Each of us has our own hobbyhorses. Michael Sean Winters, for example, seems to have a thing about Philly’s Archbishop Chaput and the World Meeting of Families which Philadelphia will host next October. Winters is also very fond of hymns—a fine pastime, that—and of trying to curb overzealous Catholic prelates’ deficient notions of freedom, which Winters often takes to be ideological in origin. So when the Archdiocese of Philadelphia announced an official hymn for said World Meeting of Families—a hymn titled, “Sound the Bell of Holy Freedom,” no less—they hit the Winters trifecta.
Not surprisingly, Winters was quick to comment. He writes:
The title [of the hymn] does not really capture the words, most of which focus on the Holy Family and the bonds of family. But, in the US, if your ideology tilts right, you want to paste the word “freedom” on everything because, well, you know, Obama is the enemy of freedom, we are all on the road to serfdom, etc., etc. So, my question to the author of this hymn is, to paraphrase Tina Turner, what’s freedom got to do with it?
Now, I know that question was meant to be rhetorical, but since the hymn’s words actually offer a chance to make a larger point, I’ll hazard a response anyway.
In Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis wrote that, “the center of all evangelizing activity and all efforts at Church renewal” must be the proclamation (or kerygma) of this fundamental truth: “Jesus Christ loves you; he gave his life to save you; and now he is living at your side every day to enlighten, strengthen and free you.” The Holy Father continues:
The centrality of the kerygma calls for stressing those elements which are most needed today: it has to express God’s saving love which precedes any moral and religious obligation on our part; it should not impose the truth but appeal to freedom; it should be marked by joy, encouragement, liveliness and a harmonious balance which will not reduce preaching to a few doctrines which are at times more philosophical than evangelical. (Emphasis added.)
In light of this, it’s entirely appropriate—indeed, it’s necessary—that the proclamation of Christ be central to the renewal of the family. It is precisely in this context that the Church’s understanding of the family can be heard as an “appeal to [true] freedom”—a free response to God’s love and mercy—rather than, as the Pope has said elsewhere, “a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently.”
So, what’s freedom got to do with it? Freedom has a great deal to do with it, especially if you think, as Winters does, that freedom is a widely misunderstood and abused thing these days. (A point I happily grant him.) It seems to me that one of the strongest remedies we possess for combating the false freedom of our age—what’s “most needed today”—is to announce the true freedom (you might say “holy freedom”) offered to us by God. As Pope Francis puts it, again from Evangelii Gaudium:
[T]here is no greater freedom than that of allowing oneself to be guided by the Holy Spirit, renouncing the attempt to plan and control everything to the last detail, and instead letting him enlighten, guide and direct us, leading us wherever he wills. The Holy Spirit knows well what is needed in every time and place. This is what it means to be mysteriously fruitful!
All of this is actually shown quite nicely in the hymn, which looks to the example and witness of the Holy Family, and its role—and especially Mary’s role—in the story of our salvation. Go read the words of the hymn for yourself. Do you, like Winters, detect Hayekian critiques of President Obama? Or do you hear a hymn to that than which Pope Francis insists there is “no greater freedom”:
Sound the bell of holy freedom; call all fam’lies of the world
To be fed by love incarnate; to proclaim God’s holy Word;
Through the love of Christ our brother, in the Spirit make us one.