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Finches and freedom

Every morning one of the first things I do is go say good morning to our pet finches. They’re always so excited to begin the day.

It doesn’t take much to make them happy—food and water, a few treats here and there, and a little tub of fresh water for splashing. They hop and flutter and fly around their cage, chirping and playing.

I watch and marvel at the big personalities of these tiny feathered creatures. Their surroundings change little, but our birds discover newness and pleasure in their home each day.

They don’t seem to yearn for freedom to expand their world. They know only what’s within their little universe. They accept what comes—food! a mirror! water!—and make the best of whatever that is.

As I enjoy watching their little interactions, I find myself thinking that many days in our stay-at-home existence, we humans don’t go much farther than our two little birds do. Still, we aren’t always as content.

We long for the end of this pandemic, remembering a time when we could interact with anyone and everyone as we wanted, wishing we could adventure far beyond our home and community, keeping our sights on a time when we can gather in large crowds and hug and shake hands and fly.

Humans crave freedom. We hate to be stifled or held back or told what to do. Somehow, it seems, many humans—especially those who don’t feel they are at risk for this virus—are unwilling to accept that wearing masks and being careful with distancing could help preserve our freedom. There are some safe ways to stretch our wings in this pandemic world. But some of us might rather spread our wings and fly free and hope for the best, not worrying about the more vulnerable in our communities.

You can’t truly be free, however, if your exercising your freedom means that others will lose theirs. We know that on all kinds of levels. Freedom is a God-given gift for each of us, given to be used not just to let us grow and thrive, but to let us act and serve out of love for others around us.

Even freedom comes with expectations and boundaries.

“If it is not used well, freedom can lead us away from God, can make us lose the dignity with which He has clothed us,” Pope Francis said. “This requires the guidelines, the guidelines and also the rules, both in society and in the Church, to help us to do the will of God, thus living according to our dignity as human beings and children of God.”

Freedom is not given to us just to enjoy life more fully and live with abandon. It is given to us to fulfill our work for God on earth, to do that work which only we can do. Freedom comes with responsibility and commitment and love for others—those we know and those who are strangers to us.

When I look at our birds, I recognize that the cage doesn’t keep them from being free. The cage keeps them alive. It gives them the freedom to fly safely in their space, to live life happily, and to thrive. Wearing masks gives a similar kind of freedom—and it’s a simple and inexpensive inconvenience.

As we celebrate freedom on this Independence Day weekend, may we be grateful for all the ways in which we are free. May we use our freedom thoughtfully and selflessly. And may we find time to consider all the ways in which others in our society are not free—and what we might be able to do to bring about change.