When I was in public grade school we faithfully stood every morning and recited the pledge. I remember on more than one occasion, as the other kids placed their hands over their heart, I would mistakenly make the Sign of the Cross. The non-Catholics would look at me funny.
Clearly, I wasn’t preoccupied with the notion of ‘the separation of church and state’. However, what I did was instinctive and in hindsight, not all together wrong.
I pledge allegiance…
If you think about it, the pledge really is a ritualistic prayer expressing our collective hope to reach a lofty ideal. Furthermore, it is replete with sacramental actions and words. We stand, face a certain direction, place our hands over our hearts and then we give a verbal assent of our mind, heart and will.
There was once an original, more sacred pledge. With every bit of revolutionary zeal as St. John the Baptist, the founding fathers put it all on the line. They risked their lives by signing the Declaration of Independence. It was considered treason and punishable by death in the eyes of the British.
When we recite the pledge, we too are, in effect, renewing our American covenant between our God, our country and our families. We remember that revolutionary document which concludes with these beautifully ominous words,
“We mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.” -signers of the Declaration of Independence.
To the Flag of The United States of America…
Some people say, 'pledging to a piece of fabric covered with bars and stars is pointless and borderline idolatrous'. This argument is completely lost on Catholics because we understand the power of symbolism.
We know that it’s not just a piece of cloth but a symbol with a patriotic significance that we honor. The flag, for us, is about spiritual ideas; liberty, justice, and unity. We especially honor those, for whom it was their battle flag. We remember that this is the land of the free - because of the brave. All gave some. Some gave all.
“I pray that our Heavenly Father may assuage the anguish of your bereavement, and leave you only the cherished memory of the loved and lost, and the solemn pride that must be yours, to have laid so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of Freedom”. -Abraham Lincoln (to Mrs. Bixby, mother of five sons who were killed in action).
And to the Republic for which it Stands…
When we look at the flag we see the Republic for which it stands. Unlike a pure democracy, we are a republic. This means we have a representative government. As Catholics we can appreciate the concepts of hierarchy and servant leadership. Like the clergy of the Church but on a natural level, we can see the call of elected leaders as a vocation. The good ones offer their time and service out of love for the country. The good ones know that our republic was meant to be governed by the people, for the people.
“If Men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary.”- James Madison
One Nation, Under God, Indivisible…
Notice how the name ‘God’ is situated in between two words–‘one’ and ‘indivisible’. They both express the same idea, that of unity. Just as in the Catholic covenant, God is the unifying agent that makes the pledge binding. It was the Judeo-Christian heritage, rooted in monotheism, that guaranteed a firm union of diverse but like-minded citizens. Out of many come one.
“If we ever forget that we are One Nation Under God, then we will be a nation gone under.” -President Ronald Reagan
With Liberty and Justice for All.
Because of the Fall of man in the Garden of Eden, we all experience the satanic tyranny of sin. Jesus is the Liberator. It is only in Him that we are truly free.
But we seek our God-given right to political and religious liberty too. We seek to be free of tyrannical minions, the Red Coats at first and now those within our own country who govern recklessly, without regard for the Constitution to which they swore an oath (a sacramentum) to uphold.
Lady Liberty must be blind so that no external distinctions based on race, creed, gender or political party gets in the way of justice for all.
This American principle, ‘Justice for all’, is rooted in a biblical principle, the Imago Dei- the teaching that we are all created in the image and likeness of God. This is why America, like the Church, has always been the primary advocate of the poor, the downtrodden, the refugee and those, such as the unborn, who are without a voice.
“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free” -Emma Lazarus
Not sure what the public schools do these days... but every morning, as a teacher in a Catholic school, I'm thankful that I still get to pledge allegiance.
I am a life-long Catholic, husband, dad, teacher and former football coach. I've been teaching the Catholic Faith to young men, religious educators and catechists since 1998. My academic background, MA is in Theology and Catechetics. I am the creator of www.apexcatechetics.com, the home of high quality catechetical resources for those who teach the Catholic Faith.