With parades, picnics and patio parties, we will celebrate our national heritage of freedom this Fourth of July weekend. Such diversions should not distract us from the substance of freedom. William Allen White wrote, "You cannot have freedom unless you give it to others." George Bernard Shaw said, "Liberty means responsibility, and that is why so many fear it." Scripture says, "Be free, yet without using freedom as a pretext for evil." (1 Peter 2:16)
Freedom can be paradoxical. Conscience often requires I do what I do not want to do so I can have what I want. St. Paul wrote of this struggle: "I do not do the good I want; but what I do not want, is what I do." (Romans 7:19)
Freedom of speech, for example, allows me to tell the truth or to tell a lie. If I tell the truth, I am free. If I tell a lie, I am enslaved by it. Mark Twain said, "If you always tell the truth, you don't need a good memory." Only the right use of freedom makes us truly free.
Pope John Paul II wrote, "The Ten Commandments are the Magna Carta of human freedom." The Magna Carta was the charter of civil liberties granted to English citizens by King John in 1215. It is the basic document of democracy and freedom under the Rule of Law. Many will ask how the Ten Commandment's repeated admonition, "Thou shall not" makes us free. Are Christians who make baptismal promises free? Are those who wear wedding rings free? Yes, they are free in the truest sense of the word.
Any pretense of freedom that implies absence of all restraint is not freedom but a slavery in disguise. To choose to do the wrong thing is not the way to freedom but a slippery path to enslavement by evil. Alcoholics and drug addicts know this paradox of freedom only too well.
To a lesser degree, so do those hooked on nicotine, caffeine or the cocoa bean. When "I have to have it," even when I want it, I am no longer free.
Our freedom can be measured by the number of things we can walk away from. A recovering alcoholic who can walk past a tavern and say, "I do not need a drink," is free. A compulsive shopper who can walk through the mall and say, "I do not need to buy that," is free. And a Christian who can walk through life and say, "I have no need to do wrong," is free by the grace of God.
The freedom of the gospels is to do the right thing freely. Yes, the gospels are demanding. Truth can be demanding, but it sets one free. If we live the difficult truths of the gospels, we will be free -- free from anger, free from jealousy and free from hatred.
Such is the freedom of the children of God.
Father Earl Meyer
for Spiritual Life