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What is Freedom?

July 4, AD2013 3 Comments


For as long as I can remember, Independence Day celebrations, though filled with family gatherings, fireworks and parades, have also called us to reflect on the profound gift of freedom we enjoy in this country and the sacrifices so many have made to create and preserve a free society. I think it’s safe to say that all too many of us have, at times, taken for granted our freedoms and grown complacent in undertaking the hard work required to cultivate the culture necessary for the flourishing of such a free society.

Change tends to happen gradually, slowly over the generations with a squeak rather than a scream. But the shouts have grown louder now and people of faith must surely hear the clarion call resounding as the August 1st enforcement of the HHS Mandate approaches.

Perhaps we’ve become less vigilant in safeguarding our freedom because, as a society, we have forgotten what freedom truly means and why it is so necessary. Just this past Sunday, we heard from Paul’s Letter to the Galatians where he so clearly sets forth the meaning and purpose of freedom. Paul wrote, “For freedom Christ set us free; so stand firm and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery. . . For you were called for freedom, brothers. But do not use this freedom as an opportunity for the flesh; rather, serve one another through love” (Galatians 5:1, 13).

True freedom is the power and right to do that which is right and good and is an essential requirement of human dignity.

We become increasingly free to the extent that we turn away from sin and choose instead to direct our lives and actions toward God in service to one another doing what we ought rather than merely what we want. It is the duty of civil authorities to protect the rights of all to choose that which is good. However, such protection does not mean granting persons license to do what whatever they choose. The Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us that “the exercise of freedom does not imply a right to say or do everything” (CCC, 1740). Nevertheless, it appears in this country we are inching ever closer to an understanding of freedom that, in fact, is a perversion of freedom and an effective weapon in the destruction of the very foundations of a free society.

Seemingly, many in western culture embrace a concept of freedom that lacks reference to objective moral truth instead elevating personal autonomy as the greatest good. While it is true that few advocate for a society with no legal boundaries, the movement away from recognition of an objective and knowable truth has set in motion a cultural acceptance of a “freedom” that allows one to do simply what one chooses rather than what is good.

The caveat that such freedom should be limited to the extent that what one does ought not harm another is of limited value when the human person is no longer understood as social by nature and truth has been deemed relative. Freedom then becomes simply defined by the boundaries imposed by those exercising power, not necessarily reflecting a reasoned understanding of the “good” but rather echoing in law what the majority (or powerful minority) value.

Under the umbrella of “freedom” we now allow people to butcher and kill unborn children, two persons of the same sex to “marry” and doctors to assist others to commit suicide. One has to wonder what hard fought legal “rights” will next be secured in the name of freedom. The human imagination can’t even conceive of what will be proposed in coming years. Is this the freedom our founders had in mind and what so many have sacrificed for through the years?

Our Declaration of Independence provides us with a window into the minds of our founders at the birth of our nation. The oft recited words ring in our ears in a special way this time of year: “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.”

Is there any question that our founders recognized the existent of a Natural Law and objective truth?

Without the limits imposed by these, freedom can devolve into license and erode the very foundations of a free society. The result is a society that invokes “freedom” as the basis for permitting and advocating for the social weaponry that seeks to destroy authentic freedom. Thus, here we find ourselves at a point in this country where one is “free” to choose abortion but not free to live according to the dictates of one’s faith and conscience having been refused reasonable exemption from the HHS Mandate (to cite but one example).

As is always the case for the Christian, there is hope and the promise of a life lived in the true freedom of Christ. For many the sacrifice has been great. This is true for members of civil society as well as members of the Church. We have countless martyrs who have given their very lives in service of the gospel. Many have speculated that those times may be coming in this country but none of us know to what extent that will prove to be true. However, we do know that there is no substitute for prayer and it is essential for the preservation of freedom and the cultural reform our nation so desperately needs.

Hand in hand with a deepening commitment to prayer is our call to evangelize. We have been entrusted to one another and as Christians have vowed to bring Jesus Christ to the rest of the world. It is a mission for which, by God’s grace, we are well-equipped.

This Independence Day let us take time to thank God for the freedoms we enjoy in this great country of ours and those who have sacrificed greatly to ensure those freedoms. Let us also pray for the grace necessary to ensure that we and those generations who follow will be free to follow Christ in a society that protects authentic freedom.

© 2013. Matthew Brower. All Rights Reserved.

Photography: See our Photographers page.

About the Author:

Matthew is a practicing attorney in Montana where he lives with his wife, Miriam. After graduating from the University of Notre Dame with a B.A. in History and Theology, he worked at a large Catholic parish in West Michigan for 7 years where he coordinated various faith formation programs, RCIA and assisted petitioners seeking declarations of nullity. He then attended the Ave Maria School of Law obtaining his Juris Doctor (cum laude) in 2004. He is admitted to practice in Michigan, Minnesota, Montana and the U.S. District Court of Montana. In addition to running his own law practice, he enjoys hiking in Glacier National Park, cheering on the Fighting Irish, and trips back to the Midwest to visit family.

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