What does it mean to be free in America today? Religious freedom faces many threats. What about spiritual freedom? Can we still be free, even if we should lose all our rights?
Western culture now interprets freedom as license. Freedom means being able to do whatever one wishes without anyone standing in one’s way. Verbal criticism is discrimination or hate speech. We cannot remain silent. We cannot respectfully excuse ourselves. We must celebrate immoral behavior, by force when necessary.
This is what Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI meant by “a dictatorship of relativism.” If I have a “right” to do whatever I want, then you have a duty to allow me, or even aid me, to do it. You cannot opt out. The freedom of the majority is quickly becoming tyranny over the minority.
In contrast to this understanding, Catholic philosopher Montague Brown defines freedom as “taking responsibility for our own life.” License for him is “the throwing off of all responsibility.” As you can see, the two terms have nearly opposite meanings in Catholic thought.
Cardinal Avery Dulles writes:
If my motives could never transcend my individual self-interest or the collective self-interest of my group, I could never be truly free. I could always be manipulated and compelled to act in specific ways by fear of punishment or hope of reward. Just as animals can be drawn by dangling a carrot or banana in front of their noses, so a child can be induced to behave in certain ways by the prospect of gratification or the fear of pain. Unable to escape from the determinism of instinct or appetite, we could be forced to act by threats and promises.” (John Paul II and the Truth about Freedom)
True freedom proceeds from love
True freedom does not come from government. It begins in the heart of God. It begins with love.
Love and freedom are both gifts. They must be received. They cannot be demanded. They cannot be seized.
Our real rights (as opposed to those created by the government) come from God.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, 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.” (Declaration of Independence)
Our freedom is part of our very nature as beings made in the image and likeness of God. Animals act merely by instinct or appetite. Man alone among earthly creatures is able to act by reason, and above all, by love. He alone is able to abstain from doing things he feels drawn towards doing. He alone is able to call an act good or evil, rather than just desirable.
So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate.” (Gen 3:6)
Eve’s act was not an act of love. She abused her freedom.
The greatest act of freedom
Jesus performed the greatest act of freedom when He went to the Cross. He freely chose what He first begged God to spare Him from. Rejection, scourging, crucifixion, and death did not appear desirable.
Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:3)
He could have turned away from suffering. He could have called on angels to protect Him. Instead, He gave everything He had for our sakes. He gave Himself.
And now it is our turn.
Jesus asks one thing of us. He asks of each of us the unique gift only we can give–the gift of ourselves. He doesn’t promise freedom from persecution, from pain, or from death. He promises us the true freedom of love.
Holiness, not political activism
What the world and the Church require of us today is not political activism, but holiness. We must pursue true freedom, the freedom of total surrender to God. This does not mean that we should abandon the world to its resources. But it does mean we must abandon the world’s standards for God’s. The problem in our nation is not at root a political problem. It is a spiritual problem. It is a problem we all contribute to, to greater or lesser extents.
So I ask you the same question I am asking myself: What are you holding back from God?
What vice have you refused to die to? What attachment do you cling to? What appetite or party platform or material possession or pastime continues to enslave you?
Are you ready to give your life for the Gospel if you must?
Look around you. God is not calling you to some future martyrdom. He is calling you to die to yourself now. Today. “If today you hear His voice, harden not your hearts” (Heb 3:15).
Die to yourself. Surrender to love. Be free.
8 thoughts on “Spiritual freedom in 21st century America”
This is beautifully stated. The silver lining to this SCOTUS ruling is that it has acted as a wakeup call- a reminder that it was the decline of traditional marriage that made same-sex marriage acceptable in the first place, long before our courts made it legal. Hopefully, each and every one of us will heed this wakeup call and live out our marriage vocations in a way that points to the truth, beauty and freedom found in our Church’s teachings. #holinesswins
ER, I love the hashtag (#holinesswins). Yes, if we all lived the way we should be living as Christians, individuals around us may sin, but our entire culture would not go down the tubes. As Chesterton said in answer to the question, “What’s wrong with the world?” I am.
You are right. My concern is that the amount of people willing to be true Christian witnesses is on the decline. Are we (Christians, including many Catholics) going to continue to fall into the trap that claims “Jesus love all” while ignoring Jesus when he says, “go and sin no more,” and St. Paul’s “love rejoices in truth,” and countless other Bible verses that encourage us to die to self so Christ can live in us? Are we going to forget that even Jesus’ followers claimed that his teachings were hard to accept, but that not accepting his teachings ultimately leads to death?
Perhaps it’s not simply enough to live the way we should be living as Christians and stay inside our little bubble; perhaps we need to step it up a notch, and be true witnesses of truth by modeling (and encouraging) a life that embodies Christian joy, so as to encourage others to follow.
Amen! Well said! “God is not calling you to some future martyrdom. He is calling you to die to yourself now. Today.”
You ladies are so right! We all need to live our true vocations as Christians filled with the joy of truth…that is what will attract others, as E R stated above.
There are some 14,800 alterations / amendments made from the earliest Bible to the King James edition, so perhaps some of the things you read are not what Jesus said but what a panel of bishops decided should be written as having come from Christ. Just remember, one persons salvation could be another mans sin. Who gives anyone the right to dictate right or wrong? I was christened and went to church as did many others of my age, but now when religion is discussed I tell people that if anything, I would describe myself as a Zoroastrian Nihilist.or better still not even that!? Maybe others should also consider looking at the wider aspect of other religions as well and then decide what they wish to believe and then decide how they should live their lives. Or even better,still….. just consider the definition of wrong and right without applying a religion to the concept. That may even be a better way to live ones life! If you look deeper into what you are saying you may realise that you too are preaching what others have led you to believe in. Think outside the box!!
Paul, thanks for your comment. Since I am Catholic, I don’t generally read the King James Bible (although I own a copy). Catholic editions are often based on the Latin Vulgate, translated by St. Jerome and completed in 405 A.D. No panel of bishops was involved in translations until very modern times–19th or 20th century is my guess without looking it up. Definitely, I learned the faith from other people. No question there. I believe the Lord wanted to preserve the truth through the centuries so that we could know it, rather than each person having to figure it out on his own. Being a faithful Catholic these days is definitely “thinking outside the box,” because the whole culture vilifies the Church. At one point I was poised to leave the Catholic Church. Then I began to read the writings of the early Church Fathers and was amazed at how close their teaching was to the modern Catholic Church. I became convinced in my mind and my heart that Catholicism was true. But the best part of being Catholic is having a growing intimacy with Christ. He is a real Person, who loves us, died for us, and supports us through all our trials.