In the Name of Freedom

Freedom is capacity to greatness, the ability to say “yes” to what is noble and right when you could just as easily say “no”.
by Br Matthew Whalen, LC | Source:
“Like education in general, media education requires formation in the exercise of freedom,” said Pope Benedict XVI in his message for January’s 41st World Communications Day. “This is a demanding task. So often freedom is presented as a relentless search for pleasure or new experiences, yet this is a condemnation not a liberation! True freedom could never condemn the individual – especially a child – to an insatiable quest for novelty.”

These words of the Holy Father touch on a problem relevant to all times, and especially so to our present day: the meaning of “freedom”. Here are a few examples of different interpretations.

On July 4th, 1776, the proposal of Richard Henry Lee was approved by Congress. “These United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent states.” Independence and war were declared in the name of freedom.

On October 14, 1917, the police body with civilian support opened the doors of Russian government to Vladimir Ilich Ulyanov, alias Lenin, and the Bolshevik party, bringing a violent end to the reign of the czar in the name of freedom.

Not long ago in a small town in Galicia, Spain, a quadriplegic by the name of Ramón San Pedro committed suicide by drinking poison. He had decided that it was better to die by a free act than live in a limited state of freedom, unable to live as a normal human being; in other words, in the name of freedom.

Every minute that goes by a woman somewhere in the world decides that her baby’s life or death is her free choice and slaughters the living fruit of her own womb in the name of freedom to choose.

The founding fathers of America were evidently quite different form the Bolsheviks, Ramon San Pedro, and the childless mother, yet all of these claimed—and claim—to act “in the name of freedom.” The question, then, boils down to this: what is freedom?

This word gets thrown around a lot with all sorts of different meanings, but the most common ones could be reduced to the following:

Physical Freedom

In physics freedom means “not limited by another.” A “free fall,”—that type of fall where the only change we feel before hitting the ground is the sudden jump of our heart to our throat—is “free” because it isn’t blocked by any opposing force, is not limited by another.

Freedom of Choice

Free choice is the capacity to do or not to do, to do one thing, or rather another, to finish my homework or watch TV. This is where things start to get interesting. In fact, two of our examples from the beginning of our inquiry—Ramón San Pedro and the childless mother—were of the opinion that freedom means just this: freedom of choice.

Ramón thought he was free if he could do as he pleased, and if he couldn’t, it wasn’t worth living. The motherless child, as well, assures herself that she is free because she can kill “her” child if she wants to. This is really a reduction all the way down to a type of “physical freedom,” a “not-being-restricted-to.” However, both Ramón San Pedro and the motherless child have failed to take into account one small detail: they are not free of guilt.

Human Freedom

Freedom is not just an absence of obstacle to what I want to do. Freedom is the ability specific to man to choose to act for a reason that goes beyond physical impulses, psychological impulses, and foppish caprice. It is capacity to greatness, the ability to say “yes” to what is noble and right when you could just as easily say “no”. No one who is a slave to depression, immaturity, or selfishness can claim to be free by “doing what they feel like”. By saying this, they only prove the point that they are slaves to their whims, whims they don’t control, whims that change with the wind.

But freedom doesn’t stop here. It can go beyond as is shown in the lives of saintly men and women who not only chose the good from time to time, but followed it radically, despite opposing passions and instincts, temptations and tempters, trial and sorrow, and all this because for them the Good had a face, indeed, had taken flesh and lived among us. As Pope Benedict put it: “In the light of truth, authentic freedom is experienced as a definitive response to God’s ‘yes’ to humanity, calling us to choose, not indiscriminately but deliberately, all that is good, true and beautiful. Parents, then, as the guardians of that freedom, while gradually giving their children greater freedom, introduce them to the profound joy of life.”

Brother Matthew Whalen, of the Legionaries of Christ, studies for the priesthood in Rome.

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