Ez 2:2-5 / PS 123:1-2, 2, 3-4 / 2 Cor 12: 7-10 / Mk 6:1-6
Yesterday we celebrated the 239th birthday of our great nation. As I celebrated with family and friends I could not help but be thankful that we live in a country founded on the principles of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Yet as I celebrated the great freedom of our country I could not help but recall that those freedoms are not free. Like many of you, I am privileged to count among my friends many men and women who sacrifice so much, including some friends who have paid the ultimate price, to defend the freedom of our great country so that you and I might be free to come here and worship today.
As I think of the countless men and women who have given their lives to protect our freedoms as Americans, I cannot help but pause for a moment to ask myself a very basic question. What is that wonderful gift of freedom that we are celebrating this weekend? Sadly many people in our society summarize freedom by saying something like “it’s my life, my body, I can do what I want; I’m free.” Yet if this is freedom our Founding Fathers created utter chaos and countless men and women have died to protect pure madness. For if freedom is the unbridled ability to do whatever we want then freedom leads to people killing other people, to people stealing others property, and to people oppressing others in every imaginable way. As Americans the true notion of freedom is engrained in us and deep down we know true freedom cannot simply be the license to do whatever we want, after all we don’t riot or protest when someone is rightly arrested for murder, theft, etc. Others want to limit freedom to the ability to do something as long as it doesn’t harm others. Yet even you and I know this still can’t be the true meaning of freedom. Why do we step in and have an intervention when one of our friends becomes an alcoholic, or an addict, why do we step in to prevent a high school teenager from continuing with her eating disorder, or to keep a depressed man from committing suicide? We rightly step in because the license to do whatever we want does not lead to freedom, it leads to the exact opposite, it leads to slavery. Ask any recovering addict if his unbridled ability to continue in his addiction was leading to freedom and he will tell you it was only leading to slavery.
Our country was founded on a greater principle than simply man should be able to do whatever he wants. Countless men and women have died to protect the genius of the Founding Fathers that recognized man is meant to be free, free to live in truth and goodness. What has made America exceptional is not that we are better than other people. But that for the first time, in a world that for the vast majority of its history had only known tyranny, servitude and serfdom, a system was established that allowed man the greatest opportunity to fulfill his potential as made in the image and likeness of God; and to allow this example to be a witness and call to freedom for mankind everywhere. Look at the results! Look at our unparalleled standard of living!
Still, despite this offering of freedom that is the essence of the Gospel, many people continue to take offense at this Good News and reject it just as our Lord’s own people took offense to the truth and rejected Him in today’s Gospel. People continue to reject the call to holiness, which necessarily places limits on our human actions, because they are afraid that unless they can do whatever they want, they will not be truly free; but this way of thinking fails to understand that this idea of freedom does not make one free, but slaves, slaves to sin. Slaves to the bottle, to lust and pornography, to drugs, food, anger, take your pick; every manner of vice and addiction has its roots in this false notion of freedom. It seems to me the most free people I have witnessed are those who live holy lives. I can think of no one more free than Mother Theresa or Pope Saint John Paul II. True freedom, the freedom that God offers us, the freedom for which Jesus died to give us is the freedom to do good, to be unimpeded and unhindered in being who God created us to be, children of God in His own image and likeness, to be the most perfect self we can become.
You see the principle of freedom does not mean that God has no place in this country. No our founding fathers knew that to remove God from the notion of freedom was to cease to have freedom at all. After all “the highest freedom is the yes in conformity with God’s will.” Our Founding Fathers built a nation with the understanding 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.” Freedom, must be something greater than the ability to do whatever we want. Freedom then, is nothing less than the call to greatness.
God has abundantly blessed our country; more so than in other nation in the history of the world. We owe it to God and to the rest of humanity to strive for goodness and excellence and to make that opportunity available to others. If we want America to be great, then it starts right here, with individuals, with you and me. Do we choose to become a better, my more perfect self, more holy person? Do we choose to believe, to have faith that Jesus alone is the way, the truth and the life? Or do I take offense at Him? For it is only through good and free individuals, that a society is good and free. And it is only in God and His Freedom, that a nation becomes great.
 Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. Church Fathers and Teachers. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2010. Pg 62.
 Preamble to the Declaration of Independence.