13th Sunday in Ordinary Time
June 30, 2019
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church
This Thursday we celebrate the Fourth of July,
commemorating that great day in 1776
when our founders signed their names
to the Declaration of Independence,
giving birth to a new nation conceived in the radical notion that:
“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.”
A very simple statement, but a very profound ideal.
A few years later, having won their War of Independence,
some of those same men, along with other patriots,
came up with a plan to make that ideal of a nation become a reality.
The Constitution they gave us began with the words stating their purpose:
“We the People of the United States, in Order to
form a more perfect Union, establish Justice,
ensure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense,
promote the general Welfare,
and secure the Blessings of Liberty.”
Both of these foundational documents set an ambitious plan for the new nation,
that has led us to become perhaps the greatest nation
the earth has ever seen.
And at the heart of this greatness is the one key ideal
enshrined in both documents: Liberty.
Liberty—a precious word, a noble ideal, a principle to fight and die for.
But with all that, what does it mean?
Does it mean freedom to do whatever you want?
Freedom from any constraints—legal, social, economic, moral or religious?
But how could a nation survive like that
—if everyone just did whatever they wanted?
And on the other hand, if we put constraints on freedom
how could we really live in liberty?
The answer is that some constraints, which seem at first to take away freedom,
actually enhance freedom.
So, while, for example, self-discipline
seems to be an act against freedom to do as you feel like,
in reality it allows you to control your irrational emotions and appetites
so that you can make a rational choice of what is best for you.
As St. Paul reminds us today:
“do not use this freedom as an opportunity for the flesh;
….For the flesh has desires against the Spirit,
…these are opposed to each other,
so that you may not do what you want.”
It’s the same with all social disciplines—rules, laws, norms—
that help control passions and impulses
so that “we the people” can live together in
“a more perfect Union”, with “Justice,” and “domestic Tranquility,”
and in all this “secure the Blessings of Liberty.”
But all of this presupposes that we can all agree on basic principles,
that we share a fundamental set of common values
that help define and even limit the laws we enact to discipline ourselves.
And from the very beginning Americans have shared a common set of values.
And they begin with two principles laid out in the Declaration of Independence.
First: the idea that there are some “self-evident truths”
–truths that we just know, that are obvious either at first sight,
or after careful rational consideration.
And second: that one of these self-evident truths is that there is a “Creator,” God,
who gives us not only certain unalienable rights,
but also gives us all the self-evident truths
that he writes into all creation: certain natural laws.
As the Declaration calls them, “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God.”
So we begin with these 2 most fundamental American values,
and from them flow all sorts of other American values
about the way things ought to be.
But nowadays, people blush or even get angry
if you talk about God ordering things.
But there it is, right in beginning of our nation.
And without that idea that God determines what is right and wrong
—not kings or lords or congressmen or presidents or judges—
without that there never would have been an America,
and America couldn’t have grown to be the great nation it became.
And the thing is, right from the beginning it wasn’t just a vague notion of
“a supreme being” or “creator” or nameless-“god” out there somewhere
that America looked to for guidance.
It was the God that almost every American worshiped and believed in.
The God that George Washington spoke of in 1783,
when he wrote the Governors of the States as he disbanded his Army, about:
“the characteristics of the Divine Author of our blessed religion,
…without an humble imitation of whose example in these things,
we can never hope to be a happy nation.”
He was speaking of Jesus Christ, and the “blessed religion” he founded,
that we call “Christianity.”
At the same time, Washington knew
that many Christians disagreed on certain tenets of the faith:
Catholics, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Baptists
—they each had their own unique ideas about certain things.
Nevertheless, he called for us to tolerate those differences,
while at the same time recognizing and building
our United States of America
on the fundamental values we all held in common,
what he called, “the pure spirit of Christianity.”
Let’s be clear—the differences are important,
but the point is, so are the basic Christian values held in common.
Nowadays the different Christian denominations and Churches
have a lot of radical differences in their teachings, especially about morals.
But that’s not the way it was in 1776.
All Christians shared basically the same set of fundamental moral beliefs.
And those Christian beliefs formed the fundamental Common “American values.”
Unfortunately, our founding was imperfect
—because while it was founded on solid Christian principles,
it was also founded by men.
As Virginia’s James Madison wrote in the Federalist Papers, No. 51,
“If men were angels, no government would be necessary.”
