My husband and I have been on vacation in Central Virginia these past two weeks, so the blog has been quiet while I soaked up a lot of history and a dollop of religion too.
We visited the homes of three of our founding Presidents: Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and James Monroe. Did you know that Jefferson and Monroe were actual neighbors and that Madison lived only 25 miles away? https://www.monticello.org/ https://www.montpelier.org/ https://highland.org/
A tour of Monticello includes seeing Jefferson’s grave. Etched on the obelisk placed there are what he thought were his three most important achievements. Neither Governor of Virginia nor President of the United States made the list.
What Jefferson prioritized were writing the Declaration of Independence, writing the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom and establishing the University of Virginia.
Catholics and American Government
These three achievements have great significance for Catholics as well. American independence created a democracy, which is the form of government most compatible with the Catholic sense of justice and social responsibility.
The freedom of religion principle was important also to Madison, the author of the Constitution, who included it when he later wrote the Bill of Rights. Our first amendment says: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
Freedom of religion has been historically essential to Catholics in America since the WASP (White, Anglo-Saxon Protestant) majority did not always welcome Catholics. Currently, freedom of religion is a hot topic once again as courts grapple with personal conscience issues (Little Sisters of the Poor lawsuit, abortion mandates, etc.).
Catholics and Education
Jefferson established the University of Virginia because he believed that democracy needs an educated populace to function. This is so true. For one thing, educated people are not so easily duped or controlled by propaganda or dictators.
For another, a government of, by and for the people needs a people who have been educated about government. (Note: In particular, people need to educate themselves about the candidates and the issues before going to the polls.)
The Catholic Church has always recognized the importance of education as well. In fact, education is a hallmark of Catholicism, not only in religious instruction, but also in general education. The reasoning is much like Jefferson’s.
The Church build schools and universities all over the world so that Catholics can read scripture and develop the intellect. Thus they learn about God in a manner that nurtures the entire person in mind, body and spirit.
The Local Catholic Church
We had to travel a bit to find a Catholic church for Sunday Mass, probably because Virginia is only 8% Catholics. As always, the “Wandering Pew” found something unique.
This was the first time I have seen a depiction of the Last Supper as part of the tabernacle (instead of the altar or a painting). How appropriate since that was when Christ established the Eucharist! It’s probably common, but it was new to me.
The church was quite small and on the far edge of town, where it had its own country churchyard. In an area sparse with Catholics, I’m sure a cemetery was part of the parish plan to provide consecrated burial ground where there would otherwise be none.
Like all Catholic churches, this parish had a large roster of ministries—You don’t get off easy by being in a small church! On the contrary, the need is probably greater.
A Museum and a Movie
At the end of our trip, we ventured into Washington, D.C. to tour a couple of museums we had not yet experienced. One of them was the Museum of the Bible, a top-of-the-line, state-of-the-art museum. https://www.museumofthebible.org/
The exhibits are stunningly beautiful and creative. You can wander through a village reminiscent of the time of Jesus. You can watch videos with amazing special effects, see hundreds of different Bibles from every century and language, learn about Biblical history and much, much more.
That night, we went to a movie theater to see the special showing of Man of God. I highly recommend this film. It as an example of how we should all live our lives by serving God while eschewing personal gain.
My husband and I do not lounge poolside on vacations. We are on the go constantly as sightseers and learners—and as Catholics.
There are connections to the Church in every aspect of our lives. I hope parents point out these connections to their children on family trips to fortify their faith and their ever-so-important education.