Twelve score, or 240 years ago, our American forefathers began a revolution for freedom. For eight years, they fought to secure their independence from tyranny. They would go on to establish a national government; not meant create rights from nothing, but to help ensure and keep safe the human rights that “We the People” have from God. At the close of the 1787 Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, a lady asked Dr. Benjamin Franklin, “Well Doctor, what have we got, a republic or a monarchy?” He replied, “A republic, if you can keep it.”
The Framers established a government with three separate branches: a Legislative branch to create laws, an Executive branch to enforce the law, and a Judicial branch to resolve conflicts of law. This separation and balance of powers was designed to protect liberty against our fallen human nature. In the words of James Madison, who is called the architect of U.S. Constitution: “Ambition must be made to counteract ambition.” The Framers knew how leaders tend to consolidate power around themselves as dictators and the tendency of majorities to trample the rights of weaker minorities. James Madison adds, “It may be a reflection on human nature, that such devices should be necessary to control the abuses of government. But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary.”
Our American republic depends not merely upon its laws but on the virtue of its people. George Washington said, “Religion and morality are the essential pillars of civil society.” John Adams said, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” Ben Franklin said, “Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom. As nations become corrupt and vicious, they have more need of masters.”
Our representative government is made in our image, and unfortunately it reflects and shares our errors and flaws today. For example, we live beyond our means. The average American household owes $7,400 on credit cards. And our government in our likeness cannot repay its debts, which are approaching $20 trillion, or about $60,000 of debt for each one us. We end the lives of our unborn children, almost one million of them each year, and our three branches of government are either unwilling or unable to safeguard in law every innocent human being’s God-given right to life. We are increasingly non-religious, leading people to think that churches serve no spiritual or social good and that their tax-exemption should be stripped. And we see our religious freedom diminishing, such that you can be financially-ruined for exercising your religious conscience in your occupation. We think it’s OK to do whatever it takes to win, we see parents and coaches encouraging kids to cheat or siding with them when they get caught. Meanwhile our political leaders are so brazenly lawless and tell such transparent lies, yet there are no consequences for any of it. How can our country remain free if virtue and our respect for the rule of law dies?
It appears that trying years are ahead for Catholic Americans, but there are (at least) three things we can do: pray, prepare, and keep perspective.
We pray the St. Michael prayer near the end of our Masses to ask his help as the leader of the heavenly armies. We do this because evil spirits are real and active in our day. They are smarter than us and more powerful than us, but they are not more powerful than God and His angels. We should pray for our country. I cannot see how our country’s bad trends will be reversed, but God is cleverer and mightier than our imaginations so hope for a rebirth of virtue and freedom for our country remains.
In addition to prayer, we should prepare, beginning with ourselves. The final words before the signatures on the Declaration of Independence say, “[F]or the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.” How much are we willing to sacrifice in obedience to Christ? This is important to consider, for Jesus says, “Everyone who acknowledges me before others I will acknowledge before my heavenly Father. But whoever denies me before others, I will deny before my heavenly Father.” We should also endeavor to prepare our children, be they youths or adults, for a future living as “lambs among wolves.” For if the things we see now are done when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?
Besides prayer and preparation, we should also keep perspective. This American experiment has been, on a whole, a blessing for its people and the world. However, there is no guarantee that the United States will endure until Jesus returns. Only the Catholic Church is assured to remain until the end, even if as a small, beleaguered remnant. One of the benefits of studying Church history is that you realize how the Church has always appeared to be going down the drain, with troubles and persecutions in every age, and yet she endures. Let us remember that this is not our eternal home. In not so many years, each one of us will shake the dust of this earth from our feet to leave for our true homeland. As Isaiah says in our first reading, “In Jerusalem [that is, the heavenly Jerusalem] you shall find your comfort.” We are citizens of Heaven, and as for this country, we are only passing through.
So let us pray, prepare, and keep perspective. Things look bad for our country in the years and decades ahead. Nevertheless, do not despair at the advances of evil around us, but rejoice because your names are written in heaven, and we know who wins in the end.