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Dear OLPH,

Last week, we celebrated our patroness, Mother Mary, 101 years under her title as Our Lady of Perpetual Help. This weekend we celebrate our Independence Day, 244 years ago, liberated from foreign rule and then committed to rule ourselves… which has not proven an easy task. Just across the river in Philadelphia, delegates from the thirteen original colonies adopted the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” I have always loved the sound of that trifecta; it just rolls off the tongue.

And these first representatives agreed, or at least acquiesced, that as far as allocating representation by population in this new republic, a black man would be counted as ⅗ of a white man. Black men could only vote when the 15th amendment finally passed in 1870, although in practice some regions discouraged it. Worse still, the cause for women’s suffrage arced along a much longer trajectory and would not arrive nation-wide until the 19th amendment in 1920. It has been a long road fighting for that liberty Jefferson penned so eloquently. These past months offer clear evidence that we’ve got room for improvement when it comes to race, but also when it comes to freedoms.

During the past 4 months or so our lives have been turned upside down in the name of safety and science - both half understood and in a state of continual revision. Lately, we have been swamped with different perspectives on the tactics taken. Some governors, our dear Murphy, took a rather heavy hand. While seeming to stem the tide, people question whether such drastic measures were necessary especially here in South Jersey. Other governors have approached the pandemic with more of a mind to maintain the status quo, and results in those states have been mixed. We can never be sure of direct cause and effect. Social-distancing, masks, limiting travel and crowds seems to have been effective at mitigating the spread.

Our freedoms were impinged for the sake of a greater good. What I find distasteful is the occasional implication that following these new norms carries political weight. In other words, Democrats wear masks while Republicans do not succumb to fear; I find that characterization repugnant. Also repugnant is permitting one standard for businesses while holding houses of worship to an arbitrary higher standard.

Jesus came that we might have life and have it to the full! I came to give you the new and abundant life, Jesus promises (Jn10:10). While folks step back into a more normal routine, worship should take highest priority. I fear our secular culture, especially here in the northeast, has relegated church to some “special occasions” rather than genuinely be the heart of our lives together. A sacramental life is essential to spiritual health.

This weekend we wrap up a short series on the Sacraments. We acknowledge that the holy Eucharist is our true spiritual food, the medicine of immortality, the bread of eternal life. And while we acknowledge adaptations to our usual way, as disciples of Christ we relish another great freedom etched into the fabric of our nation: the freedom of religion.

The first paragraph of our Constitution enshrines life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The Bill of Rights elaborates on those liberties: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” This is not a separation of church from state but the freedom for all citizens to practice the religion of their choosing while also forbidding one religion to be established and thus offer preferential treatment. It seems these days the absence of religion is what some of our civil leadership prefers. They would prefer the state to hold supreme authority.

As Catholic Christians we cherish these words and the freedoms they grant, but we cherish with even greater reverence the words of Sacred Scripture on which our lives are based. And we admit that we are governed by an even higher authority. May God bless America!

Fr. Joel Wilson

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