A blessed and Happy Fourth of July to you all. Patriotism is a virtue, a joyous act of gratitude to God for the gift of our homeland. In the Gospel, our blessed Lord returns to his own homeland, Nazareth, but is “amazed at their lack of faith.” Because of their refusal to believe, he “was not able” to perform any mighty deeds among his own people. But: is there anything God can not do? Isn’t he all-powerful? In an absolute sense, God could force the people to believe in Him, but the Gospel shows us that He will not force us to love Him. He waits for us to choose Him freely.
Ezekiel calls us all “rebels,” obstinate of heart, to whom He will send his prophet. Since that Original Sin, all of us have perversely refused God at one time or another. Those who signed the Declaration of Independence were called “rebels” by King George in 1776, but truly we are all rebels before God. Fortunately for us, however, God loves “rebels” enough to send us a prophet, an emissary to speak to us, to reason with us.
I would like to quote from Ann Burleigh’s commentary in the little monthly devotional Magnificat. “In God’s plan of history,” she writes, “that mysterious drama that unites God’s providential care with our freedom—there are particular moments that reveal with glittering clarity that God is in charge. For Americans, Independence Day marks the anniversary of such a moment."
“On July 4, 1776, members of the Continental Congress approved Jefferson’s magnificent Declaration of Independence, proclaiming ‘these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.’ For the first time a nation sprang forth, not simply from the bond of people living together in a place for years, but rather from an idea, the principle of the truth of the human person as sacred and unrepeatable. “The Declaration acknowledged our origin as beings made by God, with rights God himself gave us… Our liberty arises not from us, but from the one who made us."
“Independence Day honors not our own artificial schemes of liberty and equality but the founding principle of natural law that alone protects who we are: each one of us chosen, loved, and created as free beings by God our Father. No other authority will do: nothing other than divine truth provides proper grounding for ordered liberty. On God’s authority, then, the American founders in 1776, ‘with a firm reliance on the Protection of divine providence,’ ventured forth in the great experiment, mutually pledging ‘to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our Sacred Honor.’”
In other words, our freedom comes from God: no lesser authority is capable of respecting the human person or rightly ordering a society of free persons. If we forget or deny that it is God, not politics or technology or any human agency, that grants human freedom, we will revert to slavery, to “might makes right,” which is exactly what we sought to escape in 1776. The British Empire declared that our freedom was a gift of the king, and that the might of the Empire’s military would enforce the king’s will. The colonists declared, on this day in 1776, that they would follow a higher power than the king or the government or even the military. If we deny God’s authority, we place ourselves back under the authority of the government and the military.
All people of good will, but especially Christians, and especially the priests and bishops of the Church, must insist on this prophetic truth: God exists, and he sends prophets to reveal to men the ways of true freedom.
Let me read the preamble to the Declaration that we celebrate today: “When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bonds which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature's God entitle them….” Our founders declared that equality and human rights are granted by “nature’s God,” not the king.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Our rights are endowments, gifts, from God. Only He can give and sustain life, freedom, and human happiness. To break these natural laws—for example, to legalize the killing of the unborn or the elderly, or to outlaw religious practices—is to revert back to “might makes right.” Only God, however, is capable of “making” what is right. That was what our founders said to King George. It is what they say to us, still, today.