That God, which ever lives and loves,
One God, one law, one element,
And one far-off divine event,
To which the whole creation moves.
— Alfred Lord Tennyson (1809-1892)
When American colonists were oppressed by governance from Britain, the word most frequently uttered in pamphlets and editorials and sermons was not “safety” or “taxes”; it was “freedom.” Yet, two intolerable acts of Parliament so assaulted personal freedom that they broke the bonds with the mother country irreparably.
The first was the Stamp Act of 1765, which required colonists to have government stamps on all documents in every household. It was enforced by British soldiers who used general warrants, issued by a secret court in London, for authority to rummage through colonists’ personal possessions, ostensibly looking for the stamps.
These general warrants, like the ones the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court issues in Washington, D.C., today, did not specifically describe the place to be searched or the person or thing to be seized. Rather, they granted authority for the bearer to search wherever he wished and seize whatever he found — as FISA warrants do currently, in direct contravention of the Constitution.
The second intolerable act was the Revenue Act of 1767, the proceeds from which the king used to pay the salaries of colonial officials and clergy, thereby securing their loyalty.
The Stamp Act assaulted the right to be left alone in the home, and the Revenue Act forced colonists to pay for a religious establishment. These two British laws caused many colonists to realize they needed to secede from Britain and form a new country, in which the government would protect freedom, not assault it. Fifteen years later, they won the American Revolution.
Today, the loss of freedom comes in many forms.
Sometimes it is direct, as when Congress dictates how to acquire health care insurance and imposes taxes on those who don’t comply.
Sometimes it is subtle, as when the government borrows $2 trillion a year and, as a result, our money and assets lose much of their value and our descendants will be taxed far more heavily than we are to repay the loans.
Sometimes it is secret, as when the government reads emails and text messages and follows the movements of cellphones, all without a search warrant; and when it uses drones to kill people the government hates or fears, without a declaration of war or any due process.
Freedom is the ability of every person to make personal choices without a government permission slip — to exercise free will. Free will is the natural characteristic we share in common with God. He created us in His image and likeness. As He is perfectly free, so are we.
When the government takes away free will — whether by fiat or majority vote, whether for the common good or aggrandizement of power — it steals a gift we received from God, violates the natural law and prevents us from having and utilizing the means to seek the truth. Free will is the essence of humanity. No one can achieve individual potential without it.
Because the exercise of free will is a natural right, the only time government may constitutionally interfere with it occurs when one has been fairly convicted by a jury of using fraud or force to interfere with the exercise of someone else’s natural rights.
We know, from events 2,000 years ago this week, that freedom is also the essential means to unite with the truth. To Christians, the personification, the incarnation and the perfect manifestation of truth is Jesus Christ, the Son of God and the Son of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
On the first Holy Thursday, Jesus attended a traditional Jewish Passover Seder. Catholics believe that at His Last Supper, Jesus performed two miracles so that we could stay united to Him. He transformed ordinary bread and wine into His own body, blood, soul and divinity, and He empowered His disciples and their successors to do the same.
The next day — the first Good Friday — the Roman government crucified Jesus because it feared that by claiming to be the Son of God, He might foment a revolution. He did foment a revolution, but it was in the hearts and minds and souls of men and women.
Jesus had the freedom to reject His horrific death, but He exercised His free will to accept it so that we might know the truth. The truth is that He — and we who have faith and hope — would rise from the dead.
On Easter, that “far-off divine event,” He did rise from the dead. By doing that, He demonstrated to us that while living, we can liberate our souls from the slavery of sin and our free wills from the oppression of the government because, after death, we of faith and hope can rise to be with Him.
The Resurrection of Jesus is the linchpin of human existence “to which the whole creation moves.” With it, life is worth living, no matter its painful costs or losses. Without it, life is meaningless, no matter its fleeting joys or triumphs.
Easter has a meaning that is both incomprehensible and simple. It is incomprehensible that a human being had the freedom to rise from the dead. It is simple because that human being was and is God.
What does Easter mean? Easter means that there’s hope for the dead. If there’s hope for the dead, then there’s hope for the living. But like the colonists who fought the oppression of the king, we the living can achieve our hopes only if we have freedom. And that requires a government that protects freedom, not one that assaults it.
The world is dark and dreary today, but faith in Jesus’ Resurrection — and hope for our own — infuses our souls with joy. Happy Easter.