With the recent inauguration of President Trump, his promises to “Make America Great Again” by protecting our country and generating jobs have been in the news. The greatness of our country, though, is determined by more than external signs of prosperity. It is based upon the foundation of the virtues of our people and the founding principles that established democracy. With that in mind, I would like to suggest five ways that each of us can strengthen our faith and in doing so help renew our country and Church.
The French diplomat and observer of early American democracy Alexis de Tocqueville noted in his famous work Democracy in America that the strong connections our country had to family and faith were key to the success of our nation.
What de Tocqueville observed is also found in the Scriptures. From Abraham to Jesus, we see that those who seek and follow the way of the Lord receive his blessings, while those who turn away from God suffer, even if it is not readily apparent.
This connection between the faith of a people and its well-being is so important that I would like to offer five practices for helping repair our nation’s moral fabric. As you pray about how God is calling you to apply these practices, keep in mind that almost every problem we are confronting today has its root in a warped understanding of our human dignity and who we are before the Creator.
1. Regularly acknowledge your sins and receive God’s mercy in Confession.
In his 1987 visit to the United States, Pope St. John Paul II told a crowd in San Antonio, Texas, “Confession is an act of honesty and courage – an act of entrusting ourselves, beyond sin, to the mercy of a loving and forgiving God.” If we begin with ourselves, we will ensure that we have the virtue we need to help build others up. Confession increases humility. Trust in the mercy of the Father, and return to the practice of monthly Confession!
2. Commit to daily prayer, including prayer for your enemies and those who persecute you.
St. Teresa of Avila, one of the great masters of prayer, offers us some insightful thoughts on the importance of prayer. “Mental prayer,” she said, “is nothing else than an intimate sharing between friends; it means taking time frequently to be alone with Him who we know loves us. The important thing is not to think much but to love much and so do that which best stirs you to love.” In keeping with St. Teresa’s teaching, it’s important that we do not overcomplicate prayer but strive to grow in love with Jesus, the Father and the Holy Spirit. From that love will spring the love of others, including our enemies. We become more receptive to following all the commands of Jesus in the Gospel.
3. Be faithful to the vocation God has given you.
Whether you are married, single or a religious, your individual fidelity to your vocation strengthens society and the Church. That is why Benedict XVI said in his first homily as pope, “We are not some casual and meaningless product of evolution. Each of us is the result of a thought of God. Each of us is willed, each of us is loved, each of us is necessary.”
Pope Francis has called us to live the joy of the Gospel and with the help of the sacraments and daily prayer, you will be spiritually ready and able to carry out your vocation with joy. Our society is in great need of more men and women who are willing to faithfully, joyfully answer God’s call to the married life, priesthood and religious life. Joy is contagious and makes people wonder why is that person so happy. St. Catherine of Siena once remarked, “If you are what you should be, then you will set the world on fire,” and that could happen in our time.
4. Build community with other people of strong faith.
The tendency in American culture seems to be toward isolation, rather than toward community. When we become isolated it’s easier to fall, but in community we can find strength and support. That’s why we hear the encouragement in the letter to the Hebrews to “consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Heb. 11:23-25).
5. Pray for courage and wisdom to publicly live your faith.
In his final appearance to the disciples, Jesus gave them the “Great Commission” – the mission of bringing the Gospel to the ends of the earth – promising that he would be with them until the end of time (cf. Mt. 28:19). Through your Baptism, you have received the same mission, but carrying it out requires discernment, trust and attentiveness to the Holy Spirit. To cultivate those virtues, I urge you to pray for the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit daily and to seek out mentors in the faith. We are blessed in our archdiocese to have many aids to help us grow in faith. These will help you bring your faith into your family, your work, and into the public square.
These five practices are necessary components of the project of restoring moral strength to our country and “make America great again.” Without a solid faith and family life, our society will be like the man who built his house on sand: “the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell; and great was the fall of it” (Mt. 7:27). Let us pray for our country, our elected leaders and our Church that they may all come to know Jesus Christ, so he may be our foundation.