This weekend our nation celebrates Independence Day on July 4th. The day marks an important turning point in world history as the nation, no longer an English colony, began its experiment in democratic self-governance. Although there are isolated examples of democratic societies, such governance was not the dominant model for most human societies, which were lead by a monarch and/or small aristocracy. The word democracy emerges from the Greek: –demosis “the people” and –kratia: is “rule or power”. It is a reference to the complex idea of sovereignty, which is a concept that asks the questions: Where does power come from? Who has the inherent right to rule or direct human behavior? The concept of democracy was developed by thinkers such as John Locke and Thomas Hobbes in the wake of the realignment of European societies brought on by the Protestant Reformation. Certainly, we know that only God is sovereign in the fullest sense of the word, but we can ask: To whom does God bestow sovereignty in this world? In Saint Paul’s letter to the Galatians (the community located in the central region of modern day Turkey) he says, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.” With that we see that it is human freedom that is at the heart of God’s project of human salvation. It is out of Christ’s teachings that the notion of fundamental human dignity emerges – i.e., each human being, by virtue of being created in the image and likely of God, possess within them the fundamental right to rule and direct his or her own life. In a democracy, according to its early theorists, each human being voluntarily cedes some portion of their inherent sovereignty over to the state, in the form of elected leaders, in order that the state may direct the dimensions of human life that pertain to the good of the whole community. “Even angels would need laws concerning upon which side of the road cars would drive,” as one thinker noted. So what does this freedom mean for the Christian? What is its nature? External freedom concerns the absence of external constraints on behavior, whereas internal freedom indicates one’s self-possession and mastery of soul which allows a person to carry out the actions that they know to be right, good, and free from internal conflict. It is this second freedom to which Paul alludes. Do we possess the ability to actually carry out the action that we discern to be best or are we marked by internal contradiction which paralyzes us. Someone once remarked that “a free society exists in order that human beings may choose to carry out their responsibility.” That would seem to be the ideal. All this speaks to the need and opportunity to develop virtue - habitual patterns of rightly ordered behavior. This is true freedom where we are “no longer slaves to sin.” God did not create us puppet or automatons – rather, he gave us a freedom to choose (or reject) the good. Fundamentally, this is the freedom to love. In this way we can be in the image and likeness of God -– creatures made with the freedom that sustains the opportunity to love and to be loved. I wish you all a very happy Independence Day!
With prayers and best wishes,
Our Lady of the Presentation Parish