It’s a special, cherished, almost sacred word especially for us Americans.
For such an important value—freedom!—we better make sure we properly understand its meaning. For, like most things in life, there is a right way and a wrong way to define freedom.
The right way to understand freedom—prominent among philosophers, saints, our founders here in America, political scientists, and, of course, the Lord in the Bible!—freedom is an exhilarating right and a gift from God that liberates us to live a full, happy, and responsible life. That last word—responsible—is key, since every freedom has a parallel duty.
The wrong way to comprehend freedom is to equate it with licentiousness: I have the God-given right to do whatever I want, whenever I want, wherever I want, with whomever I want, so, get out of my way!
The journey from childhood—an immature demand for my way, my wants, my convenience, my needs— to mature adulthood is in fact a passing from the wrong to the right understanding of freedom.
As Pope St. John Paul II remarked, “Freedom is not the right to do what I want but what I ought.”
The God who gave us freedom—which our revolutionary founders insisted came from God, not from kings, governments, or those in power—also revealed to us the responsibilities that come with it, duties not meant to diminish our freedom, but to enhance it. Thus, the Ten Commandments; thus the Natural Law; thus the dictates of a well-formed conscience.
This is not popular in a culture that prefers license to genuine freedom. Today we prefer to stress what we’re entitled to, what we got coming to us, instead of the duties that come with the fragile gift of freedom.
I bring this up during Lent, because these forty days have been classically viewed as an exodus from slavery to liberation, from the wrong way to the right way of savoring freedom.
The Bible reminds us that slavery to sin is the supreme enemy of real freedom. We’re tempted to think that sin is a privilege of freedom No, it’s actually a virus attacking it. If we think we have to sin to be happy, we’re going to end up unhappy, and as slaves.
As God led the people of Israel for forty years from bondage under Pharaoh in Egypt, to the freedom of the children of God in the Promised Land, so does He lead us during Lent on a forty-day trip from our bondage to sin and selfishness to a true freedom won by the dying and rising of Jesus.
In the middle of that forty-year Exodus for the chosen people, the Lord gave them the Ten Commandments as their guarantee of real and lasting freedom.
Sorry, Frank Sinatra, but in the end, true freedom is not always about my way, but . . . Thy way…God’s way!