Saturday is 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That part of the story is common knowledge, but I wonder how many of us are aware that this historical document is also a declaration of dependence.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, say 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.
We’re dependent whether we like it or not. 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.
It seems to me that every generation seems convinced that their particular period of history is he most difficult time in which to live. In this regard our generation is no exception. Many find themselves thinking that these are the toughest times that the human race has ever known — that this is the “end times”.
But in reality, all times are tough times; and many periods of history, in some ways, have been more difficult than our own. Yet these are nonetheless trying times in which to live. Recent reports have been dealing with the problem of stress among children in the early grades of school. Some of them were no more than six or seven years of age. Yet they are showing the classic signs of stress — difficulty sleeping, emotional depression and irritability. When asked what they worried about, their answers were the same as any adult might give, such things as family conflict and the prospect of a divorce, and whether there would be enough money to pay all the bills.
These are difficult days in which to live, and even our children know it. So my concern is whether our Catholic faith offers any help for the living of these days and if so, are we passing it on to our children?
The answer to that question depends, of course, upon what we mean by the term “Catholic faith.” To some people it is nothing more than a formal creed which they have passively accepted. That kind of faith offers no help in tough times. But to other people faith is a dynamic force to be put to work in the solving of problems and the meeting of life’s challenges. Jesus told His disciples that if they had faith the size of a mustard seed, they could use it to uproot a tree and transplant it to the midst of the sea. The language is symbolic, but the meaning is clear.
St. Paul apparently had that kind of faith. In his second letter to Timothy, he wrote: “The Spirit God has given us is no cowardly spirit, but rather one that makes us strong, loving, and wise.”
Those are the words of a man who knew more about tough times than most of us will ever know. He was
persecuted. He was poor. He was placed in prison for crimes he did not commit. Yet he faced all of these things without a trace of bitterness or despair.
It is significant that St. Paul spoke of his faith in God in terms of strength, because one of the greatest problems that we have is the uneasy feeling that we are not quite equal to the challenge. It is not surprising at times that we would feel that way. Look at what life does to us. We cannot live long in this world without seeing enough suffering and discouragement to make us wonder how some people carry on at all.
We can resent this aspect of life. We can even wonder about it. But all of that will do no good because we cannot change it. Life is not going to get any easier; so we must become stronger. We must discover what St. Paul discovered: “In Him who is my strength, I have strength for everything.” That is the kind of faith we need. And if our faith in Jesus is not producing a similar result in our lives, then it is time to stop and think. Faith in Jesus will not provide us with easy answers and magic solutions, but it can enable us to apply the wisdom of God to the problems of the day. That is what our faith ought to be. Happy 4th of July!