Fr. Shields’ Homily: The Pursuit of Happiness H13B

In today’s Gospel reading, St. Mark recounts for us the healing of two women by Jesus – a 12 year old
girl, and a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for 12 years. The second healing is
‘sandwiched’ between two moments in the healing of the little girl. As Jesus is going to respond to
Jairus’ request to heal his daughter, Jesus is approached by a woman who had been suffering for 12
years, and, merely by touching His garments, she is healed. Both women are dying –in fact, we are told
that the girl actually dies- and both are healed by Jesus.

Today, there is another woman who is suffering. We have all seen this lady, or at least images of her,
for she stands towering over New York harbor. I am referring, of course, to the Statue of Liberty, so
named after Libertas, the Roman goddess of liberty. I would suggest that this lady, who is such a widely
recognized symbol of our nation, is herself bleeding from a deep wound in her side.

Of course, a statue of copper and iron cannot literally bleed, and I am only speaking metaphorically. I
am suggesting that we imagine a great gash in Lady Liberty, that is, in the life and tissue of our nation.
What is the nature of the bleeding of Lady Liberty? What is the cause of this suffering? What is the
remedy? How can our Lady, our nation, be healed?

Bleeding is caused by a wound. The wound in Lady Liberty is in the fundamental principles which form
the tissue binding society. The wound is in the corruption of liberty itself, which has led us down a
nightmarish path of uncertainty, moral chaos, and depression.

Let me explain. Liberty or freedom is the life blood of our nation. We were founded on the premise of
ordered freedom as the path to happiness, that is, peace, prosperity, and harmonious family and civic
life. Our national ideal of liberty is expressed in 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.”

Because of these fundamental beliefs or principles, when we see an image of the Statue of Liberty,
symbolizing our country, our hearts soar with pride and loyalty. We are a nation founded on an idea, not
on blood or land or even a particular religion. In fact, our founding was not just an idea someone had,
but a firm conviction of certain truths, those enumerated in the Declaration. What gives us life as a
nation is our common ‘creed’ – that we are created by God and subject to His laws, and that we can live
in peace and harmony so long as we have a citizenry pursuing happiness by virtuous and lawful means.

Have you ever wondered what the founding fathers meant by that phrase ‘the pursuit of happiness’? I
have been reading a book with that very title by Mr. Joseph Rosen. He demonstrates that there was
consensus on the meaning of the phrase the pursuit of happiness. That consensus was based on the
patrimony of Western civilization, deriving from a synthesis of Greek and Roman and Christian
philosophy, and, of course, of the revelation to Moses of the one God and His Ten Commandments. The
view of the founding fathers was that the pursuit of happiness is to be found in the pursuit of virtue! All
the founding fathers would agree with Benjamin Franklin’s enthusiastic endorsement of this quote from
the Roman philosopher Cicero: “If the Wise be the happy man, as these sages say, he must be virtuous;
for, without virtue, happiness cannot be.”

Now if we ask what virtue is, the simple answer is that it is the stable power and disposition to do
good, Freedom- Happiness-Virtue: these three concepts are all closely linked in our national ethos. We
fought for our freedom as a people in order to be delivered from the oppression and tyranny which
would keep us enslaved. We fought for freedom from all unjust infringements on our right to pursue

In other words, freedom is not an absolute, an end in itself. It is the necessary condition for pursuing
happiness. And happiness is not doing whatever we please, but is found in the pursuit of virtue. Or, as
St. John Paul II put it in his first visit to our country, ‘America, fulfill your freedom in goodness!’

Here is the classic understanding of Christian freedom: not the license to do as we please, but the
liberty, the power, to do what we ought! We will sing these words today in our national hymn,’ America
the Beautiful’: “Confirm thy soul in self-control, thy liberty in law!’

It is obvious to even a casual observer that there is a wound in the body politic which is our nation.
How can we build a democracy based on the freedom to fulfill God’s law and grow as virtuous citizens
when there is widespread rejection of the very idea that there is a goodness we should pursue or a God
who created us and commands us?

To take an obvious example – the Governor of Louisiana recently signed into law a bill requiring the
posting of the 10 commandments in every classroom in that state. The 10 Commandments are, by the
way, prominently displayed on our Supreme Court building. Immediately there were howls of protest
over the Louisiana law by certain groups and a lawsuit filed to enjoin the law from taking effect. At the
same time, another state, Oklahoma, has now mandated the teaching of the Ten Commandments. Here
we see the open wound in Lady Liberty –those who accept the idea of a definite path toward happiness
through the virtue of obedience to God’s commandments and those who completely reject this very
premise of liberty rooted in the law of God and demanding the pursuit of goodness and virtue. What can
we do?

First, we do teach the 10 commandments in our Catholic parishes and schools. Every second grader at
St. Ignatius knows the 10 Commandments by heart! In our schools they are taught not just to memorize
the words, but to learn from the extensive commentary from our tradition on what the commandments
mean and how we follow them. Every quarter, the students here and at McGill-Toolen have an
opportunity to go to Confession, and to prepare by examining their conscience according to questions
based on the Ten Commandments.

In addition, we also have a program here at St. Ignatius School and at McGill-Toolen, called Education
in Virtue. We adopted it from the Dominican Sisters in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and the program involves
teaching children about many different virtues. They are told what each virtue is, and they are given
examples in the lives of saints and heroes and ordinary Christians who have exemplified them. They are
challenged to strive patiently and diligently toward acquiring these virtues.
We cannot build or repair wounds of lady Liberty overnight. We must patiently work to instill virtue in
our children –that is the sublime vocation of parents, who are assisted by the parish and school. And to
do so, we must first be adults who are ourselves working to grow in virtue. As we all know, we cannot
give what we do not have!

Second, let us imitate Jairus and the woman with the hemorrhages—let us ask for the virtues of
humility, love and faith. Jairus loved his daughter and humbled himself to ask Jesus for help. The woman
humbled herself to touch Jesus. Let us humble ourselves to ask for a Savior. We cannot on our own save
ourselves or our nation. We must have a Savior! We would be fools to think we can acquire the virtues
and therefore happiness by our own works or merits alone.

In our first reading today, the Book of Wisdom states that God creates life, and death comes from the
envy of the devil who seduced Adam and Eve into sin. So the only way to restore life, –as individuals or
as a nation—is to overcome sin by repentance and forgiveness. Let us intercede and humbly ask God for
mercy, to heal our wounds that we might have life. As Jairus interceded for his daughter, let us
intercede for our nation and ourselves by making our own this plea in America the Beautiful: ‘America,
America… God mend thine every flaw.’