I love that phrase. It's a very general-purpose sentiment. Sometimes those words seem to be the only ones that adequately can express the pride and gratitude one feels for being able to live in such a glorious land of opportunity, liberty, and beauty. "God bless America the greatest nation on earth!"
Other times they take the form of a desperate prayer. The words arise from that dark feeling in our heart that in too many ways our nation has strayed from what is true and good. "God bless America – have mercy on us and please come to help us."
What a country. For the past few years I have tried to pay attention to the top news stories for the Fourth of July. Always the headlines include coverage of the annual Nathan's Hotdog Eating Contest in Coney Island, New York. I find it to be a fascinatingly enlightening juxtaposition. Here we are as Americans. We celebrate our great day of independence. We thank God for the freedom that we have been given. Then, what do we do with our freedom? We goad a bunch of guys to see how many casings of meat trimmings, fat, and sodium nitrate they can cram down their gullets in ten minutes. Sweet land of liberty.
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has been promoting the "Fortnight for Freedom" events again this year to highlight issues of religious liberty. I am delighted to know that this year they have chosen the theme: "Freedom to Serve." They are focusing efforts on serving the poor and vulnerable. The bishops offer a good reminder. We are free indeed, free to choose. May we direct our God-given liberty and energy toward that which is most good, beautiful, loving, and true.
I am grateful for the bishops' urgings to promote and protect religious liberty. They teach us that religious freedom always must have primacy. The more we understand this the more we will understand that the most important task set before us is not to endorse political parties, or to create more laws, or to establish more agencies, or to build up armies, or to jockey for control or power, or even toward health or physical well-being. Our proper and most fundamental efforts should be directed toward the human heart and mind. The greatest work must happen in our consciences as we wrestle over and over, through prayer and seeking wisdom that is beyond us, to grasp what really is the greatest good – what is most beautiful, noble, worthwhile, and true.
Alexis de Toqueville once wrote, “Freedom is a fine thing, but few nations are worthy to enjoy it.” Let’s be worthy of our freedom.
I do love our country and that she was founded, and blessed by God, to help us to strive to be just that. Have a great and meaningful Fourth of July, good people!