Grass underfoot awfully green


By Paul McMullen


What is more astonishing, the magnificence and volume of our blessings or the manner in which we take them for granted?

Young people ignore our National Parks at an alarming rate. From Acadia to Yellowstone and Yosemite, the average park visitor is getting grayer, the sanctimonious newsroom conclusion being that millennials would rather spend quality time with their iPod than surrounded by God’s grandest architecture.

Kids seeking information rather than contemplation, however, is hardly a trend.

As a teen and 20-something, I paid no mind to a nearby National Park. My crowd was more likely to head to the Mall in Washington and stroll the Smithsonian than take the 15-minute drive over the Hanover Street Bridge and out Fort Avenue to Fort McHenry.

Today it is nearly impossible to overlook the significance of the fort, as the bicentennial celebration of the War of 1812 and the history leading up to Francis Scott Key penning the words to our National Anthem in September 1814 will provide a major tourism boost to Baltimore City.

Over eight days in June, a steady stream of patriotic activities will spotlight Fort McHenry. There is a two-day Blue Angels air show, and a Parade of Sails concluding the celebration June 19.

Tourists will move on, but some news cameras will remain for a June 21 event at another Baltimore landmark.

It is appropriate that the Fortnight For Freedom, the church’s national education campaign on religious liberty, starts with Archbishop William E. Lori celebrating a Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The basilica was still under construction in August 1814, when, according to journals, some American units were directed to gather on its grounds as locals readied for the British assault on Baltimore.

On June 14, Flag Day at Fort McHenry will include the annual “Pause for the Pledge.” Take a minute now, and flip back to Page 16, where Patrick J. Clancy takes the Catholic Review to task for a May 3 cover story on the U.S. Naval Academy that “deceives” our youth.

What do a Letter to the Editor and Catholic bishops challenging the Obama administration’s mandate on conscience rights have in common?

Both come courtesy of the Bill of Rights, specifically the First Amendment, 45 words that are to our citizenry what air is to mammals. To refresh your memory:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

I am typing on Memorial Day. Around the corner, a neighbor’s American flag at half-mast is a reminder of his family’s personal loss, as a nephew died fighting in Iraq in June 2004.

Yes, the military industrial complex that President Eisenhower warned us about needs constant scrutiny, and it is up to a free press to lead that job.

Let’s also be vigilant about remembering Marine Lance Cpl. Patrick Adle, and the other men and women whose willingness to export free speech places a hard human cost on what we can never take for granted.


Paul McMullen is managing editor of the Catholic Review.

Catholic Review

The Catholic Review is the official publication of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.