Catholics must promote ‘freedom for’ more than ‘freedom from,’ says Cardinal Dulles

Catholics in the United States must live and promote a positive approach to liberty, conceived more as “freedom for” something constructive rather than as a mere “freedom from” real or imaginary restraints, said Avery Cardinal Dulles in his keynote address at the first National Catholic Prayer Breakfast.

The event yesterday gathered more than 1,000 attendees at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, D.C., including many Catholic personalities such as Judge Robert Bork, Senator Rick Santorum, Congressman Walter Jones, the Honorable Tommy Thompson, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Theodore Cardinal McCarick, archbishop of Washington, D.C., who is in Rome for an Ad Limina visit, sent a personal greeting that was read by Fr. Robert Pranke, the archdiocese’s director of vocations.

“Your presence has completely surpassed our expectations,” said Austin Ruse, vice-president of the organizing committee during the breakfast, which followed the prayer of the rosary and a celebration of the Eucharist.

“There is nothing more central in our nation than the idea of liberty,” said Cardinal Dulles during his keynote address. “Our anthems, our Constitution, our national monuments,” as well as the most famous phrases of the Founding Fathers refer to liberty and freedom, he explained.

“Yet, we speak more in terms of ‘freedom from’ that of ‘freedom for.’ That is to say, we understand liberty as the freedom to do what we feel to do, without the limitations of external constraints.”

The cardinal said many scholars today believe the 21st century will be the age of “moral freedom” – following and age of economic and political freedom – in which each individual will choose what is morally fit for him or her, without “external” or “imposed” norms.

Cardinal Dulles recalled that the Supreme Court’s decision upholding abortion was based on the idea that each individual can define who is a human and when a human life begins. “This is a fearsome principle,” he said, because it is the same one that inspired ideologies such as Hitler’s and Stalin’s.

“When each moral option is equal to another, inevitably society decays,” said the cardinal, pointing out that today’s alarming increase in the kind of crimes and social ills usually marks the fall of a civilization. “A moral vacuum is always filled by drugs, lust and violence,” he explained.

According to the cardinal, “the basic error is to describe freedom in negative terms, as freedom ‘from’ instead of as ‘for’. Positively described, freedom is the quality and the capacity to choose the best” and to be attracted to the highest values, explained the cardinal. 

“The love of God of the angels is both necessary, but pre-eminently free,” he said as an example. “Jesus teaches us that truth makes us free, which means to be liberated from error and sin,” he said. “Freedom is not the opposite of love. It is the source of it.”

Cardinal Dulles concluded by saying, “We, Americans, have the responsibility to avoid the misinterpretation of freedom, to explain and make evident that freedom has to be related to responsibility and objective principles.

“There is hardly any concept as important for our national welfare in the contemporary world as this true meaning of freedom,” he stated.

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