The events of history shape a person’s understanding of themselves and their culture.
One major event that shapes us as American citizens was the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776, which we celebrate every 4th of July.
The Declaration of Independence points to God as the Author of the Laws of Nature; one of which is the right for humans to be free. True freedom is the liberty to do that which is good and reasonable in the light of God’s Natural Law. It is not the ―right‖ to do anything a person feels like doing, because feelings are passing and are often confused and errant.
This founding document shapes our understanding of freedom since God created all people with equal dignity and has given us the unalienable rights of ―life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness‖ – in that order. Sometimes a person might not feel good about another person’s life, but that is no reason to disrespect them or violate them. We need to follow true principles and not mere feelings.
Another significant historical event that shapes us as American citizens was the establishment of the Constitution of the United States, September 17, 1787. Although it has checks and balances to keep the Federal Government limited, and less likely to become corrupt from fallen human nature, many representatives did not immediately sign it because they thought it did not give enough rights to individual states, nor to individual persons. However, after much debate all the representatives finally ratified the Constitution in 1790, and the Bill of Rights a year later.
The war of independence against the oppressive British Monarchy ended in 1783 with tremendous sacrifice. Sacrifice is the core of true religion and of a stable, fruitful nation. John Adams wrote: ―Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people.‖
Our first President, George Washington, wrote: ―While we are zealously performing the duties of good citizens and soldiers, we certainly ought not to be inattentive to the higher duties of religion. To the distinguished character of Patriot, it should be our highest glory to add the more distinguished character of a Christian.‖
The Declaration of Independence and our Constitution, correctly understood, shape us today and will hopefully shape our future. However, we need to know and identify with the foundations of Christianity, which is more than an historical event, it is an encounter with the person of God.
The central encounter with God is recorded in the Old Testament when Moses was called by God through the burning bush to free God’s people from slavery in Egypt. Through Moses, God parted the Red Sea and the people passed through toward the Promised Land ―flowing with milk and honey.‖ This tremendous Exodus event was accompanied by many miracles, and although many of the Israelites remained faithful to God, many others fell away.
Today’s second reading was from St. Paul to the Corinthians which expounds that Old Testament event: ―… our ancestors…passed through the sea, and all of them were baptized into Moses… All ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same drink, for they drank from a spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ. Yet God was not pleased with most of them, for they were struck down in the desert. These things happened as examples for us, so that we might not desire evil things, as they did. Do not grumble as some of them did, and suffered death by the destroyer. These things…have been written down as a warning to us, upon whom the end of the ages has come. Therefore, whoever thinks he is standing secure should take care not to fall.‖ See 1 Cor. 10:1-12.
Just as the central event of Moses encountering God and then sacrificed much to lead the Chosen People to the external freedom of the Promised Land, similarly, our encounter with Jesus Christ in the sacraments of Confession and Holy Communion brings us the grace of interior freedom from mortal sin that leads us to the Eternal Promised Land of Heaven, which was won by the total and perfect sacrifice of Jesus Christ upon the Cross.
It is the Paschal Mystery of Jesus Christ’s Last Supper, crucifixion, resurrection and ascension into heaven that shapes our life as Catholic Christians, of which we celebrate at every Mass. But just as some of the Jews sinned against God in a serious manner and did not reach the Promised Land, so too it is the case that some Christians might commit serious or mortal sin after their Baptism and Holy Communion with Christ, fail to repent adequately, and thereby miss out on entering into heaven – everlasting perdition.
As disciples of Jesus Christ and as American citizens, let us strive to grow that Christian character that George Washington wrote about in order to be free of external oppression and, more importantly, strive to be free from mortal sin, of which St. Paul wrote about, so that the sanctifying grace of Jesus Christ can shape and transform our lives.
As we place checks and balances on ourselves during this Lenten season of sacrifice, let us be aware of the proper limitations of government that give rise to allowing Jesus Christ to take his rightful place front and center in our personal life, our Church and our community.
Peace in Christ,
Fr. Thomas McCabe