KNOXVILLE, TN (Catholic Online): Why are
human beings willing to fight and die for freedom? As Americans,
this Memorial Day we will remember those who died in the service
of our country. But as Catholic Americans, we should also
reflect on the meaning of true freedom and thank God for the
Church which proclaims the way to the fullness of that freedom.
I honor those in my family
and yours who paid the ultimate price for the freedom that I
have enjoyed as an American. However, I believe that some today
have trivialized the meaning of freedom or distorted it beyond
recognition. True freedom is much deeper than being able to do
what we want. Freedom directs us toward truth and choosing the
truth perfects our exercise of freedom.
Again, the Catholic Catechism is so very helpful
for our understanding: 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. The choice to disobey and do evil is an
abuse of freedom and leads to "the slavery of sin." Freedom
makes man responsible for his acts to the extent that they are
voluntary. Progress in virtue, knowledge of the good, and
ascesis enhance the mastery of the will over its acts. (See, CCC
teaches us that to understand freedom we need to consider both
our nature and the very purpose of our humanity. Through our
physical bodies, we sum up the elements of the material world
and bring them to their highest perfection and freely raise
their voice in praise to the creator (cf. Gaudium et spes 14).
Thus, we know that we are more than the material world, for
which we have the capacity to appreciate and give thanks.
Once we understand that we are a unity of body
and soul, created in the image of God and endowed with reason
and free will, we are ready to taste of the Church's teaching on
freedom. Paragraph 1730 found in the Catechism of the Catholic
Church is short, but its breadth is enormous. It states that God
created man a rational being, conferring on him the dignity of a
person who can initiate and control his own actions. God willed
that man should be 'left in his own counsel,' so that he might
of his own accord seek his Creator and freely attain his full
and blessed perfection by cleaving to him.
The perfection of any created thing is to be able
to fully act according to what it is, to its nature. And, in
this respect, the thing gives glory to its creator. On the other
hand, when, for any reason, a thing cannot fully act according
to its nature, we correctly view it as lacking in a good. When a
person cannot fully act according to their human nature, this
lacking in a good can take on a moral dimension and result in
the loss of freedom.
Human beings, by virtue of their reason and free will, are
unique among all other created things in that they can freely
choose to act in ways that are not in accord with their nature,
that is, they can turn away from God and reject their own
perfection, which is to become fully human and fully alive.
However, turning away from God is not true freedom, it is an
abuse of freedom. Instead of freeing us; it enslaves us. We need
to understand this point because it is critical. Therefore, I
have selected two examples.
First, in order to help us understand the
significance of the abuse of freedom, Dr. Scott Hahn gives us a
general example using a train. It is the nature of a train to
run on tracks. As long as the train remains on the tracks, it is
able to carry people or needed materials across the country. If,
one day, the train viewed its tracks as restricting its freedom
and decided to jump its tracks, what would happen? Therefore,
acting according to our nature liberates and frees us. Acting
against our nature results in a kind of slavery because we are
no longer free to Be all that we can be.
Second, Blessed John Paul II gives us a more
specific example in The Gospel of Life. He shows us that when
freedom is no longer based on objective truth, it destroys
itself. He says, since freedom is inherently relational, if the
self is understood in terms of absolute autonomy, as it is in
secular society, then people will eventually reject each other
as each person seeks to have their interests prevail. Thus,
society becomes a mass of competing individuals without mutual
bonds. Such a society does not become more free; it becomes less
free as vice, corruption, brutality, and oppression inevitably
believe we can try to answer our original question. One reason
why we human beings are willing to fight and die for freedom is
because the need for freedom is imprinted onto our very nature.
By virtue of our ability to reason and our free will, we are
impelled to seek truth, especially religious truth.
Our Creator instilled this drive within us, so
that we would seek Him, for He is truth. And having found truth,
we are obligated to live it to the best of our ability. But we
cannot satisfy this obligation unless we are free from coercion.
Consequently, it is the obligation of the state to ensure that
its citizens are free to exercise their religious freedom.
However, if the state fails in its obligation, or is attacked by
another state, then, at some point, human beings will rightly
and necessarily fight and die for true freedom.
This Memorial Day Catholics rightly honor our
fallen brothers and sisters, those who have died so that we may
continue to choose freedom. But we should also remember our
Church, who has defended the dignity and freedom of the human
person for over two-thousand years.