I want to wish everyone a safe and blessed Fourth of July Weekend! I ask that as we celebrate our independence, that we not forget the rich history of our nation and remember how our nation has grown and continues to grow from its past and present successes and mistakes. We remember that on July 4, 1776, in the midst of the American Revolution, the Continental Congress meeting in Philadelphia courageously declared the thirteen colonies independent from Great Britain. Today, 246 years later, we celebrate this Declaration. With all our fellow Americans, we celebrate our freedom on this Independence Day, the Fourth of July.
We often forget that the Declaration of Independence was founded on the solid foundation of our Judeo-Christian heritage. Our founding fathers believed that religion, virtue, and morality based on the natural law were essential foundations for the success of the American Experiment. In his farewell address, George Washington declared: “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness.”
John Adams wrote: “It is religion and morality alone which can establish the principles upon which freedom can securely stand. Religion and virtue are the only foundations… of all free governments.” As Catholics, we agree with this vision of our founding fathers. We stand up for the freedom not only to worship, but also to live our faith without government coercion to violate the sacred sanctuary of our conscience.
When we talk about Freedom, it is important to differentiate between the quality of being free and the right use of Freedom. Freedom ennobles us as human beings and allows us to participate in a certain way in God’s own freedom. But freedom can also be abused. That’s why we have laws, police and prisons due to the misuse of freedom. There can be no sin, no crime, and no violence without freedom, just as there can be no sanctity, no virtue, no kindness, and no love without freedom.
Freedom is never separate from responsibility. There is no true freedom without responsibility. Victor Frankl once remarked that the good work begun with the Statue of Liberty in New York ought to be completed by erecting the Statue of Responsibility in Los Angeles.
We are free, not because there is nothing holding us back, but because, with God’s grace, we are able to pursue our true end and destiny as children of God. Freedom is the root of our dignity as human beings. But it doesn’t end there. A root is not the whole tree, nor is freedom the ultimate goal of human existence. Freedom provides the possibility for our greatest triumph as creatures made in God’s image and that is to Love one another as God loves us.
Love is the highest form of Freedom. “Love and do as you please,” was St. Augustine’s startling maxim. Love sums up all that is good. It seeks the good of the other but ends up furnishing the greatest possible good to the one who loves. Human liberty in its fullest and deepest meaning is the principle driving force for the responsible giving of oneself to another.
May this year’s Fourth of July celebration be a year of growth in both our nation and individually in the highest form of Freedom, that is, Love.
Happy Independence Day,