Happy 4th to all! I pray you all have a safe and blessed holiday weekend.
The year 2020 has been full of seemingly unwanted surprises. Life has suddenly become much more dangerous. Or maybe before we just never took the time to reflect on how fragile the balance of life really is.
Even five months ago we would have never thought life could change this much for the entire world. Of course we also add in rioting and social unrest, catastrophic flooding in Midland, a murder hornet invasion, recent spikes in new coronavirus cases, etc. What’s next? Can it get any worse? I think history has shown us that yes, it can get worse. But that is not what I want to focus on. I think all of these major changes that we are experiencing can bring into focus what life is all about, what true liberty is and what our goals should be.
We celebrate the Declaration of Independence in which it is stated, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” It seems that, even though self-evident, many choose not to live according to these words of wisdom. Let us reflect therefore on the “unalienable rights” endowed upon us by our Creator; life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
First of all life. As we know well now, life is very fragile and can be changed, altered or ended in the matter of seconds, and yet, when our way of life is forcibly changed by things that we cannot control, we experience the anger, the frustration, the annoyance or the inconvenience very much. This conflict makes me think about my life and how it should be lived. It has made me want to be more thankful for the blessings I do have, and makes me want to stop taking my own life, or anyone else’s for granted. It reminds me that not only is life fragile, but also that life is precious.
But is it meant to be lived for my own self-gratification? Is my right to seek and preserve my life to be asserted even when it means stifling out or harming another’s? I think we would all say absolutely not!
There is a saying that a wise priest once shared with me that perhaps you have heard before that states, “My freedom to swing my arm stops where your nose begins.” What I think we can realize then is that this life cannot be everyone for him or herself. In order for me to have to freedom to seek life and to pursue happiness I necessarily have to respect the life and freedoms of others. It makes sense that if all of us do the same, my own pursuit will actually hastened and not frustrated.
All of this continuously proves to me the truth and the relevance of Christ and the Christian message to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31), or “do unto others what you would have them do unto you” (Matt. 7:12). We can see how bad things get when we don’t live up to that Golden Rule. What I think the Lord Jesus demonstrates in His own version of this, is that He makes Himself a total gift for us. He gives up His life freely so that we might flourish unto eternal life and happiness.
If we are to be like Him, and if He is the one who teaches us the truth of how to arrive at life, then our life is to be a loving self-gift for others. When we do that to the best of our ability, we begin to experience an inner coherence and peace, because, wouldn’t you know it, we are living how we have been made to live.
Now liberty. Since we all have free will, we know that what we have been made to live is not always what people choose to live. In fact, all of us choose very often to live for ourselves and not for others. So, what is freedom for, if it’s not to do whatever suits me? Well, what Christ shows us, is a freedom for the sake of the good. He always chose what was good even when it meant suffering and death for Himself. He freely chose that.
He told His disciples “For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life, that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord” (John 10:17-18). Jesus did this for us, and freely chose to do so, that we might be set free. St. Paul says “For freedom that Christ has set us free; stand fast therefore, and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery” (Gal. 5:1). The slavery He talks about is the slavery to sin, or the slavery to the flesh. Freedom is given then, and is meant for us to be able to choose the good. If we are slaves to our fleshy passions and to sin, we do not choose wisely or lovingly for the good of others, or even for ourselves.
Lastly, pursuit of happiness. I think with the previous reflection on life and liberty that we can understand that our happiness is best discovered in God. We often pursue worldly happiness to the detriment of eternal happiness. This is because we often choose to use our liberty selfishly and try sustain our own lives as if we are the measure of our own existence. When we treat ourselves like that, basically as gods in place of our Creator, we lose sight of what is truly good for us and for our neighbor. This often means that we focus only on ourselves and forget that by looking out for the good of our neighbor is also going to affect our own good as well.
So, if it is our Creator who has endowed us with the rights of life, liberty and to pursue happiness, I would wager that He has given us instructions on how to do that. While there is much more that we could reflect on, I think that some very valuable questions for us all would be, how have my life, my use of freedom and my pursuit of happiness affected others? Do I see that the best way to fulfill all the longings of my heart is to see myself as a gift meant to be given away in love? What changes can I make in my life so that I can live more freely with the goal of eternal happiness in mind? Here’s to an Independence Day filled with peace and joy that comes from true life, liberty and happiness found in Christ.