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 national 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 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 was then ratified by each State a year later.
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 in the Old Testament is 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 the reception of God’s Ten Commandments of life, love and freedom, yet, many Israelites ignored God and fell away from his gift of salvation, since they never repented.
Today’s second reading from St. Paul to the Galatians calls all Christians to die to the selfishness and contagion of the world, and live for God and his law of life and grace. “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world….Peace and mercy to all who follow this rule and to the Israel of God… The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers and sisters. Amen.” (Gal. 6:14, 16, 18)
Just as the central event of Moses encountering God and then sacrificing all to lead the Chosen People to the external freedom of the Promised Land, similarly, our encounter with Jesus Christ in the sacraments of Baptism, 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.
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 for Eternal Life.
Peace in the Risen Christ,
Fr. Thomas McCabe