Tomorrow we will celebrate our country’s 240th birthday. This year as our nation gathers to celebrate our independence, we find ourselves in the midst of a very heated election year where we as Americans seem to be searching for our identity. As I reflect on this election cycle, I am saddened to see that our politics is often reduced to pitting one side against the other and I find myself asking if we as Americans ever find the unity that makes us so great. Despite our struggles and our political differences, I am thankful to live in a country founded on the principles of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, and I cannot help but recall that our freedom is 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 recall the countless American men and women who have given their lives to protect our freedoms, I cannot help but pause for a moment to ask myself what is this wonderful gift of freedom that we are celebrating this weekend? Today 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 Americans 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, we know that 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 believe freedom is the ability to do something as long as it doesn’t harm others. Yet even you and I know this 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. For as we become independent of something, we have to become dependent on something else. 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 greater ideals than simply being able to do whatever we want. Countless Americans have died to protect the genius of the Founding Fathers which recognized we are meant to be free, free to live in truth and goodness. Our Founding Fathers put into practice a philosophical experiment which believed genuine freedom is not the right to do whatever we want, but the liberty to do what we ought. It’s the paradox that in being more dependent on God we find ourselves freer because we have the freedom to do not what we want, but what we ought. 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 which allowed man the greatest opportunity to fulfill his potential as made in the image and likeness of God. Look at the results! Look at our unparalleled standard of living!
Still, despite this offering of freedom, many people continue to take offense at it. 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 all other ideas of freedom don’t not make us free, but rather slaves, slaves to sin because every manner of vice and addiction has its roots in a false notion of freedom. It seems to me the freest people I have witnessed are those who live holy lives. I can think of no one freer 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.
Freedom does not mean that God has no place in this country. No our Founding Fathers knew that to removing 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 then, is nothing less than the call to greatness, the call to holiness.
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? 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.