I love my country. I love being an American. I love proudly holding up my American passport when entering a foreign country. I love listening to Neil Diamond’s “Coming to America” every time I return from abroad. My favorite movie of all time begins with four simple words: “I believe in America.” I believe that what I love most about America is that she is and always has been a free country. That is what I was taught. I was raised by Cuban immigrants who came to these shores with their parents searching for the freedoms they did not have in their homeland. They could not raise their voices. They could not vote. They could not dissent. They could not worship. So they left the homeland they loved because something valuable was taken from them and went in search of the treasure of freedom that is gives to us by God himself in a land where they didn’t even speak the language. They taught me to love this country because of what it stood for, because of its freedoms, because it had opened its arms to them, and because it is the greatest country on Earth. I still believe this.
Today, the America my grandparents first encountered 44 years ago is rapidly changing. It has been well documented by our bishops that our religious freedoms are being threatened when the government tries to impose on us something that goes against our faith. However, that is not what you hear. Last night, I heard on the nightly news (and God bless the freedom of the press) that this controversy has turned into a war on contraception, a war on women’s health, and a war on women. Here’s the thing, we didn’t start this so-called war. All we did was raise our voices in dissent. My grandparents couldn’t do this when they boarded a flight in Havana in the summer of 1968 which is why the tearfully got on that plane. All of this is happening during the Lenten season. Earlier this week, Cardinal Francis George of Chicago wrote about the practice of giving up something for Lent and brilliantly tied it in with this assault on freedom: “This year, the Catholic Church in the United States is being told she must “give up” her health care institutions, her universities and many of her social service organizations. This is not a voluntary sacrifice.” This is what will happen, he concludes, if this so-called health care mandate is implemented. (I urge you to read his powerful column: http://www.catholicnewworld.com/cnwonline/2012/0226/cardinal.aspx.)
Yesterday, the Senate voted on an amendment to this mandate that would have overturned it. It lost…by three votes. While the rhetoric has become volatile and at times offensive, I thank God that I live in a country where people can disagree and dissent. While this issue, which again was not of our making, has been used as a political football by both sides of the aisle, I thank God that I live in a country where there are two sides of an aisle. My grandparents got on that plane 44 years ago because members of one side of the aisle had been pushed 90 miles to the north or locked behind bars or executed while yelling “Long live Christ the King!” Like Cardinal George, I fear for the future of my country. As he says, this year this attack on our religious liberty is being framed as a “reproductive” issue, but next year it could be about assisted suicide. I could add to the Cardinal’s train of thought and say it could be about gay marriage the year after that and about lawsuits forcing us to ordain women the year after that and about the need for us to have priests be married to avoid another massive scandal the year after that…if we allow this mandate to stand, where will it end? Earlier this week, I tweeted something Cardinal George said in 2010 as he saw where our country was headed: “I expect to die in bed. My successor will die in prison, and his successor will die a martyr in the public square.” I pray that it never comes to this. I believe in America, but I believe in the power of prayer and the redemptive power of our Lord Jesus Christ even more. I believe that America’s strength lies in her tireless defense of those rights that were, as Jefferson wrote, endowed to us by our Creator. God has blessed America over its storied and remarkable history. I pray that as she reaches this critical crossroads where her freedoms are being threatened from within, that God bless this great land, her government, and her people even more and that we may rely on our Creator as blindly as our forefathers did when they courageously committed an act of treason as they signed the Declaration of Independence: “…with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.”