Put Out into the Deep

The Birth of Our Democracy

Detail of ‘Declaration of Independence,’ oil on canvas by John Trumbull placed in the United States Capitol rotunda, Washington, D.C. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,

As we come upon the July 4th holiday, we must recognize what this day is truly about. We celebrate the independence of our Nation from British Colonial rule. The Declaration of Independence, a document that is far from perfect, gave us a democracy.

In 1958, I was on a Boy Scout pilgrimage to Europe, mainly for the 100th anniversary of the apparition of the Blessed Mother to Bernadette Soubirous in Lourdes, France. On the way, we stopped in Brussels to visit the World’s Fair of that year. It was so interesting to me to look at the various pavilions set up by the nations who participated in the fair. Of course, the American pavilion is what specifically attracted the attention of my fellow Boy Scouts and me. We were a bit surprised when we saw the pavilion, as the pavilions of the other nations showed pride in their accomplishments, especially the post-World War II reconstruction of Europe.

The United States pavilion, however, balanced its portrayal of the United States by outlining the problems that still needed to be solved; that of poverty, race relations, and the development of all peoples. This was a lesson that I have never forgotten, because our Nation is a democracy that is self-correcting. This means that we are not perfect, but we are always willing and able to correct our mistakes. This has been our history from the beginning.

One of the greatest mistakes in our history was that it was founded by people who held slaves, and slavery was the basis of a flourishing economy. We recognized that error, and it was corrected 150 years ago when slaves were freed. Yet, there is still more that we need to do to give equity to those freed from slavery long ago.

One of the features of the July 4th celebration is to display the American flag, a symbol of our democracy, which has now become a source of dissention in many ways. Recently, I heard reported that in Coney Island, a workman was mopping the floor with an old American flag. The respect for the symbols of our democracy needs to be restored. As a Boy Scout, I learned how to properly fold an American flag, when the flag should be displayed, and how it could be properly retired by burning. Burning not as an act of protest, but as an act of respect.

There are many other respected symbols that have come under attack in today’s world. For example, monuments, especially statues of historical figures who in the past had a history with slavery, or were connected with the Confederacy and not just because of the histo-
ry of slavery. We recognize that Washington and Jefferson were also slaveholders.

These founders of our Nation were not perfect people, as no one is perfect. There is an old saying, “All idols have feet of clay,” that is found in Sacred Scripture. (Dan. 2:31- 33) The statues that are now being taken down with public authority or by acts of individuals betray a misunderstanding of human nature. It is human nature that has been wounded by Original Sin, but it has been redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ. There are no perfect people.

The Church in the canonization process scrutinizes those who are proposed for sainthood. It is a long process of scrutiny before one is declared a saint. However, we know that most saints were not sinless. They all had their faults, all committed sins. But somehow,
redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ, they all were able to achieve sanctity and proved their sanctity by the miracles performed by their intercession in Heaven.

The Church is well aware of the foibles of human nature. There is no saint whose statue we honor who was sinless except the Virgin Mary. In the midst of this coronavirus pandemic, protests following the horrible deaths of black men and women, we recognize that politicians have a very difficult job. In general, however, it might be said that politicians tell people what they want to hear. It is difficult for them to stand their ground on their beliefs, if they want to be re-elected. Prophets, however, tell people what they need to hear.

The mix between politicians and prophets is not an easy one. Today, we need a welding of the two gifts that God has given us; the ability to govern and the ability to tell the complete truth.

As we put out into the deep on this July 4th weekend, we must recognize that patriotism gave birth to our self-correcting democracy. How important it is that we recognize that democracy always needs self-correction. We who are the members of our society must make these corrections, whether it be correcting the ills of racism or any other ill that is part of our society. We must recognize our own past faults and make amends, while at the same time looking forward to improving a democracy that our Founders believed was a gift from God, founded upon the belief in God.

Be assured of my prayers that we all can enjoy this July 4th weekend as best as well as we can, amidst this coronavirus. Please remember the precautions which still need to be observed by each of us to prevent infection from this virus.

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