Monday, September 17, 2012

"The Palladium of Our Liberties"

While the Election Season theatrics continue apace, a certain relevant milestone's worth noting: this Monday marks the 225th anniversary of the adoption of the Constitution of these States at the close of the Convention held... well, You Know Where.

In light of the moment, a quote from the archives – the assessment of an earlier age's lead Catholic voice in the American public square: the statesman-prince of Baltimore, James Cardinal Gibbons....
“As the years go by I am more than ever convinced that the Constitution of the United States is the greatest instrument of government that ever issued from the hand of man. Drawn up in the infancy of our Republic, and amid the fears and suspicions and opposition of many patriotic men, it has weathered the storm periods of American public life and has proved elastic enough to withstand every strain put upon it by party spirit, Western development, world-wide immigration, wars little and great, far-reaching social and economic changes, inventions and discoveries, the growth of individual wealth and the vagaries of endless reformers.

That within the short space of one hundred years we have grown to be a great nation, so much so that to-day the United States is rightly regarded as the first among the nations of the earth, is due to the Constitution, the palladium of our liberties and the landmark in our march of progress.

When George Washington secured its final adoption, largely out of respect for his judgment and as a tribute of confidence in him, he made all mankind his debtor forever, for the Constitution has proved the bulwark of every right and every fair promise that the American Revolution stood for. With the Constitution came the solidarity and the union which has marked our progress up to now; without it we would have remained thirteen independent colonies, with the passions and prejudices peculiar to each. For all time to come may it remain the instrument safeguarding our national life and insuring us the liberties and freedom which it guarantees.”
And as a bonus, on the Constitution's centenary in 1887, the freshly-elevated Gibbons – at 52, the second American cardinal – was tapped to deliver a civic blessing at the event's national observance.

Using as his springboard the Prayer for the Nation written in 1791 by his first predecessor – himself a cousin of the lone Catholic signer of the Declaration of Independence – here, the text of Gibbons' Centennial Prayer....
We pray Thee, O God of might, wisdom and justice, through whom authority is rightly administered, laws are enacted and judgment decreed, to assist with Thy holy spirit of counsel and fortitude the President of these United States, that his administration may be conducted 'in righteousness, and be eminently useful to Thy people over whom he presides, by encouraging due respect for virtue and religion, by a faithful execution of the laws in justice and mercy, and by restraining vice and immorality.

Let the light of Thy divine wisdom direct the deliberations of Congress and shine forth in all their proceedings and laws framed for our rule and government, so that they may tend to the preservation of peace, the promotion of national happiness, the increase of industry, sobriety and useful knowledge, and may perpetuate to us the blessings of equal liberty.

We pray Thee for all judges, magistrates and other officers who are appointed to guard our political welfare, that they may be enabled by Thy powerful protection to discharge the duties of their respective stations with honesty and ability.

We pray Thee especially for the judges of our Supreme Court, that they may interpret the laws with evenhanded justice. May they ever be the faithful guardians of the temple of the constitution, whose construction and solemn dedication to our country"s liberties we commemorate today. May they stand as watchful and incorruptible sentinels at the portals of this temple, shielding it from profanation and hostile invasion.

May this glorious charter of our civil rights be deeply imprinted on the hearts and memories of our people. May it foster in them a spirit of patriotism; may it weld together and assimilate in national brotherhood the diverse races that come to seek a home amongst us. May the reverence paid to it conduce to the promotion of social stability and order, and may it hold the ffigis of its protection over us and generations yet unborn, so that the temporal blessings which we enjoy may be perpetuated.

Grant, O Lord, that our republic, unexampled in the history of the world in material prosperity and growth of population, may be also, under Thy over-ruling providence, a model to all nations in upholding liberty without license, and in wielding authority without despotism.

Finally, we recommend to Thy unbounded mercy all our brethren and fellow-citizens throughout the United States, that they may be blessed in the knowledge and sanctified in the observance of Thy most holy law, that they may be preserved in union and in that peace which the world can not give, and after enjoying the blessings of this life, be admitted to those which are eternal.

Our Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed be Thy name; Thy kingdom come; Thy will be done, on earth, as it is in heaven; give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. Amen.

May the blessing of Almighty God, Father, Son and Holy Ghost, descend upon our beloved country and upon all her people, and abide with them forever. Amen.
In his letter accepting the invitation to close the civic gathering, Gibbons said that "The Constitution of the United States is worthy of being written in letters of gold. It is a charter by which the liberties of sixty million people are secured, and by which under Providence the temporal happiness of countless millions yet unborn is to be perpetuated."