How to be Catholic and American—
Catholics have been part of the fabric of American society from the very beginning of our nation. Charles Carroll was one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. Missionaries like St. Isaac Jogues and St. Jean de Brebeuf in the East and St. Junipero Serra in the West shared the Catholic Faith with the native peoples and pave the groundwork for European settlers. Other faithful Catholic laity and clergy pushed forward as settlers. Immigrants from Ireland and Southern and Eastern Europe arrived to seek out a better life for themselves and their children—who themselves brought their Faith into the great "melting pot" of American culture. Saints like St. Elizabeth Ann Seton and St. Katharine Drexel founded institutions to provide for the education and improvement of the poor and vulnerable. In the 20th Century, America celebrated the election of a Catholic—John F. Kennedy—as the 35th President of the United States. Today, Catholic immigrants from throughout the world join those who are the descendants of immigrants from long ago as the face of the Church in the United States.
The question and the challenge for each generation of these Catholics is how to be Catholic and American. Early American Catholics had memories of anti-Catholic sentiments and laws in England and other parts of Europe. Later Catholic immigrants experienced hostility toward both their ethnicity and their Faith. The descendants of these same immigrants had to learn how to assimilate into American society without compromising their Faith. At the same time, the Popes in the 19th and 20th Centuries took a great fascination in our nation, and a great concern for the well-being of Catholics in the United States, especially Bl. Pius IX, Pius XII, and St. John Paul II. They helped provide for the education of new priests, sought to understand the balance of freedom and faith that is unique to the American interaction of Church and State, and encouraged American Catholics to take the best of the American spirit and use it as a vehicle to share the message of the Gospel.
Being Catholic and American begins with remembering what it is to be each of these—drinking deeply at the wellspring of our Faith, and also caring deeply about our nation. Previous generations understood that neither required the compromise of the other, and that we are at our best when we allow our Catholic Faith to shape our patriotism, and our patriotism to encourage us to remain steadfast to the Catholic Faith. Let us pray for one another and our nation, that we may continue to enjoy the blessings of liberty to be able to practice our Faith and that our Faith might help us to live the true Freedom that comes from God.