Saint Pope John Paul II once said that “freedom consists not in doing what we like, but in having the right to do what we ought.”
Independence Day brings with it celebrations, and fireworks, cookouts, and a few “cold ones”. It also is a great opportunity to pause for a moment and think about what Freedom means to us as Catholics.
Growing up in America usually includes being taught about Freedom, Independence, and Liberty at an early age. These “American Virtues” form the basis of our understanding of the the Revolutionary War, the Declaration of Independence and the brilliance of our Constitution.
It’s easy to get caught up in the popular notions of how freedom and independence are defined (as “choice” and “license”) but our faith requires of us to have a deeper understanding of what being free means.
Our faith tells us that we are first Catholic in identity, and then American by nationality.
Today, we need to grasp the deeper and more authentic definition of freedom. To help us understand what it is to be a free Catholic in America, we need look only to some of our more recent Popes and their wisdom:
A sense of purpose and the constitution
Pope Paul VI said: “In America, you are not required to offer food to the hungry or shelter the homeless. There is no ordinance forcing you to visit the lonely, or comfort the infirmed. No where in the Constitution does it say you have to provide clothing to the poor. In fact, one of the nicest things about living here in America, is that you really don’t have to do anything for anybody. But when you do, you give meaning and provide soul to the concept of community…and develop a sense of purpose to something greater than one’s self.”
What freedom requires
Pope Benedict XVI said that “freedom is not only a gift, but a summons to personal responsibility.”
On another occasion, Pope Benedict XVI went on to say that “freedom preserves its dignity only as long as it retains the relationship to its ethical foundations and to its ethical task. A freedom that consisted solely in the possibility of satisfying one’s needs would not be human freedom, since it would remain in the animal realm. An individual freedom without substance dissolves into meaninglessness, since the individual’s freedom can exist only in an order of freedoms. Freedom requires a communal substance, which we could define as the guaranteeing of human rights. We can put this in other terms: the very essence of the concept of ‘freedom’ demands that it be complemented by two other concepts, those of law and of the good.”
Truth, freedom, and peace
Pope Saint John Paul the Great had a lot to say about the concept of freedom. “Once the truth is denied to human beings, it is pure illusion to try to set them free. Truth and freedom either go together hand in hand or together they perish in misery.”
John Paul II also said that “true freedom is not advanced in the permissive society, which confuses freedom with license to do anything whatever and which in the name of freedom proclaims a kind of general amorality. It is a caricature of freedom to claim that people are free to organize their lives with no reference to moral values, and to say that society does not have to ensure the protection and advancement of ethical values. Such an attitude is destructive of freedom and peace.”
Freedom needs guidelines
Pope Francis commented on freedom, too. He says: “Just because God created us in his image, we have also received from him the great gift that is freedom. If it is not used well, freedom can lead us away from God, can make us lose the dignity with which He has clothed us. This requires the guidelines, the guidelines and also the rules, both in society and in the Church, to help us to do the will of God, thus living according to our dignity as human beings and children of God. When it is not shaped by the Gospel, freedom can turn into slavery: slavery of sin.”
Happy Independence Day!
Happy Independence Day from Epic Pew! May you celebrate not only the birth of our nation today, but the Truth about Freedom!