Our celebration of Independence Day is an annual celebration of the founding of our nation. This wonderful land in which we live is founded on the principle of separation of church and state; that is, the government cannot promote any religion or church. At the same time, we know our nation was founded by very religious people, many of whom immigrated here to avoid religious persecution. Some people in our country want to make the separation between church and state even more pronounced, and by so doing actually limit some of our freedoms and rights such as having religious symbols in public places or praying at the beginning of a session of Congress. Since religion means a relationship that “binds” us to God, it is really impossible to have a total separation of Church and state. By the very fact that most people in our country claim to be religious people, religion will inform our decisions and undergird our values.
The 4th of July is also an annual reminder to us of the privileges, resources, and freedoms we share. These we can never take for granted. We are all familiar with the saying of Jesus, “Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and to God what belongs to God” (Mark 12:17). Jesus is clearly acknowledging that we have duties to civil entities and we have duties to God, and they are different. But they are not mutually exclusive. If we do not engage fully with the laws and governance of our nation, we cannot help our country to grow and embrace more fully Gospel values. When there is a conflict between civil laws and freedoms and Gospel values and religious freedom, then we follow our conscience which has been informed by Jesus’ teaching and the Church. Always, we have a responsibility to share the great riches of our nations with those who have so much less.
This year July 4th falls on a Sunday, so we will not be celebrating the Mass particular for Independence Day. It is always appropriate and our responsibility to pray for our nation and its people. Here is one prayer as an example:
O God of all nations, you watch over us with great care.
Protect us from all evil;
help us to use wealth and might justly;
encourage in us compassion and mercy.
May our nation be strong but caring,
esteemed but humble,
and prosperous but generous
so that we might bring all to enjoy fullness of life.
We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.