Sunday, June 30, 2013

What Exactly Are We Celebrating On Independence Day?


(Thirteenth Sunday of the Year (C): This homily was given on June 30, 2013 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read Galatians 5: 1, 13-18.)
[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Thirteenth Sunday 2013]


What exactly are we celebrating this coming Thursday?

This coming Thursday is, of course, July 4—Independence Day: a day when we commemorate the adoption of the Declaration of Independence, and thank God for our political freedom as a nation.

But that still doesn’t completely answer the question about what we’re REALLY celebrating on this holiday.

I say that because many contemporary Americans have some very strange ideas as to what freedom really is.  So yes, everyone will say that we’re celebrating our national freedom and the gift of freedom.  But the word “freedom” definitely means different things to different people these days.

For example, many Americans today believe that freedom means doing whatever you want to do without any restrictions, without any constraints.

That is a false view of freedom—and its falsity is very easily illustrated.  Just think of what the internet has done to the lives of so many people.  Now don’t get me wrong, the internet can be a great blessing and can provide quick and easy access to lots of helpful information.  I use it all the time.  But it can also be a snare for many people, especially when it comes to pornography.  I read the other day that 40% of all Americans are regular visitors to porn sites on the internet.  That’s an astounding—and depressing—statistic!  And many of these people are regular visitors because they’re addicted.  There’s a part of them on the inside that wants to stop, but there’s another part of them that wants more—and it’s that part of them that usually wins the battle.

But, if you’re someone who says that freedom means doing whatever you want to do without any restrictions or constraints, then you have to come to the conclusion that these porn addicts are the freest of the free!  After all, they’re doing exactly what they want to do without any outside interference!  They have no restrictions and no constraints whatsoever.

Of course, the reality is that these men and women are enslaved—deeply enslaved!  This is what St. Paul was getting at when he said in today’s second reading, “You were called for freedom, brothers and sisters.  But do not use this freedom as an opportunity for the flesh.”

And so, from one perspective at least, you could say that the opposite of freedom is “addiction.”  Most people would probably say that the opposite of freedom is slavery—but every addiction (be it to pornography or drugs or alcohol or something else) enslaves us.

But that’s not the only erroneous belief about freedom that’s present in our country today.  For some of our citizens—and this includes a good number in political office—freedom means violating your conscience.  The most obvious example of this is the HHS mandate (part of Obamacare), which tries to force employers and organizations like the Catholic Church to pay for medical services and procedures that those employers and organizations consider to be immoral!

This is why our bishops have called for yet another Fortnight for Freedom this year—fourteen days of prayer and action to promote and secure religious liberty in our country—which we’re in the middle of right now and which ends (appropriately enough) on the 4th of July.

Religious freedom, by definition, means not being forced to violate your conscience!  We need to pray that more of our civil leaders will come to understand that.

And then we have those in our country who believe that freedom means keeping your religion out of your civil discourse.  In other words, they say, “Keep your mouth shut about your religious beliefs—and especially about your moral beliefs that are rooted and grounded in your religious beliefs.”  That is, of course, unless the issue is deemed politically-correct.  For example, it’s fine to use religious arguments if you’re speaking out in public against racism or against violence towards illegal immigrants, but don’t you dare use a religious argument to speak out against abortion or embryonic stem cell research!

Of course, we don’t need to use religious arguments to attack those evils—scientific reasons will do just fine, thank you very much!—but in a free country people should be allowed to use them, if they so choose.  

And speaking of those evils, the last erroneous notion of freedom that I’ll mention today is this one: Freedom is the right to do what is wrong.  I remember hearing Alan Keyes use that expression in a speech he gave a couple of years ago, and it stuck with me.  He said, “You do not have the right to do what is wrong.”  And he was right.  Of course, you need a moral standard—like the Ten Commandments—to distinguish right from wrong, and we’ve lost that standard in modern America.

And therein lies the real problem.

When it’s illegal in a nation to display the lines, “Do not kill,” and “Do not steal,” in front of a county courthouse, you know that nation is in trouble!

We need to get back to the notion of freedom that St. Paul had, and which many of our Founding Fathers also embraced.  Paul said in that text from Galatians 5: “For freedom Christ set us free; so stand firm and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery.”

Paul is speaking here to men and women who had recently been baptized and come to faith in Christ: people who were once big-time slaves of sin.  (No, they didn’t have the internet back then, but it’s not only the misuse of the internet that enslaves.  We can be slaves to our anger, our greed, our sloth—or any of the other 7 deadly sins.  As St. Peter said, “A person is enslaved by whatever overcomes him.”) 

So the freedom Paul is talking about here is not the freedom to do whatever we like (when these Galatians were doing what they “liked” they were slaves!  They were “sin addicts”!).  Rather, the freedom Paul is talking about here is the freedom to do what we ought to do; it’s the freedom to do what’s right; it’s the freedom to get on (and stay on) the road to heaven; it’s the freedom to live in the power of the Holy Spirit in the midst of the many temptations of this world.  No, the temptations will never go away, but we have power available to us in Jesus Christ (a power which comes to us especially through the Eucharist) to overcome the temptations.

Of course, it is possible to live in this state of true freedom, and then fall back into slavery, which is why Paul adds those words I quoted a few moments ago: “You were called for freedom, brothers and sisters.  But do not use this freedom as an opportunity for the flesh. . . . I say then: live by the Spirit, and you will certainly not gratify the desires of the flesh.”

So what exactly are we celebrating this coming Thursday?

I’ll close by answering that question for myself:

Yes I’m celebrating the political independence of our nation, which began when the Declaration of Independence was adopted and later signed by our Founding Fathers; but at a much deeper level I’m celebrating true freedom—the kind of freedom St. Paul talks about here—the kind of freedom that our nation used to stand for (at least to some extent).

I pray this morning that we will someday—in the very near future—stand for it again.