July 5, 2019

Christ the Cornerstone

Peace with justice is our hope for Independence Day

Archbishop Charles C. Thompson

“[Jesus] spoke to us a message of peace and taught us to live as brothers and sisters. His message took form in the vision of our founding fathers as they fashioned a nation where we might live as one. His message lives on in our midst as our task for today and a promise for tomorrow” (Preface for Independence Day I).

Yesterday, July 4, we observed our most significant national holiday, Independence Day.

Although the Fourth of July is not a religious feast day, the Church does propose prayers and readings that are appropriate for use during Mass on this national day of celebration. The reflections below are based on the readings for the Mass for Peace and Justice: Is 9:1–6; Phil 4:6–9; Ps 72:2, 3–4ab, 7–8, 11–12, 13–14; and Mt 5:1–12a.

The freedom that we enjoy as citizens of the United States of America is truly something to celebrate. Freedom is a gift from God offered to every man, woman and child regardless of race, nationality, or economic or social standing. Governments exist to safeguard and defend human freedom, to nurture it and allow it to grow. Without freedom, human persons are stifled in their God-given potential, and societies are frustrated in their ability to flourish and grow.

Peace is what allows nations to flourish, but the precondition for all genuine peace is justice—the right-ordering of human affairs to ensure equity, impartiality and fairness among individuals and groups.

St. Paul tells us that God’s peace “surpasses all understanding” and that it includes “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious” (Phil 4:7-8).

As a nation, one of our highest goods must be the preservation of peace-with-justice within our borders and in relationship to other nations. Without peace, our efforts to nurture and grow as individuals, families and communities are severely threatened.

As I observed last year in my pastoral letter, “We are One in Christ: A Pastoral Letter on Fundamentals of Christian Anthropology,” in our pursuit of peace, Christians are called to build bridges, not walls. Whether in politics, race relations, economic crises or disputes among families or local communities, we are challenged to be peacemakers, to find common ground and to engage in respectful dialogue.

I also observed that our Church extends to all the unconditional love of Jesus. We welcome strangers, and we work to make everyone feel at home. We support our nation’s efforts to secure our borders, and to regulate the processes that govern immigration and refugee resettlement.

However, we insist that in all instances the rights of individuals and families be protected, and we place concern for human dignity above political or practical expediency.

We take this responsibility so seriously that Church teaching points out that as citizens we may be obliged in conscience not to follow laws or regulations that are contrary to the fundamental rights of persons or the teaching of the Gospel (See Catechism of the Catholic Church, #2242). This is peace-with-justice, the absolute conviction that respect for human rights and dignity are essential to the right-ordering of human society and the safeguarding of our most cherished principles and values as a nation.

In my pastoral letter, I also noted what I call “the Catholic both/and.” For example, we respect both the right of sovereign nations to control their borders, and the right of individuals and families to migrate and to be treated with dignity and respect. We acknowledge both the constitutional right of American citizens to bear arms, and the responsibility of governments to regulate the sale and use of firearms as a matter of public safety. We celebrate both the diversity of languages, cultures and races in our nation, and the importance of bringing everyone together in unity and peace. We both love the poor, and long for the day when no man, woman or child will be homeless, hungry or deprived of quality health care.

This paradoxical view is found in the teaching of Jesus, especially in the Beatitudes (Mt 5:1-12), where countercultural values such as poverty, mourning, meekness and persecution are fundamentally aligned with mercy, purity of heart, peacemaking and the hunger and thirst for righteousness. Peace-with-justice comes when human dignity is placed before utilitarian values of politics, economics or social engineering. True peace is found where justice and charity are embraced in defense of human rights and dignity for all.

Let’s continue this holiday weekend with both heartfelt gratitude to God and to all those who have given so much to preserve our freedom as Americans, and a commitment to pursuing peace-with-justice in both our personal lives and the political arena. †

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