A Freedom Too Far


Which of our many liberties do we value most? What are some ways we can remind ourselves to thank God each day that we live in this land of the free?

Americans embody independence. In fact, liberty is so second nature to us that we take it for granted until some unexpected event tells us there are limits to how phenomenally free we are. Driving too fast? A siren will warn us that there are restrictions on how heavy our foot can press the gas pedal. Clothes fitting tight? The bathroom scale won't lie if we are consuming too many calories. Monthly bills mounting? The credit card company will curb the amount of plastic money we can spend. So, yes, in our mundane, daily rituals we are quite free, but within sensible boundaries.

Now what about our formidable, loftier liberties? Recall that 77 years ago President Franklin Delano Roosevelt declared every nation on earth should enjoy these four fundamental freedoms: freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want and freedom from fear.

Thankfully in this democracy we can speak freely provided we do not bully others or spread slanderous lies to ruin their reputations. We can secure our freedom from fear by bolstering the physical and emotional ways we protect ourselves and our loved ones. We can shore up our freedom from want by reevaluating how much we truly need and ignoring what advertisers tell us we must buy to be happy.

What about freedom of worship? Religious liberty was the foremost intention for the founding of the United States of America. Shorter routes to the spice islands and pursuits for a fountain of youth notwithstanding, most voyagers to the New World were seeking the right to praise God as they pleased. More than 240 years later, we still bask in the freedom to pray in any persuasion, or however we feel, or not at all!

In the spirit of the New Evangelization, these last two groups warrant closer attention. For the agnostics, or practicing atheists, our Catholic obligation is clear. We can evangelize simply by our witness to the grace-filled relationship we share with Christ. Matthew 7:20 assures us that our behavior will bear fruit and John 13:35 proclaims others will know we are Christians by our love.

The weightier concern, especially in terms of the New Evangelization, should be about those misinformed disciples who redefine freedom of worship as freedom of emotions. They believe they are at liberty to worship God according to how they feel. This is a mistaken definition of faith. Freedom of worship does not include permission to cherry-pick among the Creator's commandments. Doing so would shackle us into a slavery of believing we can become our own creators. Freedom of worship means embracing our determination to become the best creatures we can be. How do we fulfill this freedom as Christians? By repenting for our sins, living our baptismal vows and believing the Good News of Christ. Going beyond these parameters is pushing freedom too far.

For Holy Homework: For the next 30 days, let's tack the number 77 to the fridge, computer screen, bathroom mirror or front door as a reminder to offer a prayer of thanks that 77 years ago FDR claimed everyone on the planet should enjoy these four freedoms: from fear, from want, to speak and to worship. God bless America.

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