“Not until I went into the churches of America and heard her pulpits aflame with righteousness did I understand the secret of her genius and power. America is great because she is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, she will cease to be great.”Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America
The Fourth of July, Independence Day, is one of my favorite holidays of the year. It is on this day we celebrate the founding of our great republic, The United States of America. I love the community celebration, songs, food, festive atmosphere — and the best part: the fireworks.
We are blessed to live in a place where we are free to adhere to our Faith in the public square, not only in our places of worship. We are free to pursue a good life for our families, speak our consciences, and defend our liberties. We are also free from the types of state coercion so many of our brothers and sisters in Christ must face across the globe. Nothing is perfect. We have our problems but they pale in comparison to what Christians in Sudan and North Korea face. Pray for them and support them.
Alexis de Tocqueville
Alexis de Tocqueville has wise words for us. His book, Democracy in America, was written between 1835 and 1840. This was the peak of the Second Great Awakening, a period of enormous Christian revival in this country. The Methodist and Baptist churches you see all over Texas can trace their roots to this momentous movement. So many of the revivals we have seen in this country have been a mass re-awakening of dormant Christian Faith. From the Great Awakening of Wesley, Whitefield, and Edwards to the post-World War II revival of Billy Graham to the Charismatic Renewal of the late 1960s and early 1970s, God has moved mightily in different periods of this country’s history.
We stand now at a very different point in our country’s history. Like the rest of Western civilization, church attendance has dropped in concert with the rise of “the nones” (meaning a rise in people who report no religious affiliation). As if on cue, both the political left and right have retreated back into their respective tribes, refusing to communicate with one another. It is a disconcerting and fearful time. It is difficult to watch and be a part of.
Is it this Simple?
Could it be as simple as de Tocqueville says it is? I believe it is. Our countries, states, and cities are made up of families and individual people, the bedrock of a society. If people aren’t encountering their own tendencies toward self-deification and self-justification, what does that mean? If they are not encountering a God who is angry with sin and the havoc it wreaks on the people He loves, what does that mean? Most of all, if they are not encountering a God who dies for them in His Son and adopts them by His own sheer mercy, what does that mean? I think we’re seeing what that means.
As we live through this time of contraction of the Christian Faith, we can’t predict the future. We don’t know if the Faith is moving permanently from our shores to those of Africa, Asia, and South America. It certainly seems like that is the case but we have no idea if a major movement of the Holy Spirit is about to take place yet again in the West and, particularly, in our beloved country.
I do know this, though. I know what our task is. It is to go to church and be fed by the proclamation of the Gospel. It is to raise out children in the Faith, through Bible study, catechesis, and worship. It is to go out into our community with the Gospel on our lips, telling people of the Good News of Jesus Christ. It is to be a community of love and support for our fellow parishioners (and school families, too). Our task it to faithful — be faithful and wait on God to move. “Pulpits aflame with righteousness”. I love that. I hope our pulpit is aflame with righteousness — righteousness and grace.
Have a Happy Fourth of July! Remember with gratitude where we live and what it took to get here. Remember also how fragile our life together can be. It might just rest on one simple maxim showed to us by a Frenchman at the height of the Second Great Awakening.