Let’s look at our readings in light of our celebrating Independence Day weekend -- What is freedom? Freedom certainly requires and implies the ability to choose – what we call “free will” but this is not the real meaning of the term “freedom”. There is much confusion about this term, often floated around along with terms like “individual rights”, “liberty”, “right to privacy” “autonomy” “self-determination” etc. The true meaning of freedom is not simply to “do whatever we want”. I have heard some even assert that freedom consists in the freedom to sin or not. But such a notion freedom is merely license, which leads to slavery and bondage to sin, which is contrary to the will of God and is disorder – deviating from God’s plan, path and will into nothingness, the absence of God, which we know to be Hell. So what is freedom? Perhaps another question first…
Is obedience opposed to freedom? If so, then Christ is wrong when he says the truth will set you free? When he says if you love me you will keep my commandments? When he commanded us to pray thy will be done in the Our Father? When He said whoever listens to word of God and abides by it will bear fruit a hundredfold? When He says my bread is to do the will of my Father? When He said thy will be done in Gethsemane? Wouldn’t many respond that doing another’s will and not your own the OPPOSITE of freedom?
It seems freedom is something deeper than “doing what we want … simply doing our own will.” In fact, authentic freedom is the opposite: conforming to God’s plan and design. It is then we find ourselves and we find true joy and happiness. Anything otherwise simply leads to chaos/nothing. God has set in motion all that exists … in His Divine Governance of the universe. We can look at the order, complexity and beauty in physical creation and quickly infer that an intelligence must be the source for all things. All that is … comes from God and returns to God. He has set all things in motion to accomplish His goal, His end, His design. Just as there is order in the physical/temporal realities, there is an order and design in the unseen moral order. In other words, there is also one Truth and moral precepts that we must conform to in order to utilize our free will to experience authentic freedom in obeying the commandments of God – inscribed in our nature and written in our hearts, and those truths and precepts taught by the Holy Catholic Church, which Christ established on earth as His bride and through which He gives us Sacred Scripture and the guidance of the Holy Spirit to the Magisterium to interpret and teach the authentic Truth in His Name, which leads us to true freedom. “The truth will set you free”, says the Lord.
Freedom is choosing the true Good. To do the right thing – to live a virtuous life in accordance with God’s will and plan. In a word, freedom is found only in faith in Christ and obedience to His commandments, which we only know through the Church – which gives us Scripture and interprets it for us in her teachings.
Put another way, faith in Christ leads to authentic freedom. Christ is the “way, the truth and the life” – we are free when we abandon in humility to God’s will and providence.
Some think that rules and precepts are limiting and therefore the opposite of freedom. But think about it – would you describe those bound in the sacrament of marriage “limited” or restricted in their freedom? Of course not, marriage is a covenant of love … your freedom is in the very image of Christ’s love of the Church! Does being married mean you don’t do certain things and are exclusive? Yes. But those limitations (such as not committing adultery, not using contraception, carrying out your duties to provide for family needs, etc.) are not inhibiting freedom but rather allowing it to flourish in your sacramental bond of marriage. Such “limitations” do not inhibit or decrease freedom but rather protect covenant love … and ensure one is staying on the path set out by God’s design and will, which is the only “reality”. To deviate from God’s will, His law of love and His precepts … is to choose “nothingness” and “chaos”, because there is nothing outside of the reality of God’s plan and providence.
Was Jesus less free because he could not sin? Was Mary less free because she was preserved from original sin in her Immaculate Conception and could not sin, but only say “yes” to God? Of course not. Our blessed Lord and Mary demonstrate the meaning of true freedom, which is found in perfect obedience to God’s will. This is the freedom of excellence. Do the blessed lose their freedom in the eternal union with God forever in heaven, which can never be forfeited or lost, once attained? Of course not, the blessed are experiencing the true joy and freedom of spirit in the eternal rapture of love, face to face with the Godhead – in the bosom of the Most Holy Trinity.
