Adoration, precisely understood, “grounds our whole being in the real reality,” Philadelphia’s Archbishop Charles J. Chaput affirmed in an essay for First Things a few months ago; and the real reality states “that God is God, and man is his creation.” Surely this means, at the very least, that the world crumples like spent aluminum foil when it is seriously examined. Adoration generates humility; hence it safeguards our mental health, by putting us plainly in our place. Moreover we, as disciples of the Lord living and striving here in America, courageously pilgrimage in our exceptional country.
Thus John Winthrop’s famed sermon about a “city on a hill” for his Puritan disciples over four centuries ago – a homily preached here, in the State of Connecticut – must be taken seriously. Religious faith is clearly the bedrock dynamic on which our Republic is founded, as the First Amendment to the United States Constitution suggests. All God-given liberties are anchored therein. Archbishop Chaput cites the great theologian Romano Guardini here to the effect that adoration of God is humanity’s instrument of truth. Truth, alongside goodness, constitutes both the objective and the means of authentic democracy. For a democratic republic to work meaningfully, let alone effectively, solid ethics must be respected and implemented. As President George Washington once stated:
“Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of man and citizens. The mere politician, equally with the pious man, ought to respect and to cherish them. A volume could not trace all their connexions with private and public felicity. Let it simply be asked, Where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths, which are the instruments of investigation in Courts of Justice?
“And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle. It is substantially true that virtue or morality is a necessary spring of popular government. The rule, indeed, extends with more or less force to every species of free government. Who, that is a sincere friend to it, can look with indifference upon attempts to shake the foundation of the fabric?” (See Farewell Address, ed. George and Henry S. Keating, Baltimore.)
Archbishop Chaput bids us all reflect on the Biblical message of Judges 2:6-15. Therein we are reminded that a whole generation of youths had somehow emerged from the Exodus and had already taken up residence in The Promised Land without an adequate knowledge of the marvelous traditions in which they had been immersed by a merciful God. A similar situation is occurring today, a situation of “a failure to pass along our faith in a compelling way to the generation now taking our place.” In other words, “the real reason faith doesn’t matter to so many of our young adults and teens is that – too often – it didn’t really matter to us.”
What is ultimately the issue here, the Archbishop rightly observes, is that to correct a deficient national culture, each citizen must “take a hard look” at his or her own faith. One cannot give what one does not personally possess. Thus, if one fails to “radiate the love of God with passion and courage” in one’s own life, nobody else can be counted upon to do so. To put this simply: saints are not sad. On the contrary, a saint, by his or her sheer joy in living, can ensure us all a better world.
Among the world’s most memorable literary witnesses to all of the above is Dostoevsky’s hero, Zosima, in The Brothers Karamazov, who urged our asking “gladness from the Lord.” We are called to be “glad as children,” he explained, as birds in the sky. “Nor should we let man’s sins disturb… [us] in our efforts.”