On July 4, Use Your Freedom to Serve Others

If you do, God’s love can more effectively shine in a world so in need of more Christian witnesses

July 4 is a day of celebration. Parades, fireworks, picnics all are held to honor the many freedoms and blessings that we share as Americans.

Freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom from discrimination, freedom to vote and elect the representatives that the people chose, freedom to travel, and freedom to fulfill our deepest dreams and our most noble aspirations are among them.

But perhaps the most liberating freedom comes from within — an “inner” freedom that emanates from a good conscience and a steadfast desire to do God’s will, whatever the cost.

During World Youth Day, in Cologne, Germany, in 2005, I was blessed to serve as chaplain for an international group of 75 high school and college-age Regnum Christi members. We stayed at a dorm complex and commuted back and forth to Cologne for the various activities with then-Pope Benedict XVI.

The first major event was at the cathedral, and we planned to arrive early to find a quality perch from which to see the pope and hear his opening speech. Our buses were ready to go at 6:30 a.m. and we were on the road by 7 a.m., excited to join over a million young people for this inaugural event.

Many kids were able to get close to the Holy Father; it was an incredible day for everyone. We regrouped later that evening and I noticed one of our German students arriving a little late.

I asked him, “Gabriel, this must have been a special day for you, having a German pope here in your own backyard.” He didn’t reply, so I prodded, “What did you think of the pope’s speech?”

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He pulled me aside and said quietly, “I was looking forward to this day — but knowing I would see the pope tomorrow for the final Mass, I stayed back at the camp today.” He then explained he decided to get the laundry done for everyone, since he knew where the local laundromats were, while the others didn’t. “I did this out of love for Jesus, so please do not let the guys know I was responsible,” he said.

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This young man, who looked out for others, was by far the happiest and most peaceful in our convention. He became the de facto leader and used his freedom to serve Christ in others; God blessed this generosity.

We are all called to walk in the footsteps of Jesus, who said, “I lay down my life freely, no one takes it from me.” (John 10:18). Use your freedom to choose service, selflessness, and putting others first, all so that God’s love can more effectively shine in this world, which is so in need of more Christian witnesses.

Fr. Michael Sliney is a Catholic priest based in the New York City area and an adviser to the Lumen Institute, a professional business group.