I reread the Declaration of Independence this morning and reproduce it here for your reading as well. It is a remarkable document, and publishing it was a tremendous act of courage, since it meant all the signatories were guilty of treason under British law. Because they had no recourse under British law, they looked to a higher law - Natural law - and the source of that law, the Creator, in order to justify their actions. Five signers were captured by the British as traitors and tortured before they died. Twelve had their homes ransacked and burned. Two lost their sons in the Revolutionary War, another had two sons captured. Nine of the fifty-six fought and died from wounds or the hardships of the Revolutionary War.
I find it uncomfortable reading, however, given the destruction unleashed upon Iraq in the hopes of bringing it peace, and our treatment of people suspected of being terrorists who are incarcerated in Guantanamo and possibly other locations around the world. Specifically, the charges against the British crown of
"depriving us in many cases, of the benefit of Trial by Jury: transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences:"
might be made against us. This is a shame and a travesty, and overshadows the many good things that our troops are doing in Iraq, both those done in obedience to commands given by their superiors and those done out of the goodness of their hearts.
It's easy for us to forget that our Founding Fathers and the colonial militia were considered traitors, and quite possibly terrorists by the British in their day. Recall that the colonists waged a guerilla war, since they were vastly outnumbered by the British army. I do not want to compare our ancestors too closely with al Qaida, primarily because the values that guided the colonists are quite different from those that guide al Qaida. But Islamic terrorists are guided by values that they hold dear and are willing to die for, even if we find them reprehensible (presuming we know what they are at all, and many of us, including me, don't).
Catholic moral teaching clearly states that you cannot willfully do an evil act in the hopes of achieving a good end. "The end does not justify the means," as the old saying goes, and that is based on natural law. That means it is true for Muslim terrorists, and they should end their violence against innocents. It's also true for each one of us, and for our great nation.
Here's the entirety of the Declaration. It is thrilling in its language, its ideals, its stirring declaration of solidarity, and its hopefulness. May it serve as a guide for our government's actions today and in the years to come.
When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
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. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security. — Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.
He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.
He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.
He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.
He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their Public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.
He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.
He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected, whereby the Legislative Powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.
He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.
He has obstructed the Administration of Justice by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary Powers.
He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.
He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people and eat out their substance.
He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.
He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil Power.
He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:
For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:
For protecting them, by a mock Trial from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:
For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:
For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:
For depriving us in many cases, of the benefit of Trial by Jury:
For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences:
For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies
For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:
For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.
He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.
He has plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.
He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation, and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & Perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.
He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.
He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.
In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.
Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our British brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.
We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these united Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States, that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. — And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.
This past week was rather exhausting. We celebrated the birthdays of three members of our community, and Wednesday was also my mother's 85th birthday. I don't even want to think about cake.
Thursday I took Fr. Bede, a 78 year old member of our Dominican community who has been diagnosed with dementia and lives in a residence near our community, to Evan Almighty. Since he loves animals, I figured he'd get at least two of very kind in the movie. It's entertaining, though rather heavy-handed and boilerplate at times, but the central visual image is challenging. All the advertising shows a white-bearded, robe wearing fellow surrounded by pairs of animals.
You don't need to know much more to get the gist of the movie.
Evan has a rather odd mission given to him by God.
That places him at odds with his own plans and with the expectations of his family, his neighbors, his government, and the constituents who elected him to Congress.
They elected him because of his ambitious campaign promise to "change the world," not "build an ark for God."
The whole beard and robe schtick is a real challenge for a man whose personal mantra is, "I'm strong, powerful, handsome, happy."
When he finally gives in to the request, he appears to lose everything – until the happy ending, of course.
The Gospel last Sunday begins with a huge transition in Luke's account of the ministry of Jesus. Jesus has set his face for Jerusalem, where he will lose everything, even his life, which he offers to His Father on our behalf.
The Samaritans won't welcome him because he's going to Jerusalem, and they rejected Jerusalem as the place to worship God; thus James and John want them destroyed for their insult.
Jesus rejects the "eye for an eye" mentality.
He lives by a different standard than his countrymen. The question is, are we willing to do the same?
According to Cardinal George in a 2002 address to the U.S. bishops, "Our culture tells us what to do. It is a normative system. So is faith in Jesus. If the faith and the culture clash or disagree, as they always do to some extent, it is because faith is a gift from God and culture is a human construct. There will be tension in us because the faith and the culture are both inside us.
That's why one of the most controversial articles of the creed is the one that says, "I believe in God, the Father almighty." One of Jesus' most controversial statements is, "All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me." The belief in a powerful God, an almighty God, an all-powerful God is, in a secularized culture, appears as a threat to human freedom."
Since freedom is our primary cultural value, and one that we'll celebrate on the 4th of July, claims that God has power over us are very problematic.
