July 7, 2016
A Virtuous Use of Freedom
You have to admit that my topic for this column is seasonal! I want to write about freedom, and here we just celebrated the Fourth of July, the day our beloved country declared its independence from England and became a free people.
As a result, we Americans have always cherished our liberty, defended it at home, and been willing to help other peoples gain or keep theirs.
God is pro-freedom. When He created us, He gave us free will. Robots He did not make; thinking, reflective, free people He did.
God so defends our freedom that He allows us to even reject Him! As we somberly recall, that’s what our first parents did...and we’ve never been the same since.
Why did God give us this freedom? Because, as His Son would teach us, He wants us as friends, not as slaves. All He desires is our love and trust. Friendship, love, and trust cannot be forced, but only freely given.
Two weeks ago, at Sunday Mass, we had a timely lesson from God’s Word on freedom.
In the Gospel (Luke 9:51-62), the disciples return to Jesus from a Samaritan town that had thrown them out, ignoring the offer from the disciples to introduce them to Jesus. These disciples are understandably frustrated and furious, and suggest to the Lord that He call fire down upon that nasty place.
Then Jesus rebuked them! That’s not the way He, nor His Father, acts! God whispers, doesn’t yell; He invites, rather than coerces; He proposes, never imposes! He respects our free will, even when, sadly, we tell Him to get out of our lives.
That same Sunday, St. Paul continued the instruction on freedom (Galatians 5), basically teaching us that, like all of God’s gifts, we can abuse it. In other words, there’s a good freedom and a bad freedom.
This is very beneficial for us as Americans to recall, since we’re tempted to think that freedom is an absolute good.
It isn’t, St. Paul tells us. If we interpret freedom as the right to do whatever we want, whenever, however, with whomever we want, consequences be darned, we actually became, warns St. Paul, no longer a free person, but a slave!
Here’s the fact: while God gives us freedom, He also has revealed to us how we need to use our freedom if we want happiness now and in eternity.
We’re sure free to ignore His revelation. Most of the world does. That’s our free choice. But, there will be results that are not too pleasant.
• So, for instance, He’s established a law of gravity. We are free to ignore it and jump off the roof…and the consequence is messy.
• He gives us certain rules for the health of His creatures. We can freely discard them, and spend our lives eating double-bacon cheeseburgers and pizzas, while drinking milkshakes…but the results are not the best—take it from me!
• The Lord has instilled a basic balance and integrity in His creation. We are free to reject it with pollution and destruction of the environment, but there will be a price to pay...as the world now knows.
• He has given us the gift of sexual love, revealing to us that He intends it for a man and woman united in lifelong, loving, faithful, life-giving marriage. We can snicker at that...most of the world does...and choose to ignore it, but should not then be surprised by the decimation of families, the disappearance of commitment, and an epidemic of loneliness and isolation.
• The Lord has offered us a just way to use our money and possessions. We are free to disobey it, using it selfishly, taking it from others unfairly…and then get Bernie Madoffs and The Wolf of Wall Street.
Philosophers tend to agree with St. Paul, and the wisdom of ages encourages a responsible, virtuous use of freedom. These sages usually distinguish between freedom—responsible, thoughtful, attentive to God’s way, virtuous, conscious of the common good—and libertarianism, which pretty much means “I gotta be me,” “I did it my way,” and “Nobody can tell me what to do!”
One of the most perceptive of these philosophers, Pope St. John Paul II, put it this way: “Freedom is not the choice to do whatever we want, but to do what we ought.”
God the Father, His Son, St. Paul, the philosophers, and the signers of the Declaration of Independence would agree!
A blessed summer!