We admire, honor, and love our American forbears because they are heroes. They were also contributors and builders far more than they were critics or complainers; and we admire that, too. When they faced oppression from the British monarchy or hardships from cultivating the land or struggles in forming a democracy, they creatively found ways to overcome them. We immortalize figures like George Washington, Paul Revere, Betsy Ross, Francis Scott Key, Patrick Henry, Abigail Adams, and Benjamin Franklin because they embody characteristics of our nation’s passion and compassion, courage and bravery, perseverance and forbearance, united vision and collective mission. They were in communion with one another and with the God under whom they established this great republic.
As history reveals, there were more than a few disagreements along the way. John Adams and Thomas Jefferson promoted different paths toward similar goals through heated arguments and robust debates. Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton dueled to the death. Numerous rumbles broke out when the Continental Congress assembled to determine the direction of our fledgling society. Yet, in spite of their differences, they all worked together for united outcomes of independence, freedom, liberty, prosperity, and justice for all citizens. The early Christian church was similar. Saint Peter, the rugged fisherman, and Saint Paul, the learned Pharisee, argued openly about matters of importance, and early church fathers disagreed and battled over issues of faith. But they also shared and promoted a common brotherhood of unity for the sake of the young community, a common union in their relationship with God and one another, and a common action in their communication. They, like the founders of our nation-state, sought unity rather than uniformity, education rather than indoctrination, and openness to God’s will rather than narrow-minded thinking. The motto of our country, E Pluribus Unum, is echoed in our church: out of many, we are one. Many people, many thoughts, many paths, can give strength to our unity.
Wise and holy church patriarchs, from Origen, Tertullian, Ambrose, Irenaeus, Ignatius of Antioch, and many others had varying understandings of Eucharist, holy communion, and transubstantiation (belief that the elements of bread and wine change into the body and blood of Christ). Though no one disputed the reality of Jesus’ words: “This is my body…this is my blood,” they disputed the literal and spiritual aspects of them and what it is that we receive and consume at the table of fellowship. Many Catholics today are focused on the material presence of Christ while others look to the spiritual presence of the Lord in divine communion. As the Bishops of the United States help us to understand the sublime importance of Holy Eucharist and how it empowers us to shape our surroundings through interacting in a more Christ-like manner, let us pray for them, much like prayers were offered for early American leaders.
In the founding of our church, like in the founding of our nation, there was a lot of prayer. As in the case of our forebears, we realize that from prayer we gain strength, courage, and unity. We know that prayer unlocks the chains of slavery that defeat us. Whether the Roman Catholic Church or the United States of America, we strive for freedom from slavery to other earthly kingdoms and freedom from other evil spiritual powers. “Courage” means to act from the heart. At the heart of our religion is Jesus Christ and at the heart of our country’s creed is the creation of a kingdom that reflects the will of God like that put forth in the prayer that Our Lord gave us, “on earth as it is in heaven.” As we offer gratitude on this 245th anniversary of our nation’s birth, we also give thanks for our faith, in the hope that we will imitate the courage of our church’s and our country’s founders.