Dear brothers and sisters,
This weekend, our nation celebrates its Independence. We take time to look back and reflect on the gift of freedom, and where true freedom lies. As Christians, we believe that everything good in life comes from God, including our freedom. From the Catholic perspective, true freedom allows us to do that which is right. Too often, however, liberty can be misunderstood for license. Yet the truth is that we are not free to do whatever we want. Our nation was founded on Judeo-Christian principles which presumed that there is objective right and wrong. Our Founding Fathers had a clear sense that all our rights come from God.
On this national holiday, we are reminded that we are one nation, under God. May we never forget this basic truth as we see our contemporary culture trying to redefine much of the natural order established by God and failing to protect the most vulnerable lives. As a Church, we must be a prophetic voice calling our nation to never forget the true Source of our freedom, and the true Power that guarantees it. At the same time, let us never forget those who have paid the ultimate price for our freedom, and those who have served and are serving to maintain the privileges that we continue to enjoy in this land.
I remember growing up under the communist regime in Vietnam and was deeply inspired by the American concepts of “the rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”. While Americans understood these rights as God-given, sometimes taken granted, they existed for me and my people only as a dream then. When I came to this country as a young teenager and began attending school here in New York City, I was very proud of putting my hand over my heart and reciting the Pledge of Allegiance in school every morning: “I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” Those words have a powerful meaning for me because I know that what they represent is not free and I would never take it for granted.
Now as a proud citizen of this great nation, I am grateful for our heritage. I am grateful for the privilege of living in “the land of the free and the home of the brave.” I am thankful for those who came before us paving the way for unrivaled liberties that allow us to freely make choices about our life, our faith, our work and our lifestyle. I am indebted to past and present veterans who made sacrifices in the pursuit and protection of these freedoms. Ultimately, I am thankful to God for all the blessings that have come into my life in the United States of America, including the ability to practice my faith and live out my faith, comfortable housing, decent healthcare, social mobility, an abundant wardrobe, a diverse menu of fantastic foods, and state-of-the-art communication and entertainment. I feel that I am blessed beyond my deserving.
Yet as a responsible and faithful person, I am also concerned for our future. I am concerned that our nation’s many different perspectives and ideologies are now driving us further apart from one another. Threats of violence, the abuse of political power, the divisiveness of harsh and misleading political rhetoric, a lack of civil discourse, a growing sense of hostility towards human life, a constant pushing of the envelopes in terms of morality. These concerns have given me heightened anxiety about the direction of our society in general. I suspect that many of you also feel the same as you look upon the current state of our nation.
This weekend, I invite you to pray that these sentiments of gratitude and concerns will lead us to a deeper appreciation of what God has done for us in Christ. Without Christ, there is no life. Without Christ, there is no liberty. Without Christ, there is no pursuit of happiness. May we who live in this land and enjoy its privileges never take God for granted, for He is indeed the author and guarantor of all our rights.
Wishing each of you and your family a very blessed Independence Day weekend, I remain
Msgr. Cuong M. Pham