“With great power comes great responsibility.” Those words, spoken by the fictional Uncle Ben to his nephew, Peter Parker (aka: Spiderman), might be from a comic book, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t true and worth serious consideration.  As Catholic Americans, we belong to two of the most powerful institutions on the face of the planet and, particularly on the (almost) eve of our nation’s Declaration of Independence, it’s worth considering how we have lived our responsibilities in light of our power.  

A great place to start is with a refresher on Catholic Social Teaching.  The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops website has a great section on this, found here:  https://www.usccb.org/beliefs-and-teachings/what-we-believe/catholic-social-teaching/seven-themes-of-catholic-social-teaching .  While all of the themes here are full of truth and beauty, when reading through this as an Independence Day reflection, pay close attention especially to the sections on: Call to Family, Community, and Participation, “We believe people have a right and a duty to participate in society, seeking together the common good and well-being of all, especially the poor and vulnerable;” and also: Rights and Responsibilities, “Every basic human right draws its authoritative force from the natural law, which confers it and attaches to it its respective duty.”

Then, take a look at the document we celebrate this week:

The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America, When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

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…”  ~https://www.archives.gov/founding-docs/declaration-transcript

The very need for this Declaration came about because the people of the time recognized the truth in Uncle Ben’s words spoken to Peter Parker, written centuries later, and realized that the government they belonged to, the British Empire, was not acting responsibly toward her people or the people of the world in general.  Only one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence was Catholic, but this document, and the Constitution that followed, read as if they borrowed themes from Catholic Social Teaching.  

As you grill burgers and ooh-and-aah at the fireworks, pause for a moment and remember that we share a double-portion of great heritage in our Catholic American identity.  Both of them need righteous men (and women) working hard to maintain and grow these foundational principles.  Both of them need our prayers and our involvement in continuing their tradition of upholding the dignity of all people and caring for them as well.  May we use our power well and responsibly. Happy Fourth of July!

For more on these topics, check out this article: https://www.pietrafitness.com/pietra-fitness-blog/the-virtue-of-patriotism-how-catholics-can-love-both-god-and-country