Let’s look at freedom in the readings…
Jesus is “amazed” at the lack of faith he experiences in Nazareth. When we lack faith we are blinded, especially to what leads to true freedom! His kin and hometown acknowledged his mighty deeds and teaching but this became ineffectual because of their familiarity with Jesus and their lack of faith. Nazareth needed faith to recognize its own savior – mere familiarity is not sufficient. They were not truly free because they were not humble and wanted to find their freedom as they would anticipate it to be – not as God wills it to be in the young carpenter from their hometown. The Jews at Nazareth were still that “rebellious house” our Lord describes to Ezekiel in our first reading. It is also true that our nation is a rebellious house today – which I will touch on further in a moment.
In our second reading, St. Paul describes his weakness and hardships, which most would regard as “limiting” freedom. But why does Jesus tell Paul that “power made perfect in weakness?” Because it is “when I am weak, then I am strong”. When we realize our need for God and His grace and healing in order to become our true selves and experience true freedom. Power is found in weakness because when we discover and admit limitations in our lives and even our own sin, we realize only God can save us and we are completely dependent on Him. Such dependence and cleaving to God is true freedom, just as seeing Christ nailed to the Cross is true freedom because He is perfectly obedient to the Father! Binding ourselves to Christ in love and obedience is a freedom in spirit peace that Jesus says the world cannot give, nor take away.
We are called to live the paradox of becoming slaves for Christ in order to become free from sin and become our true selves, remade in the image of Christ as adopted sons and daughters of the Father through grace, handed on through Christ’s Catholic Church, especially the sacramental life and His Word.
Touching on the times we are in today, especially 4th of July weekend … and the “rebellious house” our nation has become… Our Declaration of Independence and Constitution was great because they articulated the best conditions by which one can fully live out their potential and practice faith free from persecution – which was the whole reason for the Revolution and central to our Declaration of Independence, which recognized, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” The brilliance of this document and the Constitution that gives legal grounding to these rights, is that it recognizes fundamental rights as “self-evident” and from God.
How can we ourselves… or society in general … think we are becoming more free as we continue to push God, His will and His teaching handed down by the Church … out of our lives and out of our laws and civil society? This is the great error of our age and we are in a death spiral. The more we regard God’s commandments and the Church’s moral teachings as somehow limiting or restricting our freedom, the deeper our nation sinks into the abyss of the dictatorship of relativism and secularism. The more we mock God in ignoring His commandments of love relating to human life, abortion, use of contraception, euthanasia, the meaning and definition of family, the less free we become, individually and as a nation. We rather become slaves to sin and our own wills, but pronounce such evil as human rights, civil liberties, a right to privacy, self-actualization, autonomy, and yes, “freedom”!
SCOTUS has once again dealt lethal blow to freedom in our country, in the name of rights and freedoms that simply do not exist in our nations highest law, the Constitution, nor in the natural law written in our hearts, nor in the divine law handed on to us in the true Church. We are seeing Roe v Wade all over again in the recent Supreme Court ruling that overturns established legislation in the majority of states … against the will of the people … regarding same sex “marriage”. Here we have a completely fabricated law issuing from the Supreme Court … declared by 5 out of 9 lawyers as a “right.” This is not freedom, but slavery. Where were the protests and voices of the Catholic Church on the Supreme Court steps when this decision was handed down? Where are the press conferences called by the Church to clearly state to its flock and the whole world – that this ruling is unlawful, unjust and contrary to the overwhelming will of the American people and an institution that has existed for thousands of years? Not one Catholic organization appeared on the steps of the SCT in protest. Where is the outrage?
So, we must foster virtues of faith, love, obedience, humility – conformity to God’s will – by cleaving to Christ and His Church in these times … to experience true freedom. There is no freedom outside the will of God and His law of love, which distinguishes clearly between right from wrong – the path leading to God and happiness and the path leading to chaos and destruction. Let us CHOOSE freedom by choosing life, marriage and family as God established it, cleaving to Him in the Church’s sacraments and in personal / family prayer. We must be counter cultural and speak the truth to our nation and not remain silent. We must be willing to witness in word and deed to the truth about the human person, especially the truth about marriage and human life. If we do not turn these around in our country, we will continue to slip into the abyss, into the chasm of nothingness. But if we draw close to God, He will draw close to us.
Faith in Christ leads to true freedom.