This July 4th, Americans celebrate 237 years of independence. Amidst the patriotic displays, parades, fireworks shows, family gatherings and backyard barbecues, it serves us well to recall the events the day commemorates. On July 2, 1776, during the American Revolutionary War, the Second Continental Congress voted to approve separation of the Thirteen Colonies from the British Empire, thereby seeking freedom from an increasingly oppressive monarchy. The Declaration of Independence, the document explaining the decision for separation, and penned principally by Thomas Jefferson, was debated and ultimately ratified two days later on July 4th. Thus, America was born “conceived in liberty and freedom and dedicated to the proposition of equality.”
The quest for freedom is as old as mankind itself and arguably, nowhere does the concept of freedom hold a loftier place in the national consciousness than in the United States. As Jefferson so eloquently states in the second sentence of the Declaration: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Yes, this ideal of freedom is to be highly valued, requiring constant vigilance. Nonetheless, this is still only the limited kind of freedom the world can offer. It is ephemeral; it is not true freedom….but, what is true freedom?
Over the years, it seems that the national definition of freedom devolved, becoming less united, more individualistic. The word “freedom” has been bandied about to the extent that it is taken for granted; it has become common, its meaning degraded. If freedom is something based solely on one’s personal definition of the concept, will not chaos ultimately ensue as the many differing individual notions of freedom begin to conflict with one another? Is freedom perhaps being confused with license? In looking at our world today, this eerily seems to be just the case.
True freedom is something vastly greater than any one individual’s definition. Jesus tells us, “If you remain in my word, you will truly be my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31-32). Jesus purchased for us this freedom from slavery to sin and death through His blood that He shed on the cross, bestowing a gift greater than anything the world could ever offer – the hope of eternal life.
Archbishop Charles Chaput recently stated, “We’re free only to the extent that we unburden ourselves of our own willfulness and practice the art of living according to God’s plan. When we do this, when we choose to live according to God’s intention for us, we are then – and only then – truly free. True freedom knows no attachments other than Jesus Christ.”
Thus, a life lived in obedience to God’s word, is a life blessed with a freedom that emanates from within, from the depths of the soul, and infuses all outward aspects of our lives. True freedom is attained gradually as we let go of attachments to wealth, prestige, material goods – anything that impedes complete surrender to Christ, and the more we surrender to God’s will, the greater our freedom will be.
In the increasingly challenging times in which we live, staying focused on being obedient to God’s word, and not becoming distracted by the discordant noises and false allurements of society can be difficult. However, we are encouraged to persevere, to continue to live out the Gospel, by the words of Saint Paul to the Galatians, “For freedom, Christ set us free; so stand firm and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery (Galatians 5:1). This 4th of July, we pray that America, as a nation, comes to recognize what a precious, God-given gift true freedom is.