For Catholics the Fourth of July holiday is a time when we ponder the role of the Faith in the public square. The U.S. bishops have made this connection particularly pronounced since 2012, with the observance of the Fortnight for Freedom between June 21, the vigil of the feast of Sts. John Fisher and Thomas More, and Independence Day. And one need only to glance at the surrounding culture to see the various ways the Faith informs, challenges or otherwise evangelizes its environs.
Pro-lifers assert their voice and right to be heard.
Bishops and other leaders in the Church scramble to keep up with new threats that emerge rapid-fire in the form of policy proposals and actions.
Faithful Catholics seek to be a leaven in an increasingly secular society.
All of these are powerful signs of life.
The end of May saw the centennial of the birth of the only Catholic to occupy the White House to date, John F. Kennedy. Half a century after his death, people of faith are probably more likely to remember his embrace of the separation of church and state during the 1960 presidential campaign than to recall the final line of his Inaugural Address: “On earth God’s work must surely be our own.”
Our failure to imagine how the Faith should inform everything we do does great damage.
Three facets of faith lived daily speak to the great potential the Church has to offer:
Our works: The Church in the world is a constant case study in the works of mercy. The hungry are fed, the naked are clothed, the homeless are sheltered, the sick and dying receive care. This charity amounts to an incredible witness, one that has a measurable impact on real-world problems and an immeasurable good in every life touched by this work.
What we believe: The Church is able to carry out this witness because of what we believe, not only that the Lord Jesus commands us to care for the least among us as a condition for sharing in eternal life with him, but also that the Church defends the intrinsic dignity of every person, loved by God and created in his image. This has informed a tapestry of teaching that the Church continues to weave.
How that belief transforms: Pope Benedict XVI once said: “The one who has hope lives differently.” This captures well the transformative nature of the Gospel, the animating spirit behind what we believe and do. This is the truly leavening part, the part that can smooth the coarseness of a society that has become cynical, angry and divided. It’s also a challenge to continual renewal. To engage a society that needs the message of the Gospel requires us to be deeply imbued with grace. And this means engaging in an ongoing examination of conscience, of discerning where our lives are going and where they need to be. It means looking at where we’re growing in grace and allowing God to change us in unexpected ways — and where we’re shutting God out.
Not shutting out God, and growing in Catholic character, is a challenge we will explore in the next issue of Our Sunday Visitor Newsweekly. But what we have to offer for now is this: The way to change the world is to have faith in all we do.
Editorial Board: Greg Willits, editorial director; Gretchen R. Crowe, editor-in-chief; Don Clemmer, managing editor