April 24, 1916, one hundred years ago this week, was a warm and beautiful day in Dublin, Ireland. It was Easter Monday, a national holiday, and families walked together through the city. It seemed a calm and uneventful morning. But away from downtown, on Dublin’s outskirts, organized groups of Irishmen began to quietly overtake roads, and bridges, and telephone stations surrounding the city center.
Shortly before noon, 400 Irishmen entered the downtown General Post Office on O’Connell Street, evacuated it, locked the doors, and hoisted on the rooftop a flag of the Irish people. A schoolteacher walked into the square and read a proclamation, declaring that Ireland would be a free nation.
Five days of conflict between the Irish and the British army followed. After that came years of political struggle, and decades of protracted fighting, during which grave acts of violence were committed by both sides.
But the “Easter Rising” of 1916 began a movement for the personal and religious freedom of the Irish people. It began the end of the centuries in which Ireland was ruled by other kingdoms and nations. And the roots of that Easter Rising and the desire for Irish freedom, was the deep and abiding Catholic faith of the Irish people. In fact, many leaders of the Easter Rising began their involvement because they wanted to leave for their children a more just, free, and charitable society.
The declaration of the Irish republic placed the nation under the care and protection of Almighty God, and expressed hope that in his blessing, the Irish people would serve “the common good,”—the Catholic sense of just governance. The Irish Constitution, adopted some years after Easter Rising, invoked the grace of Jesus Christ in the establishment of a nation “seeking to promote the common good, with due observance of Prudence, Justice and Charity, so that the dignity and freedom of the individual may be assured,” and “true social order attained.”
Political history is always complicated. But it is clear that the fathers of independent Ireland were formed and motivated by a commitment to Catholic teaching, and they sought to build a nation which would serve justice for all, ordered and animated by the principles and meaning of the Gospel. It is also clear that the “Easter Rising”—and the Catholic values promoted by its leaders—was only possible in a culture in which Catholicism was expressed in the art, and music, and family life of the people—in which the meaning of the Gospel bubbled up through every part of family and public life, naturally shaping the direction of the nation.
We are all called to build civil society ordered by the spirit of Jesus Christ. We do this through our direct political engagement; by voting, and running for office, and advocating for just legislation—for the family, the poor, and the unborn. But we also build Catholic culture by the way we engage with our families, our neighbors, our colleagues, and our friends. Very little of our everyday lives are directly impacted by particular government policies. But our lives are never lived in isolation. We form authentic Christian communities—and promote the common good—when we carry ourselves, through our ordinary relationships, with a desire to live the meaning of the Gospel. We build a just social order, one step at a time, in the ordinary experiences of our lives.
Forming truly Christian culture is a part of our responsibility as Catholics, and also a part of our responsibility as citizens. Last month, a friend and former student of mine, author Stephen White, published “Red, White, Blue, and Catholic.” He writes that “this book is a Catholic guide to faithful citizenship for every day of the year—not just Election Day.” The book is exactly that—a thoughtful and practical guide to becoming good citizens by building, in real steps, just and vibrant American culture.
White says that our Catholic faith should make all the difference in the way we live as American citizens. And he’s right. And to become good citizens, in the best sense, we should first become good disciples of Jesus Christ. “Red, White, Blue, and Catholic” can help us to do both of those things—I hope you will read it with your families, and I hope it will help us to build a culture, and rebuild a nation, in which we will be proud to raise future generations.