The Father of our nation, George Washington, had a remarkable correspondence with the first Catholic Bishop in the United States, John Carroll. At the time Catholics were, at best, 1% of the population of the young nation and were living in only two states: Maryland and Pennsylvania.
As a mark of his esteem for Bishop Carroll and to demonstrate his respect for religious freedom, President Washington asked Bishop Carroll to provide the benediction for his second presidential inauguration in 1793. Two hundred thirty years later, these words provide us even now with some of the best ideals of the Founding Fathers for our nation and a challenge to us, their descendants, to live up to their vision of a civil society:
We pray you, O God of might, wisdom, and justice,
through whom authority is rightly administered,
laws are enacted, and judgment decreed,
assist with your Holy Spirit of counsel and fortitude
the President of these United States,
that his administration may be conducted in righteousness,
and be eminently useful to your people, over whom he presides;
by encouraging due respect for virtue and religion;
by a faithful execution of the laws in justice and mercy;
and by restraining vice and immorality.
Let the light of your divine wisdom direct
the deliberations of Congress,
and shine forth in all the proceedings and laws
framed for our rule and government,
so that they may tend to the preservation of peace,
the promotion of national happiness,
the increase of industry, sobriety, and useful knowledge;
and may perpetuate to us the blessing of equal liberty.
We pray for the governor of this state,
for the members of the assembly,
for all judges, magistrates, and other officers
who are appointed to guard our political welfare,
that they may be enabled, by your powerful protection,
to discharge the duties of their respective stations
with honesty and ability.
We recommend likewise, to your unbounded mercy,
all our fellow citizens throughout the United States,
that we may be blessed in the knowledge
and sanctified in the observance of your most holy law;
that we may be preserved in union,
and in that peace which the world cannot give;
and after enjoying the blessings of this life,
be admitted to those which are eternal.
Grant this, we beseech you, O Lord of mercy,
through Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. Amen.
Father Michael Hendrickson is the Pastor of St. Mary Parish in Gilroy and an active participant in the Interfaith Clergy Alliance of South County. He can be contacted at [email protected].