Obviously today we gather with a special awareness of freedom. On this Independence Day we acknowledge with gratitude those deep foundational principles which guide our lives to this day. What is freedom? Some consider freedom to be the ability to do whatever we want. To be independent, means not to allow anyone to tell us what to do. We strive to be our own person, doing whatever we want, without limit. Is this freedom?
If freedom is only based upon action, and perhaps a definition that suggests freedom to be the ability to do whatever we want, without limit, maybe correct. But if freedom becomes to find as the ability to do whatever we want, how do we explain those choices which seem to limit our ability to do whatever we want?
Consider the decision made by a couple to get married. By choosing to marry a particular individual, a person in the United States limits their ability to choose to marry anybody else. By entering into an intimate relationship, each person limits the things they might choose to do, because they are concerned about the good of the other.
Or how about the birth of a child. When parents welcome the child into their family, such a choice limits other choices. No longer can both parents come and go as they please. Loving parents forgo their own needs at times, for the good of their children. They limit their ability to do whatever they want, so they may focus more completely on those things necessary to bring about human fulfillment.
And so it appears that freedom cannot simply be the ability to do whatever we want. There must be some other way of understanding freedom. The ability to do whatever we want, whenever we want, is most appropriately referred to as license. License involves choosing this or that. Ironically, if we only view freedom in terms of license, we ultimately become less free.
This is because we can become consumed by our choices. Consider the little boy or girl in a candy shop. If they could do whatever they wanted, they might choose only to eat candy. They might choose never to see the dentist. And they may ultimately lose their health. Their freedom can become limited, as they might be sick and unable to leave the house. Were there may be certain foods they wish they could eat, but become unable to eat because they lack teeth.
True freedom is not about doing, but first and foremost about being. True freedom becomes evident when a person is more concerned about who they are becoming. Parents exercise true freedom in welcoming a child in their home, because they choose to limit the ability to do whatever they want, for the greater good of the fulfillment that comes from having children.
True freedom recognizes that when a man and a woman marry each other, they become more together than they could apart. By committing to the other, as not always doing just what they want, they discover the greater freedom that comes from being fulfilled.
Today’s first reading reminds us the true freedom comes with the responsibility to engage in certain types of actions. The strength of our country, the strength of our individual freedoms, comes from our ability to live the challenges presented to us in the first reading.
How greedy the person described by Isaiah. Listen again to the first paragraph:
Hear this, you who trample upon the needy
and destroy the poor of the land!
“When will the new moon be over,” you ask,
“that we may sell our grain,
and the sabbath, that we may display the wheat?”
We will diminish the containers for measuring,
add to the weights,
and fix our scales for cheating!
We will buy the lowly man for silver,
and the poor man for a pair of sandals;
even the refuse of the wheat we will sell!”
It should come as no surprise to us that God rarely distinguishes certain types of poor people. God does not place them in groups of “good” poor and “bad” poor, but talks about the poor. Does being in business means trampling upon the needy? Does being a good American mean destroying the poor of the land? Do we subscribe to a theory of capitalism that is described in this first reading Isaiah? Are we comfortable when people trample upon the needy, destroy the poor of the land, diminish the containers for measuring, add to the weights, or fixed scales for cheating? Is our view of the human person someone who can be bought for silver or pair of sandals?
True freedom pays careful attention to the types of persons that we are becoming. On this Independence Day, it asks what type of nation we are becoming. It challenges us to be like Matthew, to leave our place of comfort, our tax post, our place of ensuring a comfortable lifestyle, to follow Jesus wherever that may lead.
While we may have set ourselves that at the end of our life, we will not be judged by the size of her bank account, or the amount of our possessions, but rather on the type of person we have become. But it is not the case that this decision is made only at the end of our lives. Rather, this decision is made each and every day by the choices that we make.
Perhaps on this Independence Day, we will remember the words of St. Paul: “over all these virtues put on love.”