estimate the worth of your fellow creatures by their immortality and therefore look upon all mankind as equal – let your zeal [for liberty] keep pace with your opportunities to put a stop to slavery.” Rush, a physician and educator from Philadelphia, was a signer of the Declaration of Independence, and attended the Continental Congress. He also advocated for free public schools, greater educational opportunities for women, and a more just penal system.
As a people of Christian faith, let us pray, as George Washington did in his Circular Address to the States in June 1783, that God may “most graciously be pleased to dispose us all to do justice, to love mercy, and to conduct ourselves with that charity, humility and pacific temper of mind, which were the characteristics of the Divine Author of our Blessed Religion, and without an humble imitation of whose example in these things, we can never hope to be a happy Nation” (adapting Micah 6:8). May God bless America!
In Christ’s love,
(Source: The Spirit of America, by William J. Bennett (NY: Touchstone Books, 1997))