Freedom is, for lack of a better adjective, a wonderful thing. Here in America, freedom is not just a capital virtue, it is the capital virtue, and I'm here to declare what a wonderful thing that is. Freedom is good, very good. A man cannot have virtue if he is not free to be virtuous (or, alternatively, vicious). Our nation's great prophets were right to praise freedom, and let no human being denounce freedom. Having said all these things, and firmly holding them to be true, it is necessary for me to pose (and subsequently answer) the question: What is freedom? Man cannot possibly expect to be free if he is unable to have a grasp of what freedom is, where it comes from, why it is necessary, and ultimately, what it leads to.
Freedom has not been well defined throughout our history. Freedom was the cry that let loose both the French Revolution and Mahatma Gandhi's movement for Indian Independence, one causing a considerable portion of civilized people to decapitate another equally considerable portion of civilized people, the other causing a peaceful cry for the dignity and independence of an entire subcontinent. My love for freedom would like to presume that the French were less accurate than Gandhi in how they defined the idea of "freedom". If we really wish to be free, it would be sensible for us to know what freedom is (at least, such a thing seems sensible to me.)
Freedom is the ability to be human, to put it in simple terms, or to put it in even simpler terms, freedom is the ability to be. Period. (Because the human part, at least in our case, is inevitable.) Freedom, in the purest sense, is what it means to be human. The extent to which we are free is the extent to which we are able to fully express our own humanity, the extent to which we can live. And that's precisely what we were meant to do. We are meant to live. We are deigned to be fully and wonderfully human, and that's usually the problem. We have no idea what that looks like. Our definition of freedom is usually off because, in a hilarious twist of irony, we separate being free from being human. Instead, we usually understand freedom as something on the lines as "I get to do what I want, given that I don't inhibit other people from doing what they want."
Now, there is something to be said about being able to do what we want to do. I like being able to do all sorts of stuff, it is a good thing to be free to do. But being free to "do" is not the best definition of freedom. We're not human doings, we are human beings. Freedom is not doing, freedom is being, and our problems are usually from the confusion of these two ideas. We don't do free, we are free, and our freedom is oriented to something grander than what we can and cannot do; it is concerned with who we are. Our society has done a great disservice to itself by equating what a man does to who that man is. We are not the sum of our actions, nor is our identity the culmination of what we choose it to be. Man is more than action, though his actions are certainly important. He is greater than choice, although his choices are incredibly vital. Man, and his freedom, are oriented towards higher purposes than merely good choices.
"Freedom," as Blessed John Paul II puts it, "consists not in having the ability to do what you want, but in having the ability to do what you ought." How wretched a life would it be if we only did what we want and never considered what we ought to do! We have wants and desires, and we certainly want to do them, but life would absolutely suck if there was no reason for us wanting to do these things. Humans are a unique brand, we are imperfect beings who recognize our imperfection and, thus, desire perfection. We are the only ones who step back and think "Why the hell am I hungry? What are the implications of my thirst? Wouldn't it be swell if I never had a deficiency every again?" We understand our desires as an imperfection. We give them moral weight and understand them to have moral consequences. Our desires, our wants, our imperfections are not purposeless; we don't have wants because life sucks, but because there's a purpose, a perfection to be sought.
Jesus Christ is the image of a free man. Folks, freedom without purpose is the worse slavery man can muster; I would much rather be shackled and chained with a purpose than absolutely powerful without one. Our freedom, our ability to be human, must never be without purpose. We need a reason to be free, a noble end, a duty higher than ourselves. Christ, in his life, death, and resurrection, was a free man, eternally convicted to do the will of his Father. Freedom is not the ability to do whatever we want, because quite frankly, we have absolutely no idea what we want, much less why we want it.
Freedom has to be rooted in the Truth. At its core, freedom must be from the truth, by the truth, to the truth and for the truth. To be truly free is not just to be free from something or free to do something, but free for something. We must have a reason to be free for, a purpose to achieve with our freedom. Yes, you can make that purpose up to suit yourself as you please, but that seems rather shallow and futile, not to mention boring. Freedom, true freedom, must be just that true freedom, not the illusion of being able to do what you want, but the freedom to do everything that you ought to do, the freedom to express your own excellence in a great many wonderful ways. Be free. Please, for the Love of God, be free, but really be free, the freedom that is true. You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.