Let Freedom Ring!
We have powerful words about the sacrament of baptism from St. Paul this week. “Brothers and sisters,” he said, “Are you unaware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life.”
This weekend I had the pleasure of attending the baptism of my niece, Tenleigh. Like you, I imagine, I’ve been to a lot of baptisms, but this was my first child (not baby) baptism for someone I know personally. And it was wonderful! Tenleigh wore a beautiful white dress and was fully engaged in the ritual. At just 5 years of age, she was taking it all in. Her parents and godparents bring great sincerity to the task of helping her to grow in the faith. They want her, in the words of the rite, to “live in the freedom of God’s children.”
On this Fourth of July weekend in the U.S., we will celebrate liberty throughout the land with bonfires and fireworks, concerts and cookouts. It is the 241st birthday of America, The Land of the Free, and we will honor those who gave their lives for this precious and precarious gift. Last weekend, I wrote about the courage needed to sustain liberty. Today, I want to delve deeper.
The link between courage and freedom is their common enemy, fear. Courage requires the overcoming of fear; and freedom is not really free if it is bound by fear. Perhaps this is why the Bible is overflowing with admonitions to “Be not afraid” and “Fear not.” We are, after all, called to “live in the freedom of God’s children.” In the official prayer of the Church, the Divine Office, we pray the words of Zechariah every morning: “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel; He has come to His people and set them free” (Luke 1:68). A few verses later we are reminded of God’s promise to us through Abraham, “to set us free from the hands of our enemies, free to worship Him without fear, holy and righteous in His sight, all the days of our lives” (Luke 1:73-75). Is it any wonder that Jesus began his ministry by reading the words of Isaiah and saying to the people that these words were fulfilled in their hearing: “He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives” (Luke 4:18)? Is it any wonder that St. John tells us “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18)?
What we see is that love and freedom come as a package deal, for love both requires freedom and makes us free. Think of the words of the popular song Desperado: “Freedom, oh freedom, well that’s just some people talkin’ …your prison is walkin’ through this world all alone.” Exactly! Freedom cannot exist without love; and love cannot exist without freedom.
Fear, on the other hand, binds us. If we are to have liberty, we must reject fear. “Fear is useless,” Jesus said, “what is needed is trust” (Mark 5:36)¹. In other words, we must have faith. We must be like the child at the baptismal font. Jesus said, “Let the children come to me, and do not prevent them; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (Matthew 19:14). Childlike faith, after all, is full of confidence and completely lacking in fear.
In his eighties, my grandfather on my mother’s side was still driving. Frank was no longer safe on the roads, however, and it caused some consternation in the family. One day, my Uncle Paul was Gramps’ passenger and was subjected to a stretch of driving on the wrong side of the road. When “Unc,” confronted my grandfather, saying, “Frank, you were driving on the left side of the road back there,” my grandpa retorted, “So what, I pay taxes for that side too, don’t I?” It made us laugh, but of course we had to take his license away. Unc “borrowed” the car and never returned it. If you’ve ever been in this situation, you know how hard it can be. As much as any sixteen-year-old wants a license, no eighty-something wants to give it up. For both, it is about freedom. And both know that by freedom they really mean the ability to escape loneliness and to make connections. They mean love.
In the words of the song, “We Thank You, Father” from Weston Priory, “To live in the Spirit is to grow in liberty. Without love our freedom cannot be real.” As we celebrate America’s birthday, we should ponder life in the Spirit and ask whether our freedom is real. We should ask ourselves if we are rejecting sin “so as to live in the freedom of God’s children.” If we are celebrating freedom as license to sin, that is, to act without love, then we have deceived ourselves. If we celebrate liberty while still being captive to fear, then our celebration is a farce. But if we are celebrating freedom as an expression of an ever-expanding capacity to love and to be loved, then it’s time to light the fireworks!! Let freedom ring!! Happy Fourth of July everyone!!
¹St. Joseph Edition, New American Bible, 1970 translation.