American Independence is a celebration of true freedom. A gift won for us at the price of men’s blood such freedom is not free. St. Paul declares that we should use our freedom “to serve one another through love” Galatians 5:13. He is also aware that we could use our freedom to “devour one another” Galatians 5:14.
Indeed, a gratuitous embrace of boorishness haunts us and creates the worst forms of poverty. What we do with freedom, how we honor the sacrifices of others who won it for us, is a solemn responsibility. To serve or to consume the life of others designates the great battle unfolding before us on this Independence Day.
At stake in this battle is the sacredness of life itself. Rancor and strife in our communities is not the result of using freedom to serve the gift of life. Not the reversal of a court decision threatens our society but fifty years of recklessness. Now more than ever a culture of life or death is before us. If we want a culture of life, we need to make decisions with great care. It takes no care at all to use another person, to appropriate them to a political cause or for personal gain. This is to devour them. Instead, how careful we must be if we desire to build each other up and attempt to be of some service to the neighbor God has entrusted to my care.
The care we need to show one another is discerned only under the standard of holiness. That is, in order to find our bearings in these confusing times, we need to remember the sacred. From the very dawn of humanity, the sacred has been our orientation point to navigate our way through the chaos of life. God’s holiness is not indifferent to the plight of humanity or the social challenges we now face. Instead, God, in all his transcendent otherness, has freely chosen to implicate Himself in the misery that has robbed us of true freedom.
Human freedom is sacred because it is in the image and likeness of the eternal freedom revealed by Christ crucified. The Cross reveals the freedom of the Father who sent His Son into our hostility toward holiness. The Cross reveals the freedom of the Son to embrace our hostility and suffer it unto death. The Cross reveals the freedom of the Spirit to communicate the love that overcomes death -so that we too might be free and raised up with Christ. As Saint Paul observes, this freedom needs goodness and truth or it becomes a self-contradiction. This freedom needs to serve life.
If we accept it, the goodness and truth that He offers go beyond an individual experience – it is meant to be something that we share together in an eternal friendship too great for this world to contain. Every human person and all of us together are meant to bear each other up in freedom and in the perfect liberty of love to help each other thrive as sacred beings – beings who image the very likeness of God in the visible world. With help from Above, we can help one another live lives pleasing to the Living God even here, below. This is what a great civilization does – and it could be what we people choose as well.
If we turn to the holiness of God revealed by Christ, we could build together a civilization of love where no one is treated as a mere means to an end. Without God in recent times, we have failed to rise above the incivility of regarding others through the eye of self-serving calculation. Moving forward, whatever we choose will either take us beyond the gravity of our own egos or else weigh us down in self occupation.
Conversely, when we lack the advantage of divine horizons, the scope of liberty cannot see beyond self-interest. Freedom easily succumbs to the merely self-serving. Within the limits of the convenient and familiar, we live by herd instincts at once alienated and manipulatable. Yet something in us rebels against this and we feel in our hearts the need to go beyond where our technocracy nudges. If we call on God, He can render us vulnerable to the ability to choose what is good, holy, and true, not only for oneself but together with others. Here, horizons of greatness open before us as a people. In this solidarity, could choose to make doing something beautiful for God and neighbor our task together.
Thus, the Thrice Holy God opens up a choice between life and death. Without the Holy One, we can only choose death. With the One who makes us holy, though faced with death, we can also choose life. Such choices define us not only as individuals but as a people.
If we still desire to be a great people, it is time for us to choose life as individuals, families and a nation. Indeed, individual states will now have the freedom to debate this and to decide what sort of societies they would like to be. To choose a culture of life is to build a civilization of love. Indeed, love rebuilds what we have destroyed – the Holiness of God manifests itself precisely in such love.
Here, with the help of the Holy One, we can build a civilization that has space and courage to welcome the gift of another no matter the cost. Here, we do not need to worship at the dark altars of technology and commercialism, but we can step into the fresh air of kindness and mutual forgiveness in the light of God. Here, we might rediscover what it means to be free men and women.
Any society, no matter how affluent and powerful damns itself when it condones that attitude that one must be deemed desirable to join club humanity. Such a society devours rather than serves life. In our country, what has this “devouring” of one another beget but a cacophony of manipulation and hatred? Treating life as if it were a mere product that we might choose or not among other material things has torn down the social fabric that genuine freedom needs.
The sacredness of life demands more. A society that ignores the sacred devolves into chaos. Unaware of the sacred, we gratuitously accuse, shame and gaslight because we are too wounded, alienated, and afraid to accept the sacred truth about life. If confused about life, then we have lost clarity on sex and gender. Because we cannot freely welcome the way things are as a gift from the Holy One, we are vulnerable in a labyrinth of self-definition where everything is an unbearable burden.
Accepting life as a gift or seeing it as a burden opens either to the pathway of life or the pathway of death. The Holy One invites us we see our neighbor as a gift, even if yet in the womb unseen. The choice He unveils comes down to whether one regards life as a sacred gift or merely biological burden. It is the Holiness of God that gives us that chance to choose between these two ways, but the choice is ours.
St. Teresa of Kolkata observed to the leaders of our country that it is the greatest poverty to believe that another must die so that one might live as one wants. For those who treat life in the womb as a burden – whether personally or socially – they have already chosen this extreme spiritual poverty. It is even worse for those who treat human life as a commercial opportunity to be exploited for personal and corporate greed. Yet there is a whole industry that deals in the parts of babies’ bodies that we ignore our laws to protect.
To treat life in this way is a gross monstrosity of the liberty we were meant to have. To ape freedom in this way does not increase dignity but wounds it. To choose what is beneath our dignity never builds the solidarity of a great nation but shatters it. Yet, wounded and shattered is exactly where a large portion of American society is.
Billy Graham once observed that he could think of no problem for which Jesus was not the answer. He has called us to freedom. As we grapple with the sacredness of life and spiritual poverty as a people, God is also at work, ready to support us when we choose life. He can heal what is wounded. He can make whole what has been shattered. If we turn to Him, we will find answers to the difficult questions that vex us as a people and as individuals.
This post was originally published on Beginning to Pray and is reprinted here with permission.