As a young man, Bl. Frédéric Ozanam considered himself, like his father, to be a monarchist, seeing government on earth as an expression of the divine principle of authority. He was inspired especially by the example of St. Louis, King of France, whose monarchy represented “the sacrifice of a single person for the good of all… which I revere with love.” [Letter 77, to Falconnet, 1834]
Following the restoration of the French monarchy in 1813, the Ozanam family returned to France from Italy, where Frédéric had been born. Yet the church, now restored to legality in France, had not fully regained the confidence and trust of the people. Indeed, as further revolutions continued to develop, social philosophies that rejected the church became more popular – not least the philosophy of Claude Henri de Rouvroy, comte de Saint-Simon, whose “technocratic” vision relied on a belief not in spiritual power, but in industry and science.
It was a group of young Saint-Simonians who would challenge Frédéric and his Catholic friends to “show the good of the church” in 1833. In answer to the challenge, they would choose to serve the poor as Christ did – with love and friendship; “not only as an equal, but as a superior.” [O’Meara, 229]
This continuing work pointed Frédéric towards the best alternative to Saint-Simonianism and its more revolutionary successors. He saw how important it was “to make equality as operative as is possible among men; to make voluntary community replace imposition and brute force...” [Letter 136, to Lallier, 1836]
For Frédéric, liberty was much more than a political slogan, it was a gift from God. Indeed, as he wrote to a political ally who was an unbeliever, “I believe [our] cause to be more ancient and, therefore, more sacred” Liberty, equality, and fraternity, he explained, did not come from the revolution of 1789, but from Calvary. [Baunard, 301]
As our church teaches, “Man can turn to good only in freedom, which God has given to him as one of the highest signs of his image.” [CSDC, 135]
Because it was best able to preserve equality and liberty, Frédéric concluded that “democracy is the natural final stage of the development of political progress, and that God leads the world thither.” Therefore, he asked, “are not the men of the Church and the men of the people to be found side by side at the foot of the tree of liberty?” [Baunard, 281]
Liberty is both a gift from God, and a pathway to His truth, and so, as Frédéric said, “Christianity will be the soul of Liberty.” [Baunard, 290]
Do I celebrate liberty as a gift from God, for me and for all?
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