Most Reverend Jerome E. Listecki
Archbishop of Milwaukee
“Those who cannot remember the past are bound to repeat it,” said the philosopher George Santayana. I remember a quote from my college days in the reactionary late-sixties when a speaker shouted at the crowds, “We don’t want to be part of mindless activism.” Emotions can run high and crowds can find themselves destroying the very things they seek to defend. Watching the senseless destruction of property, tearing down of statues and the graffiti on public and private buildings does little to convince me that the crowd has a point. As one views the mixture of statements by those who claim they have a cause, it becomes obvious to me that the truth has been co-opted. We demand freedom of speech but shut down those who have a different point of view. We rightfully demand equality under the law but arbitrarily destroy public and private property. We claim the right of citizenship but have done little or nothing to contribute to the country whose freedoms we enjoy.
Very few in the crowds can remember the oppression of the Marxist regimes, which uses the same ideology people now claim will bring about a new moment. I visited Poland in 1980 and again in 1983. I can report firsthand how citizens of that country were treated like serfs in their own society. The occupying foreign government and ideology that promised equality for all came at the sacrifice of personal freedom. There was a price to pay for anyone who did not toe the Marxist line. Remember, China is a Marxist state; but even now, we do little to point out its failures (perhaps, because there is no free speech, no free press and no religious freedom).
I knew that it would be just a brief time when the attention would turn to religion. Some wanted to tear down statues of Jesus, who calls us to love one another. A Marxist ideology cannot tolerate religious freedom because religion demands a greater allegiance than the state and says God holds us ultimately accountable. It is fashionable among some of the crowd to attack the Founding Fathers, but the Founding Fathers supported religious freedom. Washington himself, in his Farewell Address in 1796, stated that religion and morality are essential to political prosperity. He says:
“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 Men and Citizens. The mere Politician equally with the pious man ought to respect and cherish them.”
Our Founding Fathers were not perfect and their sins were obvious, but the direction of the country was placed on a path that would correct some of these sins and draw us closer to the vision that the founders had, which was equality for all its citizens. History tells us to be different; there is movement and there are corrections to be made. Without history, we demand immediate perfection from people who do not even know the history that created the current moment. There exists the failure to recognize those who died to make this nation responsive to its principles and who continue to sacrifice to ensure equality under the law.
Freedom of religion becomes the conscience of a society. When the voice of religion is suppressed, either by the left (anarchy) or by right (radical secularism), history is forgotten and we all suffer. Therefore, I will continue to shout and challenge as my faith directs in a country that allows me to – at least at this time – in the public square.
This past Fourth of July, I placed my hand over my heart and pledged allegiance to the flag and uttered the words, “One nation, under God, with liberty and justice for all.” I will continue to loudly and proudly proclaim that Jesus instructs us that we should LOVE ONE ANOTHER.
Note: This blog originally appeared as the July 7, 2020, "Love One Another" email sent to Catholics throughout the Archdiocese of Milwaukee by Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki. If you are interested in signing up for these email messages, please click here.