Last week brought birthdays for several people; this week, for our nation. 234 years young and still going strong, the United States of America has every reason to celebrate. The first nation in history founded not on geography or ethnicity, but on a covenant of governance, she still manages to amaze and impress, even as the signs of age and abuse show.
One thing that makes me so glad to be an American is that I have not only visited, but also lived in another country. Even in the twenty-first century, even in super-modern Europe, there is still a system of class and culture that restricts the possibilities of citizens to what someone else, or sometime else, has deemed appropriate to them. We Americans intuitively notice and reject these obstacles and expectations that are woven into the fabric of daily life for almost everyone else on earth. It is more obvious in Europe because they think that they are liberated by their modernity – but they are not. Modernity cannot liberate anyone from anything, except possibly good sense.
Last week the Sacred Scripture we encountered at Mass reflected on the nature of freedom. When confronted with the call of God to be holy, people offered excuses that did in fact excuse them from any legal or technical obligation to follow. But God’s call is not a legal one, and our response is not obligatory. They call of love is answerable only with and in love, and love cannot be obliged nor extracted, only offered in freedom.
Our Founding Fathers were all versed in a Christian understanding, however deprived of the fullness of Catholic teaching. But their understanding of freedom was based on a firm grip on from where it comes, and toward what it is directed.
Freedom comes from God (endowed by their Creator) and inheres in our human nature. Freedom belongs properly and exclusively to man, because man, and man alone, is made in the image and likeness of God.
Freedom has one, and only one, proper end: to do what is good. We know what is good: to love the Lord our God with all our heart, all our mind, and all our soul, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. Without freedom, love is not possible; but in freedom, anything less than love is an abuse of that freedom.
Fools and selfish men will tell you that it is not possible to know or to say what is good, and therefore freedom requires that everyone be able to designate to be good whatever he sees fit. This is false liberation, the siren song of the dictatorship of relativism.
No individual man but Jesus Christ has had in himself a perfect understanding of true goodness. But our nation, by her nature larger than any individual inclination or attraction, and by her design capable of discerning and describing publicly that good, can and must define and defend what is good, what is true, and what is beautiful, if she is to fulfill her charter, and if she is to have any hope of enduring.
Brothers and sisters: For freedom Christ set us free; so stand firm and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery. (Gal 5:1) Saint Paul would have encouraged us all to take seriously our obligations of this great nation, and as citizens of heaven, and to proclaim what is true and good – and live it. To resolve again to do so in our lives is the best gift you and I can give to our mother country on this her birthday. God give you all a happy Independence Day -- and many more!