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True Freedom

After my arrival in the US as someone who grew up in another country, I quickly learned that freedom is one of the greatest and most cherished American values. We Americans will not allow anyone or anything to restrict or compromise our freedom in any way. That is why the fight over such issues as abortion and gun control will never end. The prototypical figure of the American ethos is the mythical cowboy who is a law unto himself and who establishes justice on his own terms. The battle lines that are often drawn in the cultural sand are fought over the definition and exercise of our freedoms.

 

As we begin this New Year, the State of California has decided to make recreational marijuana use legal. Other states, including Illinois, with an eye to raking up large amounts of revenue, are considering passing similar laws relaxing the restrictions on “individual freedom.”  The argument is that citizens should be allowed to do what they want to do. It is their right to smoke pot or to marry anyone they choose. Over the last several months I have been wondering about the way we think about freedom.

What is freedom? Is it the license to do whatever I like? Can freedom turn into licentiousness? Are our freedoms unlimited? Does human freedom, in and of itself, have restrictions placed on it? Living in society, are we not expected to limit our freedom so that everyone may be able to enjoy a minimum of rights? These are questions that call for reflection and discussion.

Let me draw some wisdom from the Angelic Doctor, St Thomas Aquinas. He avers that freedom is the capacity to choose the good. It is not about having the ability to do whatever we want. Freedom is a gift that God has given human beings to enhance their humanity.

Perhaps I can explain it in this way. Minerals, plants and animals do not have to make a special effort to be what they are called to be. For instance, a dog is a dog without any effort. If it barks, wags its tail and shows its affection for its master, it is a dog. A tree can be crooked and yet, in its crookedness it gives glory to God. On the other hand, a human being cannot follow his/her instincts or impulses. Human beings must make choices.

Certain choices will enhance their humanity whereas other choices will diminish it. Freedom is the power to make the right choices so that we can grow and develop as human beings. Thus in the mind of St Thomas, the good person is truly the free person. On the other hand, our culture believes that the free person is the one who can act as he/she chooses. I remember seeing a bumper-sticker on a car several years ago: “Good girls go to heaven; bad girls go everywhere!”

We, Catholics, believe that when our First Parents were created their humanity was in perfect order. Hence they chose the good without much effort. Choosing the good was not a struggle. However, when they sinned their human nature became disordered. As a result, concupiscence entered the world and choosing the good is no longer easy. Paul writes about this in his Letter to the Romans: “I do the things that I don’t want to, and I don’t do the things that I want to.” We all experience that struggle.

It appears to me that our society is choosing the path of least resistance. We are listening to our impulses and give in to our natural desires under the guise of freedom. In the process we are damaging and demeaning our humanity. Our culture has been reduced to the lowest common denominator and behaviors that were once rejected as unsavory have become acceptable. I fear that we are walking the road that other defunct great civilizations have taken. The eminent British historian, Arnold Toynbee, wrote: “Of twenty-one notable civilizations, nineteen perished not from conquest from without, but from decay from within.” Will Toynbee’s words become a prophecy for our culture? Only time will tell.

True freedom comes from aligning our will to the will of God. It is in our ability to know and to love that we are created in God’s image. Therefore it is by choosing the good, by desiring God Himself, that we will be authentically free – and not by doing whatever we please.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church has relevant words in this regard. It says:

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.” (#1733)

May the Lord of Life and the God of freedom teach us His ways and help us to choose the good always!

Mission Statement: As children of God, living in a Catholic community of faith, we are united by the Gospel message of Jesus Christ. Aware that all we have is gift and grace from our Heavenly Father, we strive to give of our time, talent and treasure to build His kingdom on earth. We live this mission, challenged by the Word, nurtured by the Sacraments, and enlivened by the Spirit, to serve our brothers and sisters in peace, justice and dignity. All are welcome on this journey.

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St. Paul of the Cross

320 South Washington Street
Park Ridge, IL 60068


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Phone: (847) 825-7605
Fax: (847) 825-5186

Mass Schedule

Sunday

7:30 a.m. - Upper Church
9 a.m. - Upper Church & Holy Family Chapel
10:30 a.m. - Upper Church & Holy Family Chapel
12 p.m. - Upper Church
5:30 p.m. - Upper Church

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8:30 a.m. - Upper Church

Saturday

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