by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann
This past Sunday, Gov. Sam Brownback invited me to participate in an inaugural interfaith prayer service that was held at Mid-America Nazarene University in Olathe.
The theme for the prayer service was “The Heart of Kansas,” in concert with Brownback’s appeal for greater volunteerism in the state to strengthen communities and assist those in need. The following are excerpts from my remarks at the prayer service.
“Kansas is a great state and is part of a great nation. The greatness of our nation is not so much in the fertility of our land or the wealth of our material resources. Indeed, we have been richly endowed in these areas, but they are not what really define America or Kansas.
“Our nation, in its 200-plus years, has been through many economic recessions and depressions, several much more severe than our present circumstance. Our nation has always recovered and renewed itself. How? It is because of the principles that bind us together as a nation and the spirit of the American people. These principles have come from our Judaeo-Christian heritage and they are premised on the religious faith of the American people and the virtues and values that come from that faith. It is these virtues and principles that make up ‘The Heart of Kansas.’
“Alex de Tocqueville — the French statesman, historian and social philosopher — wrote in his classic two-volume work, ‘Democracy in America,’ based on his observations of the life of the American people in the 1830s: ‘Religion in America . . . must be regarded as the foremost of political institutions of that country (the United States); for if it does not impart a taste for freedom, it facilitates the use of it. Indeed, it is the same point of view that the inhabitants of the United States themselves look upon religious belief.
‘I do not know whether all Americans have a sincere faith in their religion — for who can search the human heart? — but I am certain that they hold it to be indispensable to the maintenance of republican institutions. This opinion is not peculiar to a class of citizens or a party, but it belongs to the whole nation and to every rank of society.’
“De Tocqueville recognized that for democracy to survive, it was dependent on the virtue of its citizens and that religion and family life were the principal social institutions responsible for forming virtuous citizens. De Tocqueville wrote: ‘The safeguard of morality is religion, and morality is the best security of law as well as the surest pledge of freedom.’ Similarly, de Tocqueville observed: ‘There is certainly no country in the world where the tie of marriage is more respected than in America or where conjugal happiness is more highly or worthily appreciated.’
“America was founded because our ancestors prized freedom. The heroic sacrifices made by ordinary Americans the past 200-plus years to protect and preserve that freedom are stunning. The greatest threat to America today is not al-Qaida. It is not our economic challenges. The greatest threat to our nation today is from within. It is a confused and erroneous notion of freedom not anchored in the truth of the dignity and responsibilities of the human person.
“Freedom not tethered to truth and not anchored in the virtues becomes license to do whatever I want that inevitably leads to enslavement to our baser appetites. Authentic freedom must be tethered to the moral truths etched by God on the tablets given to Moses, but also etched by him on every human heart. These moral truths are premised on the dignity of the human person created in the image of God and with inalienable rights as well as necessary responsibilities. Authentic freedom is not the ability to do whatever I want. Authentic freedom is the ability to choose the good, to do the noble.
“Each successive generation of Americans has been called to expand or at least pass on intact this cultural heritage that celebrates the dignity of the human person and generously defends authentic freedom — the ability to choose the good and to do the noble.
“The destiny of our country is not in the hands of our president, the destiny of our state is not in hands of our governor, though they certainly have important roles to play. It is in our hands, the hands of every American and every Kansan. Each one of us has an important role to play. We are able to make a significant contribution to our society by what we choose to devote our time, our energy, and our material resources. We can preserve, hand on, and even improve the American culture that has been entrusted to us by God and has been guarded at great price by our ancestors. Or we can choose to give our children and grandchildren something much less.
“It is in men and women schooled in their families, their churches, their synagogues in the way of love, service and virtue that we will find the human resources to make our free markets work for the good of the shareholder, the employee and the customer, rather than satisfying the greed of a few. It is in men and women steeled in virtue to pursue the noble who will help solve many of our social problems: 1) making sure no one goes hungry in a land of such plenty; 2) helping others develop the skills to provide for themselves and their families; and 3) surrounding with love and support a young mother experiencing an untimely pregnancy, so that she can follow her heart’s desire by choosing life for her child, rather than making a choice she will never cease to regret.”
I encourage all members of the Archdiocese to take to heart Brownback’s plea for volunteerism to make our state better and stronger. The first and most important thing that each of us can do is to recommit ourselves to do everything possible to strengthen our families. Strong families make for healthy communities.
Secondly, we should look for some way in which we can use our time and talent to help others. Your parishes can offer you many opportunities to volunteer. If you are looking for something to do beyond your parish, please contact Mary Kay Drees, the coordinator of volunteer services for Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas at (913) 433-2080. She will be happy to connect you with many volunteer opportunities to help Catholic Charities fulfill its mission of bringing the love of Jesus to those in need.
Together, we can make Kansas even better!