Love of Freedom and Catholics Participating in Public Life

St. Augustine said, “In essentials, unity. In non-essentials, liberty. In all things, charity.”

What an excellent summary of how to live out a love of Freedom. A love of our own freedom, and a love of the freedom of others. And this freedom is not simply “religious freedom” or “political freedom” but a freedom in all aspects of life.

First we need to define freedom.  Simply put, freedom is the ability to choose the good.  If there is an impediment keeping us from choosing what is good, we are not free. Again, this is applied to all aspects of life, not just politics and religion.  So many people today mistake “license” for “freedom”.  License is the ability to do what you want, when you want, and how you want.  It is selfish and without concern for what is the good. It may seem “good” at the time, but it is not truly good – it is a pleasure or desire or feeling.

As Catholics, we know that true freedom is found in doing God’s will. It sounds like a contradiction because we automatically think that if we do someone else’s will instead of our own, we are under slavery.  But we have to remember that 1) God does not force us to do His will. We have to choose to do it, which means we conform our will to His.  This is not slavery but participation.  2) God is our Father, so he wants only what is the very best for us. If we are not doing what is best for us, we become slaves to our own selfishness and desires.  It is then that we are no longer free, but slaves to sin.

So we must have a deeply rooted love of freedom. What does this mean when we live with others? In essentials, unity. We must be united in protecting the ability of those around us to be able to freely choose to do God’s will.   What is essential?  The teachings of the Catholic faith are essential.  We must remain united to the Church without compromising away the faith.  However, there can be no coercion.  Love cannot be coerced, or it is not love.  We must first truly appreciate this gift from God for our own selves, of our own freedom.  It is intimately united to our salvation.  St. Augustine also wrote, “God, who created you without you, will not save you without you.”  St. Josemaria Escriva continues this thought, “

Every single one of us, you and I as well, always has the possibility, the unfortunate possibility of rising up against God, of rejecting him (perhaps by our behavior) or of crying out, ‘we do not want this man to rule over us (Lk 19:14).

All creatures have been created out of nothing by God and for God. […]  But in all this wonderful variety (of creation), it is only we men (I am not referring now to the angels) who can unite ourselves to the Creator by using our freedom.  We are in a position to give him, or deny him, the glory that is his due as the Author of everything that exists.

We come to appreciate that freedom is used properly when it is directed towards the good; and that it is misused when men are forgetful and turn away from the Love of loves.  Personal freedom, which I defend and will always defend with all my strength, leads me to ask with deep conviction, though I am well aware of my own weakness: “What do you want from me, Lord, so that I may freely do it?”  (Friends of God  23, 24, 26

Once we truly love and appreciate the joy and peace that comes from freely choosing to do God’s will, then we can love and appreciate that those around us need to have the same opportunity to be able to freely choose to do God’s will.  A coerced heart is a heart under slavery still.  St. Thomas Aquinas wrote, “Men’s supreme dignity lies in this, that they are directed towards the good by themselves, and not by others.”  So, no one can choose for us, and we cannot choose for others, or we go against their supreme dignity.  St. Augustine wrote, “If we are brought to Christ by force, we believe without wanting to; this is violence, not freedom.  We can enter the Church unwillingly.  We can approach the altar unwillingly.  But we can only believe if we want to.”  The proverbial “You can bring a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.”

With others, then, how can we remain united to all things essential with respect to their freedom?  The grace of God compels us toward the good without force.  We, too, can compel others around us without coercion.  How?  The power of the attraction of good Christian example.  By freely choosing to align our will to God’s will, we are no longer slaves to sin, but we live the dignity of a child of God.  Joy and peace naturally follow – a joy that this world cannot give.  People will be attracted by the results of our faithfulness.

In non-essentials, liberty.  We need to learn to be good listeners to all points of view that are compatible with Catholic teaching.  If thoughts, ideas, or approaches are not contrary to the Faith, then they are matters of opinion, and there’s certainly no guarantee that our own opinion is the best opinion.  Charity and love of freedom require us to respect the opinion of others and to be humble enough to recognize that our own opinions are merely opinion and not dogma.  This is especially important for us to recognize in our professional, social, and family life.  How many times, especially in our own families, do we take the mentality “It’s my way or the highway!”  Especially when my way is not uniquely God’s way. 

When we have come to truly love the freedom God gives us, we realize that we must give glory back to God.  All of creation gives God glory, not just during the times we are at Mass.  Our family life, social life, and professional life must also give God glory.  So we must participate fully in professional, social, and political life.  They give us opportunity to serve others and to practice the virtues God is trying to grow in our hearts.  Our Catholicity does not excuse us from abstaining from these forums.  Instead, we have a great responsibility to solve the problems that our society faces.  In particular, we not only have a right, but also a duty to vote.  We have the right to participate in public office or simply in public life. 

A child of God does not have the ability to become schizophrenic.  When we leave the church or our homes or times of prayer, we do not suddenly become a different person.  Our faith defines who we are and how we function in society.  So when we enter a school, or a place of business, our neighborhood, the voting booth, sports activities – you name it – we are still the same person.  Faithfulness to God in all the spheres of life in which we participate necessarily brings God to those spheres and offers those aspects of creation back to God with glory.   Again, St. Josemaria Escriva writes

It is not true that there is opposition between being a good Catholic and serving civil society faithfully.  In the same way there is no reason why the Church and the State should clash when they proceed with the lawful exercise of their respective authorities, in fulfillment of the mission God has entrusted to them.  Those who affirm the contrary are liars, yes, liars!  They are the same people who honor a false liberty, and ask us Catholics “to do them the favor” of going back to the catacombs.

Your task as a Christian citizen is to help see Christ’s love and freedom preside over all aspects of modern life:  culture and the economy, work and rest, family life and social relations (Furrow #301 and #302).

I repeat again that there can be no distinction made between one’s personal faith life and one’s daily life.  Because there can be no distinction, the Church has a right, a duty, and a responsibility to guide Catholics in doctrinal and moral matters.  Moral matters are not found only in the Church, but are fully integrated into society, including political life.  The “separation of church and state” that so many people cling to today refers to the fact that trouble arises when a state embraces a particular faith, especially to the exclusion of others, and coerces its people to that one faith.  You don’t have to look far today, much less throughout history to see how dangerous this is.  You also can derive this reality from what was said above about a true love of freedom.  Today, however, many people mistake the notion of “separation of church and state” to mean that if a topic or issue is being controlled or dealt with by the state, the church must step away from it.  What those people are expecting us to do is to become schizophrenic, which is ludicrous.

Our freedom is a gift from God, and when we use it in service to God and to give glory back to God, we become free.  We grow to love and to respect the freedom others have, and we struggle to preserve their God-given freedom.  Our Lady, who – full of grace – freely and continually chose the divine Will of God.  Ask her to help us, who also receive and participate in God’s grace, to embrace this freedom of ours and of others so that we may continually give to God his due glory in this life and in the next.

Loretta Pioch, an MIT graduate with degrees in Physics and Electrical Engineering, is currently a stay-at-home raising three children. She lives in the Boston area and speaks locally on topics dealing with home and family life.