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By Hugh McNichol
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. -- That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, -- That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. ex. Declaration of Independence 1776
It has been 231 years since these words were first publically proclaimed in Philadelphia as the Thirteen Colonies declared their independence from Great Britain. Quite a few Americans have valiantly served their country throughout many events in peacetime and in war to secure our unalienable Rights that are demanded in The Declaration of Independence. This year we celebrate the 4th of July in the United States with the usual parades, ceremonies and display of our American flag. However it dawns on me that part of the celebration for Catholics should be the participation in the Mass.
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Our Founding Fathers went to great lengths to secure religious toleration in the colonies. Philadelphia especially should be considered the cradle of American Catholicism, according to tradition and legend, Old Saint Joseph's Church was the first site of the public celebration of Mass in 1733. Catholics have been involved in the creation of American history from the very beginning. During the colonial period I always think of Commodore John Barry, considered as the Father of the American Navy. He worshipped at Old Saint Mary's Church in Philadelphia and was buried there as well. Old Saint Mary's is critically important in our recollections of American history. It was the location of the first religious commemoration of the Declaration of Independence in 1779.
Most of the Founding Fathers, including George Washington, John Adams, & Thomas Fitzsimmons met here. During the active conflict of the American Revolution the Continental Congress held session four times within its walls. So when we remember American pursuit of religious freedom, Catholics were right there from America's inception.
Frequently in our 21st century American political and social activities Catholicism is often criticized for our religious beliefs, our fidelity to the Pope, our staunch Pro-Life defense and our Sacraments. This assault on Catholic teachings is nothing new to American Catholics. From the earliest days of North American settlement, Catholics have been persecuted. Church architecture of the two previously mentioned Catholic Churches was intentionally disguised so from the exterior these houses of worship could not be distinguished as Catholic. Later, when Philadelphia built its Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul, the cathedral was built without lower levels of windows, lest they be destroyed by the anti-Catholic Know-nothings. When the Washington Monument was constructed every country in the world was asked to contribute a stone to be included in the construction.
The Vatican sent a large red marble stone. When it arrived on the Potomac River it was destroyed by anti-Catholic protesters and consigned to the bottom of the river. In the twentieth century, when a Catholic named John F.Kennedy was running for the office of President, there was muted concern of his allegiance to the Pope. Questions were raised regarding his ability to be both an American and a Catholic. Today in our political arena, candidates that practice Catholicism frequently attempt to compartmentalize their personal and political views, often giving Catholicism a back seat.
What is the point of this recollection of American Catholic historical events? The point is simply this; American Catholics regardless of consequences and implications have always faithfully embraced the democratic principles of our American Republic. They served at Valley Forge, at Gettysburg, in the trenches of the Great War, on the beaches of Normandy, in the jungles of Vietnam and in the Islamic deserts of the Persian Gulf.
Catholicism in America is historically rooted in our most fundamental beliefs as Americans. That is why Catholic Americans need to celebrate this day in a manner beyond fireworks, parades and hotdogs. They need to celebrate this day as a fundamental celebration of our American rights of freedom of religious expression.
Frequently we nostalgically recall the events that determined our American Revolution and subsequent foundation of our Republic. We think of powered wigs, colonial armies at Williamsburg, the Founding Fathers, dancing around the stage in "1776", the musical and sentimental stories of Betsy Ross and so on. What we really need to recall is the faithful vision of democratic principles our Founding Fathers, and our Founding Catholics accomplished as the American standard for universal religious freedom. We openly and publically worship as Catholics everywhere in the United States without any fear of reprisal or discrimination against our Apostolic Faith.
As Catholics and as Americans every opportunity to practice our religious faith and heritage should be taken regardless of the overwhelming popular desires to consider this 4th of July as a holiday. Our Catholic religious freedom requires our Catholic religious activity especially on this great day. For my part, I am distinctly aware of the significant sacrifices and contributions our Founding Catholic Americans made to the American vision of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That's why the 4th of July is not only for me a civil holiday, but a day to celebrate the unique ability to be homogeneously Catholic and American.
As I celebrated the 4th of July, I remember all of the great men and women of all denominations that have worked to ensure our religious freedom and American democracy since 1776. I will especially remember all of those faithful Catholics that have banded together for over two centuries to protect, defend and preserve our American principles of democracy and religious freedom. God bless them, and God bless America.
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Hugh McNichol - Author, 302 6339348
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