The month of July is ushered in by the celebration of our country’s Independence Day, July 4th. During this month we should offer special prayers for our leaders in national, state and local government, for those who serve in our military and for all people in our country. July is also an opportune time for us to reflect upon the meaning of “freedom” and to thank God for the many wonderful freedoms that we enjoy in this country. Any reflection that we undertake on freedom should begin at least with some understanding of what freedom means for us as followers and disciples of Jesus Christ.
In what is probably one of his earliest letters, St. Paul, in his Letter to the Galatians, offers one of the greatest reflections on freedom available to a follower of Jesus Christ. In the Letter to the Galatians, St. Paul works out a complex theology of freedom and concludes that freedom ultimately points us to Jesus Christ and to what it means to have life in Jesus Christ. In a very succinct manner, St. Paul states that in the end, “For freedom Christ sets us free …” (Gal. 5:1). Jesus Christ sets us free from the power of sin and death so that we might be free to serve others, to live life in the Spirit. We are truly free when we serve one another because life in Jesus Christ is always oriented toward love and service to others. Freedom that is focused and centered only on satisfying my own unrestrained appetites and selfish desires is not true freedom at all, but rather slavery to sin. When I am only concerned about myself I remain held captive by sin, therefore I am not truly free.
The Church affords us many pathways, opportunities and responsibilities that lead us to strengthen our relationship with Jesus Christ and live life in Jesus Christ so that in him we might be truly free. Sometimes we can look upon these pathways to true freedom, these responsibilities as members of the Church, not as opportunities to strengthen our relationship with Jesus Christ, but only as confining obligations. When we fall into the trap of viewing everything from the perspective of mere obligation, we adopt a mentality that does not see our practices as pathways to true freedom, but only as obligations that will allow us to simply get by. The purpose of our obligations and responsibilities in the Church is to reach the goal for which we strive, which is to truly be free in Jesus Christ. Our purpose should not be to merely get by, but to engage in Mass attendance and Catholic practices in order to reach a goal, which is to become missionary disciples of Jesus Christ set free to serve the needs of others.
There are those saints who show us what real life in the Spirit is like, what it truly means to be free in Jesus Christ. St. Thomas More and St. John Fisher, whose feast day was June 22, were two men who greatly loved their country and honorably served their king in England in the late 1400s. However, St. Thomas More and St. John Fisher refused to see the king of their country as ruler over anything other than the temporal, earthly order. By their words and actions, these two men saw and proclaimed the sovereignty of God over all things, and were free enough in this knowledge to lay down their lives in service to God so that others might understand what it truly means to be free in Jesus Christ.
During July, we thank God for our country and for the many freedoms we enjoy, among them, freedom of religion. As followers of Jesus Christ, we are called to understand what true freedom is all about: namely freedom from sin and death and freedom to serve others. We are called to bear witness to the freedom that we will know most fully in the Kingdom of God. Until the fulfillment of God’s kingdom, we strive after this ultimate freedom by living life in Jesus Christ, and by serving others. The responsibilities and demands of our faith are not mere obligations for us, but opportunities to advance on the road that leads us to the everlasting freedom of heaven for which we yearn. Let us pray that God will continue to bless our country, and also bless us with true freedom!