Our political freedom is very important, and we should do everything we can to preserve it. But as Catholics we know that it is not the highest kind of freedom.
This truth was brought back to my mind by a passage in Sigrid Undset’s charming little book, Happy Times in Norway. Undset was a convert to Catholicism who won the Nobel Prize for literature for her monumental historical novels about medieval Norway, Kristin Lavransdatter and The Master of Hestviken. Happy Times in Norway is more of a family memoir, written while she lived in America during the Nazi occupation of Norway.
In one scene–a scene that makes the American reader’s chest swell with a bit of pride–she describes her sons’ discussion of the Norwegian flag. “Red, white, blue,” the older one explains. “Those are freedom’s colors. The French and the English and the American and the Dutch flags–these are all red, white, and blue.”
But the younger brother objects that the Danish flag is only red and white, yet the Danes are as free as anybody. This leads mother (Undset herself) to offer this intervention: “The Danish flag is the oldest in Europe. It goes back to the time of the Crusades, and was a Church banner at first. In those days people did not think of freedom as we do now. Freedom then meant deliverance from the power of the devil, and the cross was a symbol of that deliverance. That is why the Danish flag is marked with the cross.”
There it is: a different and finally more important kind of freedom.
In his apostolic constitution introducing the Catechism, John Paul II also notes the supreme importance of this kind of freedom: “May the light of the true faith free humanity from the ignorance and slavery of sin in order to lead it to the only freedom worthy of the name: that of life in Jesus Christ under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, here below and in the kingdom of heaven, in the fulness of the blessed vision of God face to face.”
Political freedom is precious, and we should protect it as best we can. But we should not lose sight of the more precious freedom of which Undset and John Paul II remind us.