‘For freedom, Christ has set us free.’ (Galatians 5:1)
By Archbishop Salvatore Joseph Cordileone
Freedom is among our most cherished values as a nation. The United States of America is the “land of the free,” and yet, freedom may be one of the most misunderstood American values. We tend to think of freedom as a mere freedom from – freedom from constraints or limitations – freedom from chores, or from illness or from homework. This is freedom in a sense, but it is only the beginning of a full understanding of authentic freedom. Freedom from constraints is not the end of freedom, but only the beginning. We want to be free from some things that we might be free for other, better things. A family wants to be free from chores, but for what? To spend time together. Students often want to be free from homework. The question remains, though, when freed from homework, how will students spend their time? We want to be free from persecution not for its own sake, but that we might be free to worship God. Freedom reaches its full potential when it is understood not only as freedom from some constraint, but as freedom for something – more specifically for what is good and true.
St. John Paul II recognized that “True freedom consists not in doing what we like but in doing what we ought.” Freedom does not mean the right to say or do anything. It loses its meaning when it is disconnected from truth and virtue. When freedom is exercised in a vacuum without reference to what is good and true, it becomes mere license. We cannot appeal to freedom of choice to justify what does not reflect the truth, especially the truth about the dignity of the human person. To do so would reduce freedom to the raw exercise of power or even a slavery to one’s own will. This is why, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches, “The more one does what is good, the freer one becomes. There is no true freedom except in the service of what is good and just.” (§1733)
Freedom is also a fundamental Christian value because it is a reflection of our being Imago Dei, the image and likeness of God. It is what gives our actions a moral quality and makes possible love for God and our neighbor. Indeed, Jesus comes to set us free! He invites each of us to discipleship, an invitation that can only be freely accepted. The freedom that Jesus calls us to is a freedom for happiness and flourishing, yet it is a freedom that depends on the truth. “You will know the Truth,” Jesus promises, “and the Truth will make you free.” (John 8:32)
Catholic schools play a crucial role in forming a proper understanding of the exercise of freedom. Our Catholic schools form the consciences of our young people for the right exercise of freedom through formation in virtue and in relationship with Jesus who said, “I am the Truth.” (John 14:6) At the same time, our Catholic schools also help to form young people for virtuous citizenship who can be witnesses to authentic freedom – freedom for excellence. It is no wonder that graduates of Catholic schools also make for good citizens. Every available study shows that they are more engaged in civic participation, more likely to vote, more likely to participate in service and more tolerant of diverse points of view. I encourage you to take a look at the high schools section in the back of this issue of the magazine to learn more about our Catholic schools! As fellow Christians and fellow Americans in this “land of the free,” let us remember the question that is always before us: for what will we use our freedom?
Photo by Dennis Callahan, Archdiocese of San Francisco