Forty years—indeed, not even forty years—after the Revolutionary War and the Declaration of Independence (of which we celebrate today), America found itself in another battle, the War of 1812. You may recall that it is during a battle in this war that we see emerge our National Anthem: The Star-Spangled Banner.
I love its last line; it’s a question: O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave o’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?” Not yet forty years into our nation’s history and already this nation was called the land of the free and the home of the brave. In the war of 1812, Francis Scott Key was asking whether the flag still stood, was still triumphant; in our day, we ask whether this is still the “land of the free and the home of the brave.”
Let’s simply focus on that last word: the “brave.” I love that word, even though it is not always a part of our common lexicon. Bravery is akin to courage, of running into battle no matter the cost. But there is something deeper to the word. For one, it is connected to hopefulness. A hopeful people will raise the banner and trek onward to their hope, even fighting for it; a despairing, hopeless people have lost the fight in them. Bravery and hope go together.
Bravery is also connected to possession of the True, the Good, the Beautiful. When we know and possess what is right, we are willing to fight for it. A person doesn’t enter into battle without knowing what they are fighting for; indeed, such a person would quickly lose the willingness to battle. Our Founding Fathers, however, possessed a keen understanding of what is True and Good, such that when the True and the Good were attacked, they appealed to the Almighty and with great bravery signed the Declaration of Independence—a Declaration whose last words are:
[W]ith a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.
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In our beautiful nation, there is still a remnant of that hopefulness, of that “American Dream.” And there is still a possession, albeit weakening, of the True and Good. Our land is still the “home of the brave.”
But should this “great experiment” continue, we—and Catholics especially—must rediscover from where our Founding Fathers themselves drew this bravery to stand against evil. It was here *pointing to the Cross*. It is the Almighty who first declared our independence when He sent His son who dwelled among us and established a kingdom whose laws and freedoms no man—indeed, not even the powers of hell—could overcome it. Our Founding Fathers knew and believed that at our Lord’s triumphant Crucifixion and Resurrection, there came this ultimate Declaration of Independence: from the Cross, our Savior declared that we are free from the kingdoms of darkness and evil; we have been liberated from the slavery of sin and death. This is the declaration on which all other rights and liberties would find their source and fulfillment.
From here comes our bravery—the True and the Good and our Hope—for if Jesus Christ has overcome the kingdom of darkness, then no human attack against us could ever take away our freedom. We are free, no matter what political wind blows one day and is gone the next. We are always victorious, even when death is at our side. “Therefore,” says St. Paul, “we are always courageous” (2 Cor 5:6).
Indeed, the only way we could ever be enslaved again is if we, in our own souls, should choose sin, to choose a king to replace Jesus; for where the Truth is, there is Freedom. So we must be brave and “fight the good fight… [holding] tightly to the eternal life to which God has called [us]” (1 Tim 6:12)
Indeed, there will come a day, not unlike this one, when the battle of faith will be over. The Kingdom of God, in which we became citizens at our baptism, will be gloriously made manifest. Yes, today’s celebrations and fireworks will be dwarfed by that great celebration yet to come. All the angels and saints and, we pray, ourselves numbered among them, will find ourselves celebrating our Lord and King Jesus Christ’s great return. And with Him we pray we will go: to heaven, to that kingdom from which we received have really received our own: that great Country which forever is and forever will be “the land of the free and the home of the brave.”