Authentic Human Freedom
What is real freedom, and what does it look like?
“Freedom consists not in doing what we like, but having the right to do what we ought” (Pope St. John Paul II in Oriole Park at Camden Yards, Baltimore, 1995). American Christians, as we celebrate Independence day, wonder how much longer we will be allowed to practice our faith and do what we ought. It isn’t clear that we will always have the freedom to refuse what is morally wrong (cf. Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, No. 200). This country is quickly becoming a post-Christian nation.
We rightly wonder how long we will retain the right to free speech and freedom of religion.
The secular definition of freedom is, too often, the freedom to do what I want, however I want, with whomever I want, whenever I want … well, as long as no one is harmed. But the Christian understanding of freedom is to always choose what is good, just and right, even when it is unpopular and may cause distress. It is the freedom to not become slaves to sin. It is the freedom to strive to become a saint. Authentic human freedom is to live in truth — the Truth, who is Jesus Christ.
One who is truly free recognizes that all of creation belongs to God and nothing that is important or lasting or brings true happiness belongs to Caesar. We belong to God and only God.
Although we have free will and freedom as a gift from God, we are only free when we acknowledge that we are utterly dependent on our Creator for everything.
Thus John Dickinson, chairman of the Committee for the Declaration of Independence, said in 1776: “Our liberties do not come from charters; for these are only the declaration of preexisting rights. They do not depend on parchments or seals; but come from the King of Kings and the Lord of all the earth.”
Our country is drifting further and further away from that sentiment. The new American creed is embedded in Justice Anthony Kennedy’s majority opinion in Casey v. Planned Parenthood (1992) in which he defined liberty as “the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.” Of course, this definition is, for Christians, the opposite of freedom. It is the original sin of Adam and Eve to think that we can be like God.
Mary, the Mother of God, points us in a more excellent way. Her fiat — her yes to God — is the greatest act of human freedom. Mary is the first of the disciples, because she heard the Word and acted on it. She acted out of deep and humble obedience to God. Clearly, Mary had a deeply personal relationship with God in order to say without hesitation, “may it be done to me according to your word.”
The pride of Adam and Eve and their abuse of freedom brought sin and death into the world. Mary is the New Eve. Through her free act of obedience, Jesus Christ entered his creation to redeem his fallen creatures and to open heaven to all who follow him.
Mary’s assumption into heaven is the result of a life dedicated to her son, and her absolute trust in God. It is the reward for a life lived in authentic human freedom. Her assumption is also a reminder to us that we are but poor pilgrims on this earth. Our true home is heaven.
If we let Mary be our model of what it is to live in truth and freedom, someday we will arrive in our true home. Mary was not a passive actor. She chose to be humble so that she could be filled with God. Like John the Baptist she realized that she must decrease so that the Lord may increase.
Mary’s bodily assumption into heaven means that she fully participated in the resurrection of her son. We have hope that someday we will also gain full participation in the resurrection of Jesus.
The feast of the Assumption is a day of great joy. Love has won. Love has proved to be stronger than death.
SUSAN KEHOE is co-director of RCIA at Christ the King Parish in Des Moines, Iowa, along with her husband, Deacon Larry Kehoe. She writes at adeaconswife.com.