A Reflection on Freedom
This reflection was intended to be my homily for Independence Weekend, but I struggled to connect it to the readings. Additionally, it was too long given the constraints due to the pandemic. What’s here is a collection of my thoughts as they pertain to our country, liberty, and the Gospel.
On November 19, 1863, then President Abraham Lincoln went to the fields of Gettysburg, PA, where he gave a memorial address commemorating one of the bloodiest battles faught on American soil. He said, “Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” Lincoln was referring, of course, to the Declaration of Independence, which we celebrate this weekend, during a time when, our freedom and independence is somewhat questionable. Lincoln continued, “Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure.” He was standing on the gravesite of thousands of men, some free, some slaves, some former slaves, but all engaged in battle over freedom and democracy. That is why he says, “It is for us the living…to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced…that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom – and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address is one of the most well known speeches in our American history and may be seen on the walls of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., commemorating a president who understood well the value of independence, not just in principle, but by the massive cost of lives given for the freedom of all. The lesson for us today is simple: independence is not free; freedom is not free. Thousands gave up their own lives so we could enjoy the freedoms they fought to preserve for us. Unfortunately, there is a growing suspician that many Americans, including many elected officials in power and the so-called “elite,” desire to rule over the people rather than represent their constituents as designed by the founders. Who those individuals are, one may determine easily by their words, policies, and voting records. But, listen to what the Declaration of Independence has to say regarding our freedoms and what must be done to safeguard those freedoms:
“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.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”
What we see in this section of the Declaration of Independence is a clear statement of the fundamental principles proper to all people. If we were to continue reading, we would also see several statements of opposition to the type of rule the people of the Thirteen Colonies had been subjected to, including governors who would not listen, excessive taxes, and unfair courts. One may wonder if we are experiencing something similar in our time. Has our government so evolved and become so enlightened that only a handful of individuals exercise a majority of power? No doubt if that be true, there are those who would call such a situation a great achievement, but there are many, on the other hand, who would agree that something has gone very wrong. There is a type of governance that consolodates the majority of the power into an elite ruling class. That type of governance is Communism, and it has done more damage to the freedom of humanity than any other system. Such a form of government seeks to destroy life rather than allowing it to flourish and it must not be tolerated. It was opposed in WWII; it was opposed in Soviet Russia; it was opposed with Mussolini; and it must be opposed today!
Those who drafted the Declaration of Independence valued freedom over oppressive rule. They understood that those who enjoy freedom would live more fulfilling lives, would enjoy more happiness, would flourish like never before. But, for all the good we enjoy in America, for all the benefits, for all the “privledges,” one has to wonder if the men and women of America have not grown complacent with respect to the fundamental values of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. And if so, have we let government get out of control? The Declaration says clearly that it is the right of the people to abolish any government that fails to uphold these ideals. And while some may want to take an extreme approach by calling for a revolution, our system gives us a more reasonable option: vote. If we want to overthrow a tyrranical government, then we must vote against those who would see America subservient, and put in place those who will fight to uphold our freedom. Of course, this is easier said than done. What remains integral to a change of course is a well-reasoning society, and if rioting, raping, looting, and killing in the streets is a sign of how well-reasoned people are, then we have a lot of work to do.
If we were to ask the average American today what the meaning and value of life is, we might be surprised at how few have actually given the question much thought. As human beings, we can all appreciate that part of what makes life precious is the fact that it will one day come to an end. As practicing Catholics, we also appreciate that we have been chosen by Christ, who tells us even the hairs on our head have been counted. In the Gospel he gives praise to his heavenly Father that he has chosen to reveal himself not to the wise and the learned, but rather to little ones. My friends, we are the little ones, for we do not let our learning get in the way of our faith; we are the little ones, because we believe that Jesus is Lord; we are the little ones, because we know that all people have been created in the image and likeness of God; we are the little ones, because we have been blessed by our Creator to a life of true liberty and the pursuit of eternal blessedness, if only we are brave enough to keep it.