July 4, 1776 – a new nation being forged in a revolutionary war, establishing an initial and fairly unsuccessful government under the Articles of Confederation, and finally via a difficult process establishing a constitutional government – 1788. With this the American experiment was truly born and a Constitution written – in a way the mission and vision statement for us as individuals, a family, and a society of people among a larger family of other nations. It shapes our identity as a people.Our essential identity as citizens has a consonance with our identity as Catholics – in each case “We hold these Truths…” Our Declaration of Independence places these values in its first paragraph: “When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary… to assume among the Powers of the Earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitled them.” Catholic faith accepts the natural law as a basis for morality, since God is the author of both revelation and reason. Thus the hallowed the principles of life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness are consistent with the social teachings of the church.
Within these three principles it is safe to suggest that a hierarchy of values exist with them. Life is primary. Without the value of life it is pointless to defend the value of liberty or the pursuit of happiness. But what about the relationship between the values of liberty and the pursuit of happiness?
Liberty and pursuit of happiness are found in the doctrine of Catholic social teaching under the principles of freedom and the common. We agree that there is a sacred individual dignity which we all have, however, we also believe that we all share that dignity and sacred relationship in common. To promote the principle of pursuing happiness is to promote the opportunity that all of us ought to have in attaining a good that we can all share as a community – it is the best of both worlds – but not always our experience as a people or nation. As American Catholics we are called to keep a check and balance between the values of liberty/freedom and the pursuit of happiness/ common good. The balance is between conserving our Faith, Tradition, and moral center as we seek an active progressive growth of the Kingdom of God based on Jesus’ proclamation of a world formed in justice and sustained in love.
Part of our modern identity is seen in one party holding aloft the banner of the common good; the other party is cast as the defender of liberty. In truth, people of good will from each party seek (and struggle) to find that balance between the values of liberty/freedom and the pursuit of happiness/common good.
This holiday, we should all pause in praise of our God who is the source of Life, Liberty, and Happiness, and remember whatever our own secular aspirations and preferences, we each “hold these Truths” – and each other – as coming from God.