What Is Freedom?

As we celebrate the Fourth of July in the USA, let us reflect on the gift of freedom.

What is freedom? I like this definition: “Freedom is nothing else than the chance to be better.”

Why have we been gifted with freedom? Only this: to love.

We might think, “I want to be free to do what I want to do.” Yes, but we are truly free only if what we want to do is the loving thing.

We might say, “I want to be free to be myself.” Yes, but only if that self is a loving person.

Or we might say, “I want to be free to be whole.” Yes, but only if our wholeness leads to loving.

(Photo by Jill Wellington – Pexels)

None of us is completely free.

And blessed are those who recognize their servitude, whether it be fear, compulsion,

self-centeredness, laziness, pettiness, arrogance, pride.

Servitude takes many forms.

But, as St. John of the Cross reminds us,

a bird tethered by a gossamer thread

is just as unable to fly as one held by a steel cable.

Freedom is not very neat.

It can be messy at times.

Tyranny is always bettered organized.

Freedom is never achieved once and for all either.

From conception to death we are all engaged in the process of personal liberation.

Those individuals are most free who tread this earth lightly

with open hands

and with joy.

(photo by Brett Sales – Pexels)

Freedom is collective and communal too.

A threat to freedom anywhere is a threat to freedom everywhere.

Conversely, the more free I personally become,

the greater the potential for freedom for all of us.

Freedom costs. One cost is “eternal vigilance.”

Another is perseverance,

perseverance in the daily wrestling with light and darkness

that leads to the coming of the Reign of God in my soul,

in my country,

and in the world.

Jesus was free. Utterly so.

He was free to come, free to go.

Free to speak, free to remain silent.

Free to give, free to receive.

Free to teach, free to listen.

Free to be gentle, firm, angry, surprised.

Free to laugh, free to cry.

Jesus was never more free than when he was nailed to the cross on Good Friday—

except, perhaps, when he danced out of that dark tomb

as the sun was rising on that first Easter morning!

On this Independence Day, let us thank God for the precious gift of freedom we share in this country. And let us work tirelessly for all those within our borders who do not yet enjoy the freedoms that are rightfully theirs.

(Photo by Pexels)

Is there anything that stands out for you in today’s reflection?

Would you add anything to this reflection on freedom?

PS: I ask your prayers for a retreat I will be leading from July 6-13 at Villa Pauline Retreat Center in Mendham Borough, NJ. I know your prayers mean a lot to the retreatants—and to me! Thank you!

As we celebrate our Independence Day, I was drawn to post two videos for your inspiration today. The first one is music by Max Richter. (I thank my friend Diana for introducing me to his music.) This piece is entitled “All Human Beings” and it includes the recitation of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, written in 1948! (Captions are available.) It is good to reflect on how far the world has come since 1948, but how much further we still need to travel to make these beautiful words a living reality.

Our second video is “A Tribute to All Nations” based on “Finlandia” by Jean Sibelius. I know I’ve used this video before, but it is so beautiful and very appropriate for our holiday.

As usual, I invite you to comment below to anything on today’s blog—words, pictures, and especially the two videos! We all love hearing from you!


  1. John E Hopkins on July 3, 2023 at 7:09 am

    Good morning, Melannie,

    Happy (almost) 4th of July! Your post took the form of a public poem and it was beautiful! I put these words in my journal: “Those individuals are most free who tread this earth lightly with open hands and with joy.” The images in the first video formed a type of meditation. At one point I started to cry, at another I held my hand out in blessing. Thank you!

  2. Celeste on July 3, 2023 at 11:38 am

    Good morning, Sister. My spirit has been unsettled and restless as I think about our world and the 4th of July. As I read your reflection, I could feel a sense of peace coming over me. I’m not sure what the restlessness comes from, but it is slowly receding as I sit and ponder your reflection. I think you put into words all that I feel about freedom and how it isn’t an isolated/individual thing. There is a balance. All freedoms have a corresponding responsibility and you use the word love. That captures it beautifully. I haven’t even listened/watched the two videos, yet. Thank you for the words that enlighten and soothe. Happy 4th of July to everyone.

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