It’s Independence Day. The battle for freedom in America is not over, although it has taken a new form. Christ crucified is the means by whom victory can be achieved and through whom we arrive at the fullness of true life, liberty and happiness.
By Deacon Frederick Bartels
4 July 2017
America’s celebration of its victory in the battle for freedom and independence, long ago fought against oppression and tyranny, should serve to remind us all that true freedom is under attack today. Secular humanism and the “culture of death” continue to undermine an authentic human freedom which is itself illusory in absence of respect for human dignity and man’s proper sense of God.
On July 4th Americans celebrate Independence Day in commemoration of the victory over England in the war for independence. In the year 1776, the Declaration of Independence was adopted, representing the birth of the United States of America as an independent nation 241 years ago.
At the outset of the Independence War and in command of the Continental Army, the towering, respected and disciplined General George Washington issued this statement to his commanders and troops:
The time is now at hand, which must probably determine whether Americans are to be free men or slaves; whether they are to have any property they can call their own; whether their hoses and farms are to be pillaged and destroyed, and themselves consigned to a state of wretchedness from which no human efforts will deliver them. The fate of unborn millions will now depend, under God, on the courage and conduct of this army. Our cruel and unrelenting enemy leaves us only the choice of a brave resistance, or the most abject submission. We have, therefore, to resolve to conquer or to die.John Marshall, The Life of George Washington, Vol. II, 424.
The American quest for freedom was adamantly opposed by the powerful and wealthy King George III, who wielded as his weapon the British army. The task before the colonists, driven by spirited desire, was to loose themselves from the overbearing control of England and gain their sovereignty as a free nation. The outcome of the war, however, was by no means certain. Freedom seemed perhaps an unachievable dream, given the difficulties of quickly assembling and financing an army capable of defeating the well-trained British. Additionally, England refused to relinquish its dominion in absence of a bloodletting. Thus the road ahead would prove long, brutally difficult and costly. The banner of victory would be raised only at the expense of human life given with courage, undergirded by persistence and unwavering dedication.
The Battle for Freedom Continues
Although America has changed much over the course of two and one-half centuries, the preeminent value of freedom remains, as well as persistent threats against it—although the most deadly of these are often incorrectly perceived or go unnoticed. Today, it is not so much other nations that need be guarded against—although such real dangers remain—as it is the steady advance of moral evils from within, working to destroy not merely a way of life and the right to live as free men, but life itself. It is not inaccurate to say that the new enemy is ourselves.
Echoing George Washington’s words, “the time is now at hand” to determine whether Americans will continue to truly live in freedom, or whether they will succumb to the present moral evils which beset our nation and thus find themselves enslaved by a new kind of diabolical tyranny. The battle at present is a determining factor in whether men will live under the proper and excellent rules of virtue and morality, or whether they “will be consigned to a state of wretchedness” by their own doing, self-bound by the chains of vice, sin, and immorality.
The list of moral evils entrenched in the American landscape is both daunting and terrifying. Anyone who has not yet noticed their radical, malicious and pervasive scope, or perhaps who has intentionally chosen to look the other way, is not thinking and seeing clearly. Such people have exchanged reality for fantasy and indeed live in a small, self-centered world which fails to take both immediate and long-term consequences into account.
If we want to phrase this list in terms of a blatant forced loss of freedom, we can begin with the 1.5 million youngest American citizens who, each and every year, are intentionally killed under the positive law by legalized abortion. These are our weakest neighbors enslaved to the point of death by the powerful, deliberately refused their right to the pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness for which America proposes to stand.
Pope St. John Paul II observed that claiming the so-called right to abortion and recognizing that same “right” by the positive law results in the loss of true freedom:
To claim the right to abortion, infanticide and euthanasia, and to recognize that right in law, means to attribute to human freedom a perverse and evil significance: that of an absolute power over others and against others. This is the death of true freedom: “Truly, truly, I say to you, every one who commits sin is a slave to sin.”Evangelium.Vitae 20; Jn 8:34.
There are other attacks on human life and freedom: IVF and the destruction of human children (embryos) in its wake; embryonic stem-cell experimentation; the rise of physician-assisted suicide; the pervasive use of artificial birth control which undercuts the health of marriage, family and society; the use of abortifacients such as hormonal contraceptives, implants, IUD’s, the “morning after pill” and other such devices, technology and poisons which are deadly to human life; the legalization of same-sex “marriage”; the support and encouragement of actively homosexual lifestyles which are opposed to divine law and the natural moral law; injustices perpetrated against children, the poor, and migrants; to name a few of the most pressing.
