When I was growing up, Independence Day in our neighborhood meant pool parties, barbecues and fireworks at the end of our driveway when it got dark.
The dads were as excited as their kids with the opportunity to slather on sunscreen, don their swim trunks, fire up the barbie and make sure everyone had a sparkler to wave around.
Since my birthday falls close by, my annual celebrations were associated with the Fourth of July. I’ve always loved the holiday: Family, friends, good food, a fireworks display and homemade birthday cake and ice cream for dessert.
Most importantly, of course, on Independence Day we celebrate our beloved United States of America. Reflecting on its unique and enduring history, our visionary founding fathers and its unparalleled promise, we also acknowledge the ways our great nation calls us to action.
We are blessed to live in the United States, to have the right to choose our government and our representatives and to have the freedom to worship as Catholics. In other areas of the world, none or few of those things are possible.
In taking a moment to treasure our ideals of independence, individual rights and the common good, we realize that those things call us to defend democracy, offer help to the less fortunate and assure the rights of the forgotten.
In the marketplace of ideas, it’s astonishing to see how differently each of us define democracy and, in turn, the untold ways in which native citizens and immigrants alike can carve out success in this nation bursting with opportunity.
And as anyone who has experienced the creative genius of Hamilton or read recent bestsellers by or about Ulysses S. Grant, Harry S. Truman or Barack Obama can appreciate, the challenges of leading, defending, and improving America seem nearly insurmountable.
In appreciating our nation’s leaders past, present and future, we Catholic families are living the values of community, service and family espoused in Scripture and advocated by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and Pope Francis.
Independence Day is the perfect time to renew our commitment to each other, our families and both the Catholic and American communities – and to pledge to preserve both individual rights and the common good.
In their Call to Family, Community, and Participation, the U.S. bishops note that each person is sacred and social.
“How we organize our society — in economics and politics, in law and policy — directly affects human dignity and the capacity of individuals to grow in community,” the bishops write, emphasizing that marriage and family are the central institutions we most treasure.
They add, “We believe people have a right and a duty to participate in society, seeking together the common good and well-being of all, especially the poor and vulnerable.”
St. Paul, too, advises the Colossians that we are called to live in peace as one body. He adds: “And always be thankful.”
As our Declaration of Independence declares, we hold these truths to be self-evident – that each of us has the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Let us pray for our great nation and its people, its leaders and its future – and pledge to work together toward those things as Catholic families and proud Americans.