So, for example,
while professing the basic Christian value “that all men are created equal,”
and holding that, as St. Paul says, “For freedom Christ set us free,”
the founders wound up tolerating a terrible exception to that norm:
Eventually, it was devout Christians who organized the Abolitionist Movement.
But in the end the evil of slavery had to be cut out by force, by bloody Civil War.
As President Lincoln would admonish his fellow Americans, north and south,
after the Battle of Gettysburg, a turning point in that war:
“we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain
—that this nation, under God,
shall have a new birth of freedom
—and that government of the people, by the people,
for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
A nation under God, given a new birth in freedom,
but this time even more closely aligned to the fundamental Christian values
“of the people”—“American values.”
Sadly, today, most Americans have lost any sense
of our foundation on Christian values.
And so the question must be asked:
can a nation founded on Christian values
survive if it casts off those Christian values?
If it replaces those Christian values
with Secular Humanist, Marxist or Atheistic values?
Values based on the false notion of liberty
as a freedom to do whatever you want, or whatever you’re told.
Values not ordered by self-evident truths that God wrote into our very nature,
but in the dictates from relativistic laws and even lies
that change almost from day to day.
Values that allow our feelings and impulses to dominate our reason
and blind us to ignore “self-evident truths,”
and so enslave us to our base desires and ignorance.
As St. Paul reminds us:
“For freedom Christ set us free;
so stand firm and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery.”
How can the nation conceived in liberty survive
if the values that keep liberty from becoming chaos and slavery
are ignored or cast aside?
Yet some Americans continue to do just that.
For example, some argue passionately that so-called “gay marriage”
is a matter of equal rights.
But from since 1776, and for over 200 years, in the same way
Americans believed it was a self-evident truth that
God created us all equal in dignity and rights,
Americans also believed that it was a self-evident truth
that God also created men and women different in their bodies,
so that, by their nature, they could be joined together
in a union ordered toward producing and raising children
–a union they called “marriage,”
a union which self-evidently excludes homosexual couples.
It’s absurd to say that what almost all Americans have believed for 2 centuries
is somehow inconsistent with the values enshrined in the Constitution.
You can see the same thing with those who promote “transgenderism.”
The way you feel dictates how others have to treat you,
even if that directly contradicts the absolutely clear “self-evident truth”
that boys are boys and girls are girls.
Or think about all the rhetoric about a woman’s absolute “right to choose.”
But since modern science clearly tells us what most Americans have always known,
that an unborn baby is a human life,
how does a woman have an absolute right to kill that baby?
How does that work—what about the equal rights of the baby?
And consider religious liberty.
Today leading politicians try to argue that “freedom of religion”
is actually “freedom from religion.”
And Christians who hold the same basic moral values as our founders,
are called “haters,” “bigots,” and even “immoral” and “un-American.”
They’re even questioned as being suitable for public office,
especially judgeships: remember, “the dogma lives loud within you.”
I could go on, but I won’t.
How can this be in America?
Are these the values George Washington and Abraham Lincoln proclaimed?
Are these the values Frederick Douglas or Martin Luther King proclaimed?
Are these the values hundreds of thousands of Americans,
including so many of you in this church today,
have fought, sacrificed and even died for on battlefields around the world?
Are these the American values
that so many of you who are immigrants to our country
left home and family to pursue as you came to the “land of liberty”?
Yet it that’s where we are at today.
How can we survive this, especially if our Christian values are replaced by values
that directly contradict those Christian values?
We did that once, with slavery, when we tried to say
that mere human laws could redefine what it means to be a human.
For four score and seven years it ate at the fiber of our nation
until it almost destroyed it.
We can’t compromise the self-evident truth about the order that God created.
And we cannot maintain a nation that rose above all others
based on the common Christian values it embraced,
if we discard those values or embrace their opposites.
As we prepare to celebrate the 4th of July
we rightly thank God for the many gifts
he has bestowed upon our nation for these last 243 years.
But let us also pray for a renewal and rediscovery
of the fundamental American values
that for 2 centuries allowed us to use those gifts wisely
to become a truly great nation.
Values that are nothing less than the fundamental values of Christianity.
So that those values may, by the grace of Jesus Christ,
once again lead our nation to recognize the self-evident truths
written in nature by the God who created us all.
“For freedom Christ set us free;
so stand firm and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery.”