As a nation, we celebrate our Declaration of Independence on the Fourth of July. I think it is important to consider a few things as Roman Catholic citizens privileged to live in this country.
First, we have the freedom and the right to practice our Catholic faith. We acknowledge that we are “One Nation, Under God” in our pledge of allegiance. “In God We Trust” is printed on our currency. While it is not specified who that God is, our nation has conceded a dependence on a Higher Power greater than all of us. As Catholic Christians, we see this through the prism of our faith in Jesus Christ. He revealed to us most fully who God is. Our Bill of Rights (First Amendment) says clearly that congress shall make no law prohibiting the free exercise of religion. Every time we walk into a church, go to Mass, attend a baptism, witness a church wedding, etc. we should be thankful for the wisdom of our founding fathers.
Second, we have the right to speak freely when we disagree with government policies or laws. However, this must be done civilly and respectfully. Inciting violence, spewing hatred, exhibiting bigotry, and being anything other than Christ-like is simply far removed from the teaching and example of Jesus. Could Jesus be critical of authority? Absolutely! Consider how he called out the Pharisees, elders and religious leaders as a brood of vipers (Mt. 12: 34), whitewashed tombs and hypocrites (Mt. 23: 27). His words could be piercing and could foment resentment and even hatred by his opponents. His cleansing of the temple (Jn. 2: 14-22) shows how he could be passionate and forceful in what he said and did. Yet, ultimately, he submitted to civil and religious authority even as it culminated in torture and death on a cross.
Should we, as Catholics, speak up against the atrocity of legalized abortion, condemn racism and discrimination, denounce sexual abuse, and decry all forms of injustice and evil in our society? Unequivocally, yes and without the fear of reprisal from our government. Again, the First Amendment protects us here.
Third, while we do not live in a theocracy, our Catholic faith can and should have an influence on public policy. Our First Amendment does not establish any one religion as the acceptable or correct one. God is not our king. We have an elected president and elected government officials. However, as Catholics we have as much of a right as anyone else to try to influence and shape public opinion and policy. Are we a Christian nation? Technically, we are not. This does not mean that we should not be willing to be that light of the world (Mt. 5: 14) as Christians were within the Roman Empire or within other government systems throughout history.
I have said many times that I am not committed to any political party. This is because I hold that my soul belongs to Jesus Christ alone and not to any political party. At times, I have disagreed with both major parties on issues. Most likely, I will continue to do so.
Rather, I strive, imperfectly, for holiness of life. My goal is eternal life. As a Roman Catholic, I am very proud to live in this country and to be an American.
However, I try not to forget this important thought from St. Paul: Our citizenship is in heaven and from it we also await a savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. (Phil. 3: 20)
Fr. Ed Namiotka