During the recent quarantine of the Coronavirus pandemic many of our freedoms were limited. Our freedom to shop, to work and even to worship as we please were curtailed. And yet we were still free! That is the paradox of a correct understanding of liberty: freedom is not the absence of all restraints, but accepting the proper ones.
This weekend we celebrate our nation’s freedom on the anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776. Many fine tributes to freedom have been offered by philosophers and statesmen. George Bernard Shaw said, "Liberty means responsibility." Albert Camus wrote, "Freedom is the chance to be better." Kansas editor William Allen White wrote, "Liberty is the one thing you cannot have unless you give it to others." But the most insightful observation ever made about freedom is from Jesus of Nazareth who said, "The truth will set you free." (Jn 8:32)
The freedom of the children of God is the opportunity to decide without coercion to do the morally correct thing. It is freedom guided by truth. An honest mistake does not diminish human dignity, but the honor of freedom is doing the right thing freely. Lack of all restraint to do as we please is not freedom but a chaos that leads to misery, often to addiction and even the slavery of sin.
The popular promotion of choice as a virtue in itself is a distorted freedom isolated from truth. Truth demands that a choice cannot be separated from what is chosen. The value of freedom is not simply the ability to make a choice, but the responsibility for what has been chosen. "The truth will set you free" means that freedom is inseparable from truth. What we choose, not simply choosing, is the ultimate validation of our freedom.
Musicians and athletes hold truth as their guide in using freedom. A toddler banging randomly on piano keys results in the chaos of unpleasant noise. A pianist who has painstakingly trained to strike the right keys with the correct technique has used her freedom to produce beautiful music. The sound of truth. A child batting a ball as whim dictates produces only broken windows. An accomplished ballplayer who has practiced methodically to swing the correct way thrills fans with the majestic home runs of victory. The joy of truth.
Yet a crucial question remains. As Pontius Pilate asked hopelessly, "What is truth?" How is one to know the truth that will set you free? In our world with the contradictory voices of fake news and fraudulent politics, how is one to discern the truth of authentic freedom? Rationalists entrust their quest for truth totally to fallible human reason. Christians, also employing reason, place their faith in the One who said, "The truth will set you free." Because he also said, "I am the way and the truth and the life."
Father Earl Meyer
St. Fidelis Friary, Victoria