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The First Independence Day

StatueLibertyLast Monday morning while I was driving to the office, I turned on the radio to listen to the morning news.  The big story of the day was the death of Robert Byrd, the record holder for longevity in the United States Senate.  Byrd died at the age of 92, and was a senator for the state of West Virginia for 51 years. 

I’m 53 years old, so Byrd won his first election to the senate when I was 2 years old.  That’s a long time ago.  With the growth of the Internet and the continuing decline of the influence of network television, I doubt that Robert Byrd’s record will ever be broken.

The next day (Tuesday), I heard a report on the radio that Larry King had announced that he was going to retire from CNN after 25 years as the host of his own interview show, Larry King Live.  King recently made it into the Guinness Book of World Records for having the longest running show with the same host in the same time slot.  Again, because of the changes that are taking place as a result of the Internet, I don’t think anyone will ever break Larry King’s record.

The following day (Wednesday), while I was in the adoration chapel, one of our daily adorers, Beth Fuson, walked up to me and handed me a holy card and a medal to give to my wife, Georgette.  (Georgette had open heart surgery 2 weeks ago as described in a previous article on  The holy card had two prayers to St. John of God, along with a short biography of his life. 

St. John of God was born in 1495.  As an adult he devoted himself to assisting Christian slaves in Africa and later started and ran a hospital for the poor and sick in Granada.  He died in 1550 from heart disease and was canonized in 1690.  He is known as the patron saint of people who suffer from heart disease.

Over a period of three days my attention was drawn to three very different men – a United States senator, a celebrity television host, and a saint.  Although all three of these men had notable accomplishments, the first two men focused most of their energy on worldly endeavors, while the third man looked beyond the world and focused on serving the children of God.

St. John of God died 460 years ago.  Yet he will live until the end of time through devout Catholics like Beth Fuson.  He helped the sick and infirm during his lifetime on earth, and as the patron saint of people who suffer from heart disease, he continues to help the sick and infirm from his place in Heaven.

The Pocket Catholic Dictionary defines a “patron saint” as follows:

A saint or blessed who, since early Christian times, has been chosen as a special intercessor with God for a particular person, place, community, or organization.  The custom arose from the biblical fact that a change of personal name indicated a change in the person, e.g., Abram to Abraham, Simon to Peter, Saul to Paul; and from the practice of having churches built over the tombs of martyrs.

One hundred years from now, no one is going to know who Robert Byrd was, despite the fact that he was acknowledged as having the record for the most years in the United States Senate.  One hundred years from now, no one is going to know who Larry King was, despite the fact that he made it into the Guinness Book of World Records.

One thousand years from now (in the year 3010) a devout Catholic woman is going to hand another Catholic who is having heart problems (or who has a family member with heart problems) a prayer card with prayers that can be said to St. John of God.

One thousand five hundred years from now (in the year 3510) a Catholic lawyer will pray to St. Thomas More, the patron saint of lawyers, for assistance and guidance.  St. Thomas More was martyred on July 6, 1535 (475 years ago).

Two thousand years from now (in the year 4010) a devout Catholic mother is going to give her pregnant daughter a prayer book that has a prayer to St. Gerard Majella, the patron saint of expectant mothers.  (While he was still alive, St. Gerard’s prayers resulted in a miracle for a woman who was in labor.)  St. Gerard died from tuberculosis in 1755 at the age of 29 (255 years ago).

Two thousand five hundred years from now (in the year 4510) a devout Catholic woman who is struggling in her kitchen to make supper for her large family will say a prayer to St. Martha, the patron saint of cooks (the same Martha who fed Jesus at her home in Bethany and who later complained to Jesus because she was working while her sister Mary was sitting with others listening to what Jesus had to say).  Although the exact date of St. Martha’s death is unknown, we know that she died over 1900 years ago.

Three thousand years from now (in the year 5010) a devout Catholic man who is a carpenter by trade will say a prayer to St. Joseph, the patron saint of workers (the same Joseph who was the husband of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the foster father of Jesus Christ).  Although the exact date of St. Joseph’s death is unknown, we know from Catholic tradition that he died before Jesus was crucified on the cross, which was over 2000 years ago.

Five thousand years from now (in the year 7010), even though America will most likely be long gone (along with all of the other modern-day nations), one institution will still be going strong: The Catholic Church.  There will still be an unbroken chain of popes dating back to our first pope, St. Peter.  There will still be an army of shepherds we rely upon for leadership – our Cardinals, Bishops, and Priests.  And there will still be devout Catholics reaching out to the saints in Heaven for assistance and guidance (the communion of the saints).

Today we are celebrating “Independence Day,” the anniversary of the day the Declaration of Independence was signed by our founding fathers (July 4, 1776).  There has never been any other nation in the history of mankind that formally declared at the time of its founding that its citizens would always have a God-given right to freedom… and to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. 

Although I have my doubts and fears about the future of our country, it is my hope that all of my descendents will have the privilege and opportunity to grow up with the same freedoms I grew up with.  But even if they are not able to enjoy the same freedoms I have enjoyed, I’m praying now (and will continue to pray from Heaven), that they will never waver in their faith in Jesus Christ and His Church – the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.

Today is a day to thank God for two Independence Days: (1) the day our Lord rose from the dead and freed us from the bondage of original sin; and (2) the day our founding fathers declared that we would always be guaranteed our God-given rights. 

It’s a good day to be a Catholic and a good day to be an American.

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