National Catholic Register

Opinion

America Is Great Because …

BY The Editors

June 29 - July 5, 2008 Issue | Posted 6/24/08 at 1:31 PM

 

The Fourth of July is more than just a government holiday meant to promote love for country. It is certainly that, but it’s not just Americans who have cause to celebrate on July 4.

The date commemorates the signing of the Declaration of Independence, which, with the Constitution that was built upon it, didn’t just create a new political order in America: They inspired a worldwide movement of liberty and human rights.

On his recent visit to the United States, Pope Benedict XVI gave a kind of “catechesis on America” and explained some of the reasons why he considers America great.

America is great because it connects freedom with faith.

Oftentimes we think of America’s freedom as if it were primarily an economic freedom or even a freedom from morality. But at the White House on April 16, Pope Benedict reminded us that American freedom has always been tied to morality and religion.

Think of it this way: A gathering of juvenile delinquents has to be watched carefully. If they are gathering near your house, you know you need to guard your things and lock your doors. But a gathering of nuns can be given total freedom. We trust that they won’t get out of hand or take our things, so we allow them to do whatever they want.

The same dynamic has always been true of America, said the Pope.

“From the dawn of the republic, America’s quest for freedom has been guided by the conviction that the principles governing political and social life are intimately linked to a moral order based on the dominion of God the Creator,” he said. “The framers of this nation’s founding documents drew upon this conviction when they proclaimed the ‘self-evident truth’ that all men are created equal and endowed with inalienable rights grounded in the laws of nature and of nature’s God.”

He linked freedom and virtue.

“Freedom is not only a gift, but also a summons to personal responsibility,” he said. “The preservation of freedom calls for the cultivation of virtue, self-discipline, sacrifice for the common good and a sense of responsibility towards the less fortunate.”

He quoted two men who linked freedom and truth. First, Pope John Paul II, who said: “in a world without truth, freedom loses its foundation.” Second, George Washington. “President Washington expressed in his Farewell Address, that religion and morality represent ‘indispensable supports’ of political prosperity.”

He summed up: “Democracy can only flourish, as your founding fathers realized, when political leaders and those whom they represent are guided by truth and bring the wisdom born of firm moral principle to decisions affecting the life and future of the nation.”

America is great because it has welcomed immigrants.

Later that day, he spoke again about America’s greatness to U.S. bishops at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. This time it wasn’t the nation’s freedom but its immigration that he praised.

Pope Benedict noted that the willingness of America to welcome immigrants allowed Catholicism to take root here. And the willingness of the Church to work with the faithful from around the world helped build the Church’s faith, hope and charity.

First, he pointed out, the immigrant Church increased Americans’ sensitivity to the needs of the poor and, therefore, their charity.

“Brother bishops, I want to encourage you and your communities to continue to welcome the immigrants who join your ranks today, to share their joys and hopes, to support them in their sorrows and trials, and to help them flourish in their new home. This, indeed, is what your fellow countrymen have done for generations,” he said, and quoted the poem inscribed on the Statue of Liberty. “From the beginning, they have opened their doors to the tired, the poor, the ‘huddled masses yearning to breathe free.’ These are the people whom America has made her own.”

He spoke about how this care for the poor showed itself in recent times of trial, citing the attack on the Twin Towers in September 2001, Hurricane Katrina and international aid.

Immigration has also increased the country’s faith, said the Holy Father.

“Your people are remarkable for their religious fervor and they take pride in belonging to a worshipping community,” he told the bishops. “They have confidence in God, and they do not hesitate to bring moral arguments rooted in biblical faith into their public discourse. Respect for freedom of religion is deeply ingrained in the American consciousness — a fact which has contributed to this country’s attraction for generations of immigrants, seeking a home where they can worship freely in accordance with their beliefs.”

The next day, at the Nationals Stadium Mass, the Holy Father said America’s welcoming of immigrants is also responsible for the prevalence in America of the virtue of hope.

“Americans have always been a people of hope: Your ancestors came to this country with the expectation of finding new freedom and opportunity, while the vastness of the unexplored wilderness inspired in them the hope of being able to start completely anew, building a new nation on new foundations,” he said, noting that injustices left American Indians and slaves out of that hope.

“Yet hope, hope for the future, is very much a part of the American character,” he said. “And the Christian virtue of hope – the hope poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, the hope which supernaturally purifies and corrects our aspirations by focusing them on the Lord and his saving plan — that hope has also marked, and continues to mark, the life of the Catholic community in this country.”

America is great because it has applied its entrepreneurial mindset to the Church’s life.

Before he became Pope Benedict, Cardinal Ratzinger had said in the 2002 interview bbook God and the World that “it is particularly in the American sphere that people are taking up Catholicism as a whole and trying to relate it anew to the modern world.”

He echoed those words in his April 21 homily at Yankee Stadium:

“We think of the strong faith which built up the network of churches, educational, healthcare and social institutions which have long been the hallmark of the Church in this land. We think also of those countless fathers and mothers who passed on the faith to their children, the steady ministry of the many priests who devoted their lives to the care of souls, and the incalculable contribution made by so many men and women religious, who not only taught generations of children how to read and write, but also inspired in them a lifelong desire to know God, to love him and to serve him.”

Finally, in this election year, he pointed out that Catholics can play a key policy role in a democracy like America’s.

“In this land of religious liberty, Catholics found freedom not only to practice their faith but also to participate fully in civic life, bringing their deepest moral convictions to the public square and cooperating with their neighbors in shaping a vibrant, democratic society,” he said. “Today’s celebration is more than an occasion of gratitude for graces received. It is also a summons to move forward with firm resolve to use wisely the blessings of freedom, in order to build a future of hope for coming generations.” Amen.