"Before there were houses in this land, there were altars." A timelier reminder you could not get, as we confront realities about immigration and secularization in the United States. It's a point made by the Archbishop of Los Angeles, Jose H. Gomez, as he tries to morally educate, animate, and challenge.
Gomez promotes learning the entire story behind our country's founding. "Immigrant missionaries were naming this continent's rivers and mountains and territories for saints, sacraments and articles of the faith," as he put it in a speech to the Napa Institute last summer.
"Catholics founded America's oldest settlement, in St. Augustine, Fla., in 1565," he said. Catholic missionaries and explorers were there before the Pilgrims, George Washington and the rest of our familiar founding figures.
This is to remind us of the diversity of our past, pointing toward an understanding of who we are today. "Although founded by Christians, America has become home to an amazing diversity of cultures, religions and ways of life. This diversity flourishes precisely because our nation's founders had a Christian vision of the human person, freedom, and truth," Gomez emphasizes.
"There is no denying significant differences between Hispanic-Catholic and Anglo-Protestant cultural assumptions," Gomez acknowledged, while also making the case that we are a nation whose story is not complete without both. "When we forget our country's roots in the Hispanic-Catholic mission to the new world, we end up with distorted ideas about our national identity. We end up with the idea that Americans are descended from only white Europeans and that our culture is based only on the individualism, work ethic and rule of law that we inherited from our Anglo-Protestant forebears."
"Our culture pushes us to 'privatize' our faith, to separate our faith from our life in society," the archbishop said. "We always have to resist that temptation. We are called to live our faith in our businesses, homes and communities, and in our participation in public life." His remarks take on a renewed urgency in the wake of President Obama's re-election -- the president's administration is attacking religious liberty under its health care mandate. In cases where Catholic and Protestant business owners are suing over being forced to pay for insurance that includes abortion drugs, contraception and sterilization, the administration is arguing in federal court that these employers have no claim, that their religious and spiritual beliefs have no protection under our Constitution.