I am not very proud to admit that over the years I have taken the Fourth of July — or, should I say, the real meaning of this federal holiday — for granted over the years. To me the date has been more about another way and another special day to celebrate my favorite season of the year: summer.
When I was a child, it meant family gatherings and those famous John Philip Sousa marches playing and fireworks along the Detroit River. It’s not that I wasn’t proud to be an American. But to be brutally honest, it had to do much more with family, friends, good food and all the fun festivities than with freedom and independence, because that freedom and independence, I so naively thought, were never nor could they ever be in question. This was America for crying out loud. So don’t worry. Be happy and pass the pasta salad and Italian sausage sandwiches.
But that was then and this is now, and who would have thunk it, as the old sayings go. Well, I have been thinking a lot lately about what July Fourth really represents. What we may be on the very verge of losing in this amazing land of ours has been weighing heavily on my mind and heart.
One of my most recent “aha” moments was standing in line at U.S. Customs at JFK International Airport. I was just returning from the Holy Land and once again had a front-row seat concerning the continued persecution of Christians. It wasn’t my first experience in Bethlehem, but given the recent attacks on the Church in the United States via, among other things, the HHS mandate and the continual help of a mostly hostile secular press, I found myself identifying more closely with my brothers and sisters in the City of David. They were prisoners in their own hometown. As I waited to be granted entry back into the United States, it occurred to me that with this mandate comes the effort to redefine religion and a blatant attempt to limit the practice of our faith to Mass and worship services. Maybe it was jet lag, but I realized the men and women in a land thousands of miles away were not so different from us after all. If the mandate is allowed to stand, we could also be prisoners of sorts in our own parishes, churches and synagogues.
Similar feelings came over me as I watched a video produced by the Michigan Catholic Conference. The conference was one of 43 religious organizations to file suit over the federal government mandate on May 21. That same day I watched the video online I also interviewed a representative from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops regarding the upcoming Fortnight for Freedom, scheduled for June 21 through July Fourth. The Fortnight for Freedom refers to the 14-day period established by the bishops to encourage Catholics and other people of faith to pray for our country and conduct activities in support of our constitutional rights.
Who would have ever thought, I said to myself and to my radio listeners that morning, our bishops, other Catholic representatives and our Church in general would believe that such educational and legal efforts would be necessary? Who would have ever believed even a few years ago that we would get to this point? The Fortnight for Freedom begins appropriately on the eve of the feast of the great English martyrs Sts. John Fisher and Thomas More.
So, that’s why July Fourth will be different for me and my family this year. Yes, we will still head to the park or the beach to watch the fireworks, listen to patriotic music and enjoy plenty of good food. But first and most importantly, we will spend a lot more time on our knees.
Teresa Tomeo is the host of “Catholic Connection” produced by Ave Maria Radio and heard daily on EWTN Global Catholic Radio and Sirius Channel 130.