"This Is the Dignity of America, The Reason She Exists…."
And so, from the place where it all began, to one and all, a blessed and Happy 4th.
Much as the text is part and parcel of every civic feast here, it’s never more fitting than on this day: the Prayer for the Nation written and first delivered 225 years ago (at the first National Synod) by John Carroll of Baltimore – a cousin of the lone Catholic to sign the Declaration, the founding shepherd of the church in these United States….
We pray, Thee O Almighty and Eternal God! Who through Jesus Christ hast revealed Thy glory to all nations, to preserve the works of Thy mercy, that Thy Church, being spread through the whole world, may continue with unchanging faith in the confession of Thy Name.
We pray Thee, who alone art good and holy, to endow with heavenly knowledge, sincere zeal, and sanctity of life, our chief bishop, Pope Francis, the Vicar of Our Lord Jesus Christ, in the government of his Church; our own Bishop, N., all other bishops, prelates, and pastors of the Church; and especially those who are appointed to exercise amongst us the functions of the holy ministry, and conduct Thy people into the ways of salvation.
We pray Thee O God of might, wisdom, and justice! Through whom authority is rightly administered, laws are enacted, and judgment decreed, assist with Thy Holy Spirit of counsel and fortitude the President of these United States, that his administration may be conducted in righteousness, and be eminently useful to Thy people over whom he presides; by encouraging due respect for virtue and religion; by a faithful execution of the laws in justice and mercy; and by restraining vice and immorality. Let the light of Thy divine wisdom direct the deliberations of Congress, and shine forth in all the proceedings and laws framed for our rule and government, so that they may tend to the preservation of peace, the promotion of national happiness, the increase of industry, sobriety, and useful knowledge; and may perpetuate to us the blessing of equal liberty.
We pray for his[/her] excellency, the governor of this state, for the members of the assembly, for all judges, magistrates, and other officers who are appointed to guard our political welfare, that they may be enabled, by Thy powerful protection, to discharge the duties of their respective stations with honesty and ability.
We recommend likewise, to Thy unbounded mercy, all our brethren and fellow citizens throughout the United States, that they may be blessed in the knowledge and sanctified in the observance of Thy most holy law; that they may be preserved in union, and in that peace which the world cannot give; and after enjoying the blessings of this life, be admitted to those which are eternal.
Finally, we pray to Thee, O Lord of mercy, to remember the souls of Thy servants departed who are gone before us with the sign of faith and repose in the sleep of peace; the souls of our parents, relatives, and friends; of those who, when living, were members of this congregation, and particularly of such as are lately deceased; of all benefactors who, by their donations or legacies to this Church, witnessed their zeal for the decency of divine worship and proved their claim to our grateful and charitable remembrance.
To these, O Lord, and to all that rest in Christ, grant, we beseech Thee, a place of refreshment, light, and everlasting peace, through the same Jesus Christ, Our Lord and Savior. Amen.
In the time since, the Nativist paranoia of ages past actually did end up panning out: the Popes have indeed made their conquest across the Atlantic… just not by “commanding” the faithful across an ocean to dig a tunnel beneath it to Rome.
The outlandish we’ll always have with us – and, to be sure, no one should understand that better than an American Catholic.
In reality, the story of (Romish) church and state on these shores has mostly come to embody the promise sketched out by James Gibbons at Trastevere some 13 decades ago: namely, that when it comes to the practice and spread of the faith in these States, “we are indebted… to the civil liberty we enjoy in our enlightened republic.”
What this age tends to forget, however, is that with freedom comes responsibility… and filling in the blanks is the unique and irreplaceable service of the free institutions of faith.
On that front, Catholicism’s ultimate tribute to the American experiment marks its 30th anniversary this fall: John Paul II’s farewell to the country – the final word of the now-saint’s most extensive coast-to-coast tour….
As I leave, I express my gratitude to God also for what he is accomplishing in your midst. With the words of Saint Paul, I too can say with confident assurance “that he who has begun the good work in you will carry it through to completion, right up to the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil. 1, 6-7). And so I am confident too that America will be ever more conscious of her responsibility for justice and peace in the world. As a nation that has received so much, she is called to continued generosity and service towards others.
As I go, I take with me vivid memories of a dynamic nation, a warm and welcoming people, a Church abundantly blessed with a rich blend of cultural traditions. I depart with admiration for the ecumenical spirit that breathes strongly throughout this land, for the genuine enthusiasm of your young people, and for the hopeful aspirations of your most recent immigrants. I take with me an unforgettable memory of a country that God has richly blessed from the beginning until now.
America the beautiful! So you sing in one of your national songs. Yes, America, you are beautiful indeed, and blessed in so many ways:
– in your majestic mountains and fertile plains;
– in the goodness and sacrifice hidden in your teeming cities and expanding suburbs;
– in your genius for invention and for splendid progress;
– in the power that you use for service and in the wealth that you share with others;
– in what you give to your own, and in what you do for others beyond your borders;
– in how you serve, and in how you keep alive the flame of hope in many hearts;
– in your quest for excellence and in your desire to right all wrongs.
Yes, America, all this belongs to you. But your greatest beauty and your richest blessing is found in the human person: in each man, woman and child, in every immigrant, in every native-born son and daughter.
For this reason, America, your deepest identity and truest character as a nation is revealed in the position you take towards the human person. The ultimate test of your greatness in the way you treat every human being, but especially the weakest and most defenceless ones.
The best traditions of your land presume respect for those who cannot defend themselves. If you want equal justice for all, and true freedom and lasting peace, then, America, defend life! All the great causes that are yours today will have meaning only to the extent that you guarantee the right to life and protect the human person:
– feeding the poor and welcoming refugees;
– reinforcing the social fabric of this nation;
– promoting the true advancement of women;
– securing the rights of minorities;
– pursuing disarmament, while guaranteeing legitimate defence; all this will succeed only if respect for life and its protection by the law is granted to every human being from conception until natural death.
Every human person – no matter how vulnerable or helpless, no matter how young or how old, no matter how healthy, handicapped or sick, no matter how useful or productive for society – is a being of inestimable worth created in the image and likeness of God.
This is the dignity of America, the reason she exists, the condition for her survival – yes, the ultimate test of her greatness: to respect every human person, especially the weakest and most defenceless ones, those as yet unborn.
With these sentiments of love and hope for America, I now say goodbye in words that I spoke once before: “Today, therefore, my final prayer is this: that God will bless America, so that she may increasingly become – and truly be – and long remain one Nation, under God, indivisible. With liberty and justice for all.”
May God bless you all.
God bless America!