Pray Brethren

Pray Brethren

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Remembering the 4th of July

When Americans think of the 4th of July, what first comes to mind are such things like family picnics, smores, and fireworks. Perhaps after this, we remember that the 4th of July celebrates our independence from England, an independence declared by our civic leaders and won by our men in the field. There is a big difference, however, between thinking about the 4th of July and remembering the 4th of July. Catholics who know their theology, however, should understand what I mean by this distinction. In the Greek, anamnesis means to remember but, more than this, it means to participate in the past event through remembering it. Liturgically-minded Catholics in this way are best prepared to celebrate tomorrow’s July 4th celebrations. But we should also recall our American history following the War of Revolution. Today, July 3, we also remember the saving of the Union at the Battle of Gettysburg.

So let us now remember our past by reading anew the words of five men: Thomas Jefferson, Joshua Chamberlain, Robert E. Lee, Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King, Jr.

Adopted by the Continental Congress on July 4, 1776, the following words of Thomas Jefferson constitute the core of the Declaration of Independence. What began in 1776 continued in the Civil War of the 1860s, and came full circle in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s.

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. That whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness… And for 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.”
Joshua Chamberlain won the Medal of Honor for saving the Union Army from Southern forces under Robert E. Lee at the Gettysburg on July 2, 1863. In the following speech from the movie Gettysburg, Chamberlain rallies the men of his regiment for battle.
This is a different kind of army. If you look at history you'll see men fight for pay, or women, or some other kind of loot. They fight for land, or because a king makes them, or just because they like killing. But we're here for something new. This has not happened much, in the history of the world: We are an army out to set other men free. America should be free ground, all of it, from here to the Pacific Ocean. No man has to bow, no man born to royalty. Here we judge you by what you do, not by who your father was. Here you can be something. Here is the place to build a home. But it's not the land. There's always more land. It's the idea that we all have value, you and me. What we're fighting for, in the end... we're fighting for each other.
General Robert E. Lee may have fought on the side of the South, but his faith and character made him America’s most beloved General. Today marks the day of Pickett’s Charge, the failed attack on the Union center that lost the South the war. In the following words from the movie Gettysburg, Lee speaks to one of his generals before the Charge and gives us an insight into his thinking before launching such a disastrous attack:
General, soldiering has one great trap: to be a good solider you must love the army. To be a good commander, you must be willing to order the death of the thing you love. We do not fear our own death you and I. But there comes a time... We are never quite prepared for so many to die. Oh, we do expect the occasional empty chair, a salute to fallen comrades. But this war goes on and on and the men die and the price gets ever higher. We are prepared to lose some of us, but we are never prepared to lose all of us. And there is the great trap General. When you attack, you must hold nothing back. You must commit yourself totally. We are adrift here in a sea of blood and I want it to end. I want this to be the final battle.
By the end of July 3, 1963, 58,000 Americans had become casualties of this battle, the greatest battle fought in the Americas.

In November of 1863, five months after the battle, Abraham Lincoln gave his famous speech, the Gettysburg Address:

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate -- we can not consecrate -- we can not hallow -- this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
In his Gettysburg Address, Lincoln alluded to the civic sacrifice made by the brave men in the field of combat who consecrated the land by their blood. In his Second Inaugural, Lincoln makes the connection of the blood to the will of the Father:

…It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God's assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes. "Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh." If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said "the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether." With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”
Martin Luther King, Jr. gives us our final witness for our remembrance today. His words are both the closest to our modern day and also the most biblical. Seeing himself as a new Moses, he worked to bring civil freedoms to his people while also preparing for a Christ-like death:

“We've got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn't matter with me now. Because I've been to the mountaintop. And I don't mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land. And I'm happy, tonight. I'm not worried about anything. I'm not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”
Today and tomorrow, let us not only think of the events of the past, let us remember them and remember the sacrifices of our civic forefathers. Let us participate in their work and never fear carrying it out next week, next month, and in all the years to come.

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