13th Sunday in Ordinary Time 2013
(Second Sunday of the Fortnight for Freedom)
June 30, 2013
Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church
This coming Thursday America celebrates the 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,
insure 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?
But 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 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 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,
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 fundamental American values,
and from them flow all sorts of other American values
about the way they 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—in what we celebrate today.
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 American 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
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 all the States as he disbanded his Army:
“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 beliefs.
And those Christian beliefs formed the fundamental Common American values
—so that the founders could say there was a God who
created us all equal with inalienable rights,
and established certain laws of nature,
many of which were self-evident.
Unfortunately, our founding was imperfect
—because while it was founded on solid Christian principles,
it was also founded by men.
As 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: slavery.
Eventually, good Christians organized the Abolitionist Movement.
But in the end the evil of slavery had to be cut out by force.
So that while this week we celebrate
the 237th anniversary of our nation’s birth on July 4th, 1776,
we also remember an event that happed
“Four score and seven years” later:
the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg,
fought from July 1st to July 3rd, 1863,
which was the turning point in the War that would end slavery.
As President Lincoln would admonish his fellow Americans, north and south,
in his Gettysburg Address:
“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 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 values?
Values based on the false notion of liberty
as a freedom to do whatever you want.
Values that are not rooted in God, but that spring forth from human power.
Values not ordered by self-evident truths that God wrote into our very nature,
but in the dictates from relativistic laws that change from year to year?
Values that allow our passions and appetites to dominate our reason
and blind us to ignore “self-evident truths,”
and so enslave us to our base desires?
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?
But this last week the Supreme Court did just that.
Setting aside the common values that made this nation possible,
the court ruled that the federal government has to recognized
state laws that allow so called “gay marriage.”
And the court didn’t just set aside those common American values.
It went out of its way to called those values unconstitutional and, in essence, evil.
Writing for the majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy, found that
“the purpose” of federal law that recognized only heterosexual marriage
was, as he put it, “to disparage and to injure” “gay” people.
And that state laws that recognized gay marriage
“enhance the dignity and integrity of the person,”
but that “the principal purpose” of the federal law was
“to impose inequality.”
Some see “gay marriage” as a matter of equal rights
and compare it to the equal rights struggle for blacks
—including the fight against slavery.
But the thing is, America has never denied marriage to “gay people,”
as long as they do what marriage does
—form a union between members of the opposite sex.
Because that’s what Americans have always understood marriage to be,
based on what they understood as a self-evident truth,
and confirmed by their Christian values.
In the same way they believed God created us equal in dignity in rights,
Americans also believed that it was a self-evident truth that God also
clearly 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.
To say that equality demands that two gay people
should be allowed to marry each other,
is like saying that equal rights demands that
fathers should be allowed to marry their daughters,
or mothers marry their sons, or one man to marry 4 women.
That’s just not what marriage is.
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.
But it seems 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,
so that black men were somehow less than human than white men.
For four score and seven years it ate at the fiber of our nation
until it almost destroyed it.
We can’t compromise moral truths about the order that God created.
And we cannot maintain a nation that rose above all others
based on the Christian values it embraced,
if we discard those values or embrace their opposites.
When the founders guaranteed the right to Religious Liberty in the Constitution
they intended to protect the rights of all Americans
to worship and live according their own faith,
as long as they did not conflict with the basic shared values of Americans,
what Washington called the “pure spirit of Christianity.”
Not one of our founding fathers, and no American living up until 50 years ago,
would have ever dreamed that one day we’d be invoking
our constitutional right to religious liberty
in order to simply live by the moral code America was founded on.
This week we rightly thank God for the many gifts
he has bestowed upon our nation for these 237 years.
But let us also pray for the protection of our liberty religious liberty.
Not only so we can live as we are called to by Christ,
but also so that we can that we can share our Christian values
with our fellow countrymen.
So that just as those values
once purified our nation from the errors of slavery
they may, by the grace of Jesus Christ, and the light of his gospel,
once again lead our nation to recognize the self-evident truths
written in nature by the God who created us all.
So that “this nation, under God…shall have a new birth of freedom.”
“For freedom Christ set us free;
so stand firm and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery.”