As the Fourth of July holiday approaches, the word “freedom” comes into focus while we gather together to celebrate with family and friends. We give thanks to God for the freedom that is the heritage of this land. And we are grateful for the men and women whose heroic sacrifices in the past and in the present ensure the many freedoms we enjoy as a nation and as individuals.
This is also a time to reflect on the ways in which freedom is threatened or weakened in this country and in places around the world. We take our freedom for granted until we hear of the harsh experiences of people who live with little or no freedom under totalitarian and oppressive regimes.
The word of God this Sunday reminds us that freedom is not only born of political, social and legal contexts. Rather, freedom is a spiritual gift, nurtured by faith within the community of believers that is the church.
As St. Paul reminds the Galatians in the second reading, “For freedom Christ set us free; so stand firm and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery. For you were called for freedom, brothers and sisters.”
What does it mean to be called to freedom? And how do we understand freedom as disciples of Jesus who answer his call to follow him daily, as described in today’s Gospel?
The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us that “freedom is the power, rooted in reason and will, to act or not to act, to do this or that, and so to perform deliberate actions on one’s own responsibility. By free will one shapes one’s own life. Human freedom is a force for growth and maturity in truth and goodness; it attains its perfection when directed toward God, our beatitude” (No. 1731).
In creating us, God endows us with the gift of freedom so that we might seek God freely and respond in faith. Reason and will are gifts of God that allow us to draw close to God by choosing the path of faith and rejecting the slavery of sin.
“For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters. But do not use this freedom as an opportunity for the flesh; rather, serve one another through love,” St. Paul notes.
Freedom separated from truth is quickly reduced to license that is the doing whatever one likes to do. Then freedom gradually comes to serve only one’s selfish desires. Freedom detached from love turns into raw power that tends to diminish and even destroy the freedom of others.
For as St. John Paul II once observed, “Freedom consists not in doing what we like, but in having the right to do what we ought.”
Let us beg for God’s grace to strengthen our freedom as we pray with confidence saying, “speak to me, Lord.”