13th Sunday in Ordinary Time

 

     On Wednesday, we will celebrate our nation’s 242nd birthday. Living in a country founded on the ideals of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness it can be very easy for us to take our freedoms for granted. The freedoms we enjoy are truly a great blessing from God, yet we can never forget that the blessing of freedom is not free. Like many of you, I am privileged to count among my family and friends, many men and women who sacrifice so much, including some who have paid the ultimate price, so that you and I might be free to come here and worship today.

     While as Americans’ we experience freedom daily many of us don’t know what true freedom is and unless we understand the true meaning of freedom we risk putting our right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness in jeopardy. If I asked you what it means to be free, how would you answer? Often people answer this question by saying that freedom is the ability to do whatever we want. Yet if this is freedom then our founding fathers created chaos and countless Americans have died to defend pure madness. For if freedom is the unbridled ability to do whatever we want, then freedom leads to people killing other people, people stealing other people’s property, and stronger people oppressing weaker people in every imaginable way. Our actions as Americans demonstrates that we don’t actually believe freedom is the ability to do whatever we want. After all, we don’t riot or protest when someone is rightly arrested for murder, theft, etc.

     When I point this out to people, they quickly change their definition of freedom to the ability to do anything so long as it doesn’t harm others. Yet, once again, our actions as Americans shows that this can’t be the definition of freedom. After all, we step in to have an intervention when one of our friends becomes an alcoholic or an addict. We quickly prevent a high school girl from continuing in her eating disorder and help a depressed man from harming himself. We step in during these situations because we recognize that the ability to do whatever we want only leads to slavery and not freedom. Ask any recovering alcoholic or addict if their unbridled ability to continue in their addiction made them free and they will tell you it only leads to slavery. For you see, as we become independent of one thing, we necessarily become dependent on something else.

     Friends, our country was founded on greater ideals than simply being able to do whatever we want. Our founding fathers put into practice a philosophical experiment which believed that genuine freedom is not the right to do whatever we want, but rather the liberty to do what we ought. What has made America exceptional is not that we are better than any other people, but that for the first time in a world that for most of its history has only known tyranny, servitude, and serfdom, a system was established that allows man the greatest opportunity to fulfill his potential and look at the results. Look at our unparalleled standard of living.

     Still, despite the offering of freedom, many people continue to reject the call to holiness which necessarily puts limits on our human actions because they are afraid that unless they can do whatever they want they can’t be free. But this way of thinking fails to understand that the ability to do whatever we want doesn’t make us free, but rather slaves to sin because every manner of sin and addiction has its roots in a false notion of freedom. It’s the paradox, that in being more dependent on God, we find ourselves freer. For true freedom, the freedom that God offers us and that Jesus died to give us is the freedom to do the good. True freedom is the unimpeded and uninhibited ability to be who God made us to be, children of God, created in His own image and likeness, called to be perfectly ourselves.

     Freedom does not mean that God does not have a place in our country. No, our founding fathers knew that to remove God from the notion of freedom is to cease to have true freedom. After all “the highest freedom is the yes in conformity with God’s will.”[1] 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 amongst these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”[2] Freedom then is nothing short of the call to greatness, the call to holiness.

     God has abundantly blessed our country, more so than any other country in human history. Since to whom much is given much is expected[3] we owe it to God and 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 you and me. Do we chose to become a better more perfect self, a more holy person, or do we choose the slavery of false freedom? Do we chose to believe that Jesus alone is “the way, the truth, and the life?”[4] 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 person becomes good and free and that a nation becomes great.

[1] Ratzinger, Joseph Cardinal. Church Fathers and Teachers. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2010. Pg 62.

[2] Preamble to the Declaration of Independence available at http://www.ushistory.org/declaration/document/

[3] Lk 12:48

[4] Jn 14:6

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