Additionally, there are moral evils which pose other kinds of threats. Perhaps the most deadly of these is the rapid advance of secular humanism which desecrates society, dismantles the sacred, and fosters the spread of moral decay through relativism and hostility toward or disregard of the Christian religion. It seeks a nation devoid of God, not a nation under God. It is constituted in the destructive philosophy of man living for man in his futile construction of an earthly city; not, on the other hand, in the healing and restorative reality of man living for God and the infusion of the kingdom of Christ into the world. Secular humanism is a path that leads to death, not life.
If modern man in America has lost his sense of human dignity, the sacredness of human life and of God, secular humanism is found at the root of this tragedy. In the words of Pope St. John Paul II:
In seeking the deepest roots of the struggle between the “culture of life” and the “culture of death” . . . . We have to go to the heart of the tragedy being experienced by modern man: the eclipse of the sense of God and of man, typical of a social and cultural climate dominated by secularism, which, with its ubiquitous tentacles, succeeds at times in putting Christian communities themselves to the test. Those who allow themselves to be influenced by this climate easily fall into a sad vicious circle: when the sense of God is lost, there is also a tendency to lose the sense of man, of his dignity and his life; in turn, the systematic violation of the moral law, especially in the serious matter of respect for human life and its dignity, produces a kind of progressive darkening of the capacity to discern God’s living and saving presence.Evangelium Vitae 21.
Let Us Not Only Celebrate Independence Day But Labor for True Freedom
America needs to re-acquire its sense of God and therefore an authentic human freedom. She is in desperate need of the gospel, the saving power of God, as the antidote to the life-ending and freedom-killing destruction of moral evil. The lines are now drawn between the saving gospel of truth which gives life and secular humanism which has spawned the culture of death. The fate of millions, true freedom and our nation’s future are at stake. Therefore everything hinges upon a proper sense of humility before God and service in charity toward others. Although our independence was won in 1776 by victory over England, our true and authentic freedom can only be had today in union with Jesus Christ, the Savior and Redeemer of humankind, whose sacrifice on the cross is a saving and liberating death.
Our nation must take up the battle against moral evil; in doing so, the banner of victory will go to those whose lives have been given over to Christ in truth and love, who carry their cross as he carried his, and who, assisted by grace, live the life of virtue and justice, imaging the perfect truth and justice of the Savior of humankind.
This is a task for all, but especially a task for the Church. Two years before he became Pope John Paul II, Karol Cardinal Wojtyla gave a statement to the U.S. bishops that was republished in the Wall Street Journal on November 9, 1978:
We are now standing in the face of the greatest historical confrontation humanity has gone through. I do not think that wide circles of the American society or wide circles of the Christian community realize this fully. We are now facing the final confrontation between the Church and the anti-Church, of the Gospel and the anti-Gospel. This confrontation lies within the plans of divine providence. It is a trial which the whole Church . . . must take up.
Infusing American culture with the salvific and liberating message of Christ is especially the task of the Church because her divinely ordained mission is as an instrument through which God’s grace and truth is communicated to the world. The Church brings to the table not merely some-thing but rather Someone: Jesus Christ, who is himself “the way and the truth and the life” (Jn 14:6). The Church kindly and peacefully offers not simply knowledge to society, but rather knowledge elevated by the divine light of faith, and as such is a healing knowledge. She reaches out her hands, as a caring mother, to individuals and society collectively in order to restore, elevate and ennoble with the saving and liberating power of God’s truth. The Church offers to the world what the world of itself cannot possibly offer.
Further, the Church never loses sight of the fact that man is, assisted and elevated by grace, destined to eternal communion with the Tripersonal God. The end of humankind, the culmination of each person’s life, is found in God alone. If this end is neglected, forgotten or rejected, all is lost. Therefore the Church constantly insists on the essential importance of faith in Jesus Christ and living one’s life in holiness and in communion with him and his Church. For the Son of God himself said: “No one comes to the Father except through me” (Jn 14:6). Union with Christ is made possible by the gift of Christ’s grace and his Spirit, in virtue of faith and baptism, by which we become members of his physical body and enjoy the saving fruits of his sacrificial death on the cross.
The Church, also, insists on protecting the dignity of the human person, the authentic development of man and society, true freedom, and fostering the common good. The Church, then, proposes an authentic human flourishing and the fullness of human living in society. Her words are the words of truth; her gifts to humankind flow from the hands of the Savior of humankind. If anyone should sincerely want to heal America and restore her true freedom, let them listen to the Church whose Spirit-guided words find their origin in God himself.
The battle for freedom in America is not over, although it has taken a new form. Christ crucified is the means by whom victory can be achieved and through whom we arrive at the fullness of true life, liberty and happiness. Let us live our lives for him, as he indeed gave his life for us.
Deacon Frederick Bartels is a member of the Catholic clergy who serves the Church in the diocese of Pueblo. He holds an MA in Theology and Educational Ministry and is a Catholic educator, public speaker, and evangelist who strives to infuse culture with the saving principles of the gospel.