Dear Fellow Parishioners,
While Independence Day is the official title of our national holiday, it is now more commonly known as Fourth of July – a nickname which reveals nothing of its significance. This year, it is the 247th anniversary of the ratification of the Declaration of Independence by the First Session of the Second Continental Congress in Philadelphia. Interestingly, Independence Day was not designated as a national holiday (without pay) until 1870, and with pay by act of Congress only in 1938. It would be difficult to think of another country so un-triumphalist as our own, to wait nearly 100 years before commemorating its own independence. Perhaps the Civil War, which ended only five years earlier, reminded all Americans of the preciousness and fragility of their experiment in democracy.
Holidays can serve as both national and personal markers of time. Those of us who are a little older can remember our national Bicentennial celebration in 1976, rung in by extended celebrations, stars-and-stripes themed everything, and even Bicentennial Minutes on television. Ten years later, on July 4, 1986, the United States celebrated the re-opening of the newly-restored Statue of Liberty, attended by French President Francois Mitterrand and led by President Reagan. That year was also the 100th anniversary of the original opening of the Statue of Liberty in 1886, a gift from the people of France. The original purpose of the gift from France was to celebrate three things: the centennial of the United States, the endurance of American democracy, and the American abolition of slavery.
The Declaration of Independence, our founding document, states: “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.”
Whatever all subsequent law and opinion may say (or deny), our founding document affirms the existence and dignity of Creator and the Created as a founding feature of our national life and identity.
The Church in the United States celebrates Independence Day with special prayers added to the Roman Missal, placing our country in the far wider stream of salvation history in Christ:
“He 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.”
Happy and grateful Independence Day,
Fr. Bill Donahue