Celebrating Thanksgiving should call to mind the many blessings Christ has bestowed upon us. There’s much we have to be thankful for as Catholics. However, many of the blessings we’ve enjoyed in the past are at risk.
By Donna Caito
28 November 2019
Thanksgiving time is the time of year Americans are grateful for the bountiful blessings they receive. Harkening back to the colonial United States, we feast upon early American dishes bastardized into modern-day meals. Thanksgiving is also a time to remember those who came to this land before us and remembering what they did, both good and bad.
What is largely forgotten about the United States was the early colonials were orthodox Puritans who governed their own settlements according to their own established rules. If one disagreed with the rules or the viewpoints of their fellow townsmen, they would find themselves imprisoned, fined, and cast out of the community. Many were forced to live on the fringes of society for nothing more than a normal disagreement between two people. During this time, the United States was not a republic, but a theocracy with each settlement deciding their own religious laws.
A friendship was struck between three powerful figures of the colonial period who created a religious mecca for the downtrodden in the New World. King Charles the First, Lord Baltimore, and George Calvert created Maryland. Maryland was named for King Charles I’s French wife; Mary and the capital was named after Lord Baltimore. King Charles I and Lord Baltimore understood the anti-Catholic landscape in England and wanted their friend, Calvert, to start a settlement in the New World away from political and religious strife in England. While creating a safe space for Catholics, Calvert welcomed Protestant and Quaker dissenters into the land knowing they had nowhere else to go.
Unfortunately for the inhabitants of Maryland, Civil War erupted in England in 1642. King Charles I was conquered by aggressive Puritans who used their control to be even more violent against Catholics. This attitude toward Catholics in England hemorrhaged into the colonies in America. By 1642, the Puritan religious leaders in Virginia, Massachusetts, and surrounding colonies passed laws forbidding Catholics to enter their territories. The Puritans also began attacking Maryland farmers and attempted to run off the Catholic political leaders.
After the death of King Charles the First, Catholic heads in Maryland knew their state was in grave peril. They secretly gathered and passed the Toleration Act of 1649 on April 21 during a late-night meeting. This Act separated church and state, making it illegal to punish someone for their religious beliefs and later became the foundation for the First Amendment. Because of the religious intolerance of Colonial America in Maryland, along with the Catholic leaders who knew the importance of religious freedom, we now have the right to worship however we see fit. While Catholicism was not a founding religion of the United States, it is a pivotal part of the essential rights we often take for granted.
This is also why we, as Catholics, need to understand and value what our forefathers did in this country. We can no longer sit idly by and watch as our religious freedoms are put under attack. States where abortion, the death penalty, euthanasia are legal means good, upstanding Catholics are being forced to pay for these travesties. Many times, Catholics who refuse to participate in these grave sins are being made to pay penalties and face serious consequences simply because they believe in what is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, gracious, and excellent (Philippians 4:8). We Catholics believe all life is sacred in every way. We need to keep that in mind during our next election process where we vote for the next leaders of the United States.
This Thanksgiving, while we thank God for what we have been blessed with, let’s also thank God for the early United States leaders who understood the importance of religious liberty.