While atheism is becoming more vocal these days, I doubt we'll become an atheistic country in name. But there is a subtle way of reducing the threat that God's power might have for us, and that is to tame God. This is the kind of secularization that we live with in the United States. We'll slap a "God bless America" or "God bless our troops" bumper sticker on, but you never see a "God LEAD America" bumper sticker. We don't let God make any demands on our behavior, because that would be to give Him power. We cannot permit Him to have power or we will lose our freedom.
The freedom that we celebrate today in America is the freedom to do whatever we want, say whatever we want, buy whatever we want, with no thought of consequences. Lawyers are hired to protect our rights, and to expand them, if possible.
When this is the case, religion becomes akin to belonging to the Lion's club or the Lady's Garden Society. It's a nice, pleasant way to spend some time on occasion with like-minded folks. But you don't expect it - or permit it - to change your behavior, your opinions, your thoughts.
In our thoroughly post-modern American culture, any objective truth claim is illegitimate, primarily because it threatens freedom. If there is an objective truth, then it can reasonably demand a response on my part; a response that demands that my subjective desires be limited by a reality beyond me. Religious truth claims in particular are a threat. We have managed to weaken them and even dismiss them, however, by misinterpreting Jefferson's famous phrase about the separation of Church and State. Rather than referring to the Constitutional prohibition against state-sponsored religion, we've taken it to mean that political positions can't be argued from the basis of one's faith.
For a Christian to live by faith, he or she has to submit to the idea that many things should not be done. I shouldn't call down fire from heaven on those who insult me. I shouldn't pay my employees unjust wages. I shouldn't ignore the poor, the homeless, the hungry; and there are consequences if I do. St. Paul, whose life was transformed by his encounter with the risen Lord, reminded the Galatians of Jesus' command, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." Within that simple positive command is much activity that is forbidden.
The question is, do I really believe in an almighty God? Can I honestly refer to Jesus as , "Lord," as we do throughout the Mass and our prayers. To call Jesus "Lord" means that He is calling the shots in my life. When Evan Baxter asks God for help in changing the world, God answers, but the plan that's followed can no longer be Evan's, but God's.
Do I believe in God, the Father almighty? Or Fr. Mike Almighty? That's the question, and it's the age-old garden-variety temptation. You know what garden I mean. The tempter seduces Adam and Eve with the promise, "eat this, and you will be like gods." Meaning, of course, "You won't need God to tell you what to do anymore." You'll be Eve Almighty, Adam Almighty.
When St. Paul talks about freedom and slavery, flesh and the Spirit, he's looking all the way back to the fall. Because for St. Paul, freedom is the hallmark of Christian existence. Christians are free because they do not have to earn salvation by their own works. Redemption is a gift, and they are free to embrace their salvation in grateful obedience to the command, "love one another as I have loved you." This is life in the Spirit.
"The flesh" isn't our earthly body, it's life under the power and control of the tempter, who keeps up the empty promise of freedom as doing our will, rather than God's. The flesh is a life lived according to the principle, "I'm #1." The flesh is a life lived at odds with others; competitive, compulsively consumeristic, fraught with rivalry, jealousy and distrust.
So what's it going to be? Do we believe all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Jesus? Are we willing to follow him?
There's a price to pay if we do. One would-be follower says, "I will follow you," and Jesus lets him know the cost – for he himself has "no where to lay his head." No place to call his own, where he can be safe and comfortable.
Another says, "Let me first bury my Father." That was one of the most laudable, pious things a Jewish son could do, yet Jesus' response indicates that following him is life, and everything else - even fulfilling Jewish law - is death. So too, following Jesus for us must supersede any other law – even civil law. We cannot make the accommodation John F. Kennedy promised the American people. No Christian can.
The third would-be follower asks to do exactly what Elisha did when Elijah called him. The placing of leader's cloak over your shoulder was a symbol in the ancient near east of being chosen to take the leader's place.
Elisha says farewell to his family, kills his oxen, burns his farming equipment to cook them, then feeds his family and leaves them forever. With the tools of his trade destroyed, he literally has nothing to go back home to. There was no looking back for him.
Nor can there be for us, Jesus says. The only way we can follow him is to keep our eyes on his back; not knowing exactly where he's leading us, except for the next few steps.
The challenge is not so much knowing what Jesus commands us. Paul easily summarized it, "love your neighbor as yourself." Do to them exactly what you would want them to do to you.
Do that, and you'll be at odds with the culture. Do that, and people will think you're odd – or worse Do that, and you won't change the world – Jesus will. Because HE's "almighty."
Visiting with long time friends and family and problems of access is going to make it impossible to blog until I'm home on Friday but most of you will be celebrating this week as well. My vacation has been enormously restful and healing so far: sleep, prayer, intimate friends, and beloved natural beauty are a blessed combination.
So I leave you with this snippet:
J R R Tolkien being interviewed about the the moment one summer when he first wrote the words: "In a hole in the ground lived a hobbit."
It's so quirky - it's delightful - and gives a vivid sense of his zest, energy, and quickness of mind when he was in his prime.
Happy Fourth of July to everyone. Intentional Disciples will return on July 6th.