This past January, while the priests of the house were in quarantine, one of the activities that we did to pass the time was to take a break from our work for some entertainment. One of those forms of entertainment was watching the popular Broadway musical Hamilton. As we watched the plot unfold, we were reintroduced in an entertaining way to some of the figures and key events that led to our nation’s independence. Two of the more humorous scenes from the show depict King George as he sings about his relationship with the colonies, ridiculing them for wanting to be free, then after declaring independence, trying to discourage them with warnings about how hard it will be for them to be on their own.
It was the desire for freedom from the oppressive rule of the King that our founding fathers sought. And this freedom led to a freedom for pursuing the good of our new nation. It is important to notice these two types of freedom – freedom from, and freedom for. The fullest understanding of freedom is found when the two of these work together. As human beings, we often seek freedom from restrictions and limitations, so that we can have freedom for the things that we want to make us happy. For example, we want to be free from sickness, so that we can be free for an enjoyable life. On the surface, this seems to be a sound formula, but there are great dangers to be found in seeking this type of freedom in an unrestricted way. We might perceive freedom from restraints and limitations as a good thing, but if it opens us to doing something that is not good, then we have abused our freedom and we actually fall into a form of slavery. The Catechism of the Catholic Church makes this point well:
The more one does what is good, the freer one becomes. There is no true freedom except in the service of what is good and just. The choice to disobey and do evil is an abuse of freedom and leads to “the slavery of sin.” (CCC 1733)
In our lives as Catholics, we strive for freedom from sin, so that we can have freedom for doing good. This is a key concept to grasp, and one that I fear we have often missed. Sadly, we regularly see our Catholic faith as a set of rules to follow, which we do not necessarily like, especially when they seem to prevent us from having the freedom to do what we want. We sort of look at the Church like our founding fathers did toward King George, and we may even readily list all of the “rules” we disagree with and want to be freed from so that we can be free for what we deem to be better.
But may we never forget that God is a loving Father, one who knows His children, what will harm them, and what will help them. His teachings given through the Scriptures are aimed toward our true freedom. And the Church is not some oppressive organization that we something think exists to keep us subdued. No, we speak of the Church as a Mother, the best of mothers in fact! She is always working to keep us free from sin, which enables us to be free for the fullest experience of life in abundance in this life, and eternal life in the next. And so as we celebrate the freedoms we have in our country, let us be especially grateful for the freedom made available to us through the Gospel and the teachings of the Church, and recommit ourselves to choosing this freedom each and every day.