Day: September 8th
We can thank God that we live in the “land of the free and home of the brave”, but the fact of the matter is, if each of us are not moral individuals – upright, wholistic, virtuous, saintly, generous, rightly-ordered, that kind of thing – than freedom just collapses into ruckus, and bravery quickly devolves into rash brazenness (and our national home doesn’t last much longer than that). This is not just a Catholic idea either! Benjamin Franklin, to someone who asked him what kind of government the new country would have as the Constitutional Convention closed, famously quipped “a republic”, adding the essential words “if you can keep it.” John Adams said it more directly: “Our constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” And, George Washington, in his final speech to the American people, spoke to this truth at length:
Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens. … And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion.
This week I open with these lines because I want to emphasize the desperate need our country has for moral individuals, and then I want to point that need directly at my own heart, and beg the Lord for the grace of conversion within myself. It is so easy to point to terrorists, or tyrants, or television, or temperature-change, or anything or anyone other than myself and say “that’s the problem”; they need conversion. And it is way easier to complain, or debate, or ignore any of those other things, and therefore push the conundrum out of my area of responsibility, hopefully at least to Capital Street, or maybe as far away as Washington DC, or Afghanistan, or maybe China.
But all of this sells ourselves short, and neglects the chance we have in our heart and in our home to cultivate Christian living. This week we celebrate the Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Nowhere in the Gospel do we get this precious scene, and yet what human joy must have filled the hearts of Joachim and Anne as they finally held their baby girl, and what supernatural joy must have filled the saints in heaven as God revealed to them His desire for her role in salvation history! What has this to do with Benjamin Franklin?! Mary, before we get to her saying ‘yes’ to Gabriel, or holding Jesus in Bethlehem, or staying near through the cross and to the upper room … before any of that happened, she was a girl, with parents, and she was given the gift of a holy heart.
This happened, at first, at the exact moment she was conceived. This is what we celebrate at the Immaculate Conception. Yet we also celebrate her birthday, just as we celebrate all of ours as well: the day we were born and held and seen by our family. What was so supernaturally special on Mary’s birthday that we dedicate a feast to it in the Church? On this day, Mary’s immaculate heart was entrusted by God to the care of her parents, and they cared for her well. Virtue, holiness, morality, freedom… all of these are things that must be established and maintained! Attacks will come upon us, and upon those we love, from every corner, to distract or destroy the holiness we are meant to have within. First of all, we must do this in our own hearts – maintaining our interior freedom, our moral compass, our holiness and virtue – and then spouses for each other, parents for their children, teachers for their students, and pastors for their parishioners.
And if we have done this well, we need not worry about much else!
– Fr. Dominic Rankin fondly remembers celebrating birthdays in his home growing up. The Rankin tradition was birthday cake for breakfast, followed by some sort of family excursion during the day. The zoo in St. Louis remains a highlight from one such occasion. Unfortunately, he was too rambling this week to fit a photograph of the day. Maybe next time!