This weekend will be the 4th of July, a date of historical significance because it marks the birth of our nation. It was on that day in 1776 that representatives of the thirteen colonies signed a document declaring themselves to be a free and independent nation. Most of us are familiar with the contents of that document. We, of course, know it as “The Declaration of Independence”. In clear and concise language, it avows that the colonies are no longer connected with or controlled by the British Empire.
That part of the story is common knowledge, but I wonder how many of us are aware that this historical document is also a declaration of dependence. The last sentence, just above the signatures, says this, “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, our sacred honor.”
They started by declaring their independence from England; they ended by declaring their dependence upon God and one another. In sounding that two-fold emphasis, the founding fathers of our nation struck a balance which we, their descendants, have sometimes failed to comprehend. We like to think of ourselves as free and independent people. The spirit of this modern age of ours is one of liberation and self-determination. Individuals, parents and social groups, and entire nations are shaking off the shackles and claiming for themselves the right to control their own lives.
We, in the Church, should not only applaud this effort, but should be in the forefront of the fight for freedom everywhere. The desire for independence has always been, and will always be, one of the deepest longings of the human heart. God placed it there; and no one has the right to take it away. But in the midst of all this, we must never forget the counterbalancing truth of dependence. If at any time we begin to think of ourselves as totally free and completely independent, life has a way of reminding us otherwise.
For example, despite all our scientific progress, human life is still at the mercy of death and incurable disease. In the face of these two opponents, our would-be independence is meaningless. They stand as stark reminders that we are still dependent, whether we like it or not. Of course, there are others, less dramatic. Our dependence on God is not limited to times of desperation. On ordinary days, we still breathe His air, drink His drink, eat His food, and are warmed by the rays of His sun.
We are also dependent on each other. I need you and you need me. In II Corinthians, as St. Paul travelled from church to church, he was taking an offering to help the Christians in Jerusalem. Due to persecution and economic discrimination, many of them were in desperate straits; so, St. Paul said to the Christians in Corinth: “Your plenty at the present time should supply
their needs so that their surplus may in turn one day supply yours.”
Isn’t that a beautiful way to put it? St. Paul said, in effect, to the Corinthians, today it is your turn to help them; tomorrow it may be their turn to help you. I need you; you need me; and both of us together need people whom we have never seen; and they need us. And all of us together need God.
So this 4th of July ought to be a good time for each of us to sign somewhere in our heart a declaration of dependence.