Freedom is not free

By Bishop David Ricken

On Memorial Day, I was delighted to celebrate Mass at our wonderful Allouez Catholic Cemetery. Around 850 people were in attendance at this outdoor memorial Mass. In my homily, I had occasion to reflect on freedom and what it really means, on liberty (what it is and what it is not) and on solidarity (what it means to be “one nation under God.”)


Bishop Ricken

From June 21 through July 4, the U.S. bishops have called us to celebrate a “Fortnight for Freedom.” In these two weeks, there will be special prayers and events which I will invite all of our parishioners to participate in.

In reflecting on freedom, it strikes me ever more deeply on how much fellow Americans have sacrificed for the sake of our freedom. Many have lost their lives through the world wars, Vietnam, Korea, Afghanistan, Iraq and many in other parts of the world. Many more have come home wounded for life, physically, mentally, emotionally or spiritually. It struck me that freedom itself is never free. Many of our fellow Americans have had huge losses for the sake of freedom.

Secondly, liberty does not mean license. License means the ability to do whatever I want, whenever I want, no matter whom it affects, no matter the consequences. License is very self-interested. It cares little about anyone else. Liberty is the freedom to do the right things for the right reasons. Liberty is the freedom to worship God, to live out the dictates of my faith in the public square, and to be able to speak freely and openly without fear of repercussions from governmental or other forces. Above all, liberty always looks toward the common good recognizing that no one person or one group can dictate for all. We all must have the common good shown forth in our actions.

As the Gospels teach over and over, we must especially protect those who are poor, underprivileged or victims of injustice. Solidarity calls for sacrifice. Solidarity means that we are excited and work together in a common cause that is far bigger than any one of them, even far bigger than any one group of them.

In Poland, for example, John Paul, as bishop, called the people to solidarity which eventually became the movement that overthrew communism. That took huge sacrifices and risks on part of the citizens, most of whom were Catholic. Solidarity means that we recognize the primacy of God in our lives, the primacy of the importance of living a God-centered and value-centered life for the sake of others. And of course, all of this calls for sacrifice.

As we get closer to the Fortnight for Freedom, I ask you to reflect on and pray about these values which are all biblical in their roots; to do what you can to protect these values, especially the value of religious liberty; to be able to speak freely and to use the liberties that we have been given from God and from our human nature. These are the liberties that have always been protected by the heroes of this country. We are grateful to them and should never take their sacrifices for granted.