A woman prays the Rosary for the United States of America after the annual Fourth of July Mass at Ss. Simon and Jude Cathedral. (Billy Hardiman/CATHOLIC SUN)

“For you were called for freedom, brothers. But do not use this freedom as an opportunity for the flesh; rather, serve one another through love.”

— Galatians 5:13

“Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom. As nations become corrupt and vicious, they have more need of masters.”

— Benjamin Franklin

I hope you all had an amazing, safe and fun Independence Day. How many of you did something on that day to help someone who needed it?

Hopefully all of you did in some way, whether it was taking care of a family member who needed it, helping a down-and-out friend or reaching out to someone in your neighborhood or a perfect stranger who was down on their luck.

And hopefully you also realized how incredible it is to live in a nation where the ability and responsibility to love one another is fundamental to its success.

We are blessed to have our freedom in this nation — but we are also blessed to have the responsibility that independence brings with it to love and care for our fellow brothers and sisters.

That’s what the beauty and freedom of America is really about.

As Catholics we can and should be especially eager to do our part to embrace that responsibility. Not only because it will save our nation but also because it so crucial to the nourishment of our souls.

In a society where we are free to become selfishly obsessed with material items, with self aggrandizement, with selfish pursuits, with ego and the like, as Catholics we are called and given a special opportunity to make loving and respecting each other a primary goal. Even though freedom is in our hearts, as we are “endowed by our Creator” with it, the way we use that freedom in a free society is inexorably connected to the preservation of our nation. If that society is to succeed and continue to be free, then we must take it upon ourselves to live virtuously. Otherwise our society will crumble, and order will be foisted upon us beyond our freedom.

If 80 million Catholics in America heed the admonition of the Galatians quote above, we can be a big part of making sure that never happens. And as our legislators and politicians squabble in what sometimes seems like an endless and fruitless fight to decide the future of America, we especially cannot and should not expect the law of the land alone to save us. And we should not expect any branch of government alone to do so either but instead each one of us should fight for human rights and respect in everything we do.

That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t stand up for and promote laws and policies that promote the common good and programs that help the needy and provide support for those that fall between the cracks; it is our Catholic duty to do so. But we cannot and must not delegate our responsibility to the society en masse.

That also doesn’t mean that non-Catholics and even non-Christians can’t and shouldn’t also be protectors of this virtue; but we as Catholics — more than most — understand not just the duty to love but the blessing we receive because of that relationship between ourselves and those in need.

That relationship was understood best by St. Vincent de Paul and Blessed Frédéric Ozanam — the founder of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul — who described “the relationship” as not just a humanitarian or philanthropic one but a truly supernatural, spiritual experience in which both the giver and the recipient are transformed, developing in their relationship not just with each other but with God.

Imagine a nation where that transformation was not just allowed but depended upon for its preservation. We are living in that nation! And it’s one that requires us to feed that need and the blessing that comes from helping others. How incredible is that?

That is the true beauty of America. And hopefully we celebrated that this Fourth of July and will continue to for years to come!

Because then not only will our nation stand as a shining city on a hill, but each one of us will rise in spirit to be our own shining beacons illuminated with the love of Christ.