"Here in the hall, she casts an unlikely silhouette -- unassuming in a lineup of proud stares, challenging us once more to look up and draw strength from stillness."
Speaker of the House John Boehner was referring to the new statue of Rosa Parks in the Capitol's rotunda.
Boehner told a Washington crowd about how Parks' strong religious faith bolstered her at every turn, and gave her the quiet yet steely courage necessary for the tough civil-rights battles that she fought, and which ultimately changed the face of American society.
"Humility isn't incompatible with bravery," Boehner reflected. "When we put God before ourselves ... when we make 'In God We Trust' not just a motto, but a mission, as Rosa Parks did ... any burden can be lifted," he said.
Boehner's words about Parks are necessary and timely, a refresher on faith's power to motivate, and a reminder that true heroism is selfless.
In a speech on religious liberty last year, John Garvey, the president of the Catholic University of America, talked about a fundamental obstacle to attempts at conversation and debate on American policy. "Our society won't care about religious freedom if it doesn't care about God. That's where reform is needed ... The best way to protect religious freedom might be to remind people that they should love God."
We are already entering into another round of "war on women" campaigns that obscure fundamental policy questions involving, for one, the health-insurance abortion/contraception mandate that has brought more than 100 plaintiffs to court seeking religious-liberty protection. The White House, aided by a willing media, has benefited from a policy of obfuscation and confusion. But they are best aided by a cultural shift that has denigrated and minimized the role of religion in our lives.
This is where we are in America. We have privatized religion to such an extent that it has become sidelined; to suggest that it should guide and shape a life and a society seems a foreign, even ludicrous, contention. We have been so overtaken by secularism and arrogance laced with hopelessness that we don't see truly religious people as integral to a flourishing society.
Five years ago, William F. Buckley Jr., the founder of the National Review and one of the great public intellectuals of the last century, died. He spoke of "What Americanism Seeks to Be" in a speech in 1979. "The Constitution of the United States, and in particular the Bill of Rights," Buckley said, is "essentially a list of things that the government cannot do to the people."
Buckley connected this novel idea to Christianity, to the sense that people's individual lives have something inviolable and sacred at their center, something that cannot and should not be legislated: A higher power than government, to put it in basic terms.
In his last public audience on Wednesday, retiring Pope Benedict XVI said: "Jesus is very clear that it is not worldly power that saves the world, but the power of the cross, of humility and of love."
It's people aflame with that understanding, seeking to live in its reality, who see every man and woman as made in the image and likeness of God, and deserving of love, respect and dignity.
Rosa Parks was not a savior but a servant. All our impenetrable debates of the day might benefit from humility and a renewed acknowledgement and confidence in its source.