One of the comments I hear from people (both non-believers and believers) on religion in general and Christianity in particular is that it is a stifling set of rules that limit human freedom. These people view commitment to a belief system and person freedom as incompatible. This view reflects an incomplete view of freedom.
True freedom involves the interior spirituality to live as God intended you to live. The Christian sense of freedom (which is shared by non-Christian religions such as Judaism, Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism) involves orienting one’s life towards God with a radical detachment from anything that gets in the way of this goal such as money, property, status, success, achievements, ego and the like. This message is very counter-cultural, especially for advanced Western societies that value wealth, status and material possessions. This message is also very different than so-called Christians who promote the gospel of “health and wealth”. The truly free person is someone who is indifferent as to these matters and, to the extent they have them, use them as tools to serve God and others rather than as ends in and of themselves. That is why there is an increasing rate of depression and mental health issues in Western Society; we are treating wealth, status and physical desires as ends rather than as a means to serving God.
St. Paul summarized what true freedom means in today’s wonderful reading to the Galatians:
For freedom Christ set us free; so stand firm and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery. For you were called for freedom, brothers and sisters. But do not use this freedom as an opportunity for the flesh; rather, serve one another through love. For the whole law is fulfilled in one statement, namely, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
The free person does exactly what he wants because what he passionately wants is a world of truth, and caring, and sharing, and inner security and peace. Of course, he does not always get these things from others because they do not share his vision but he sees that as their problem rather than his.
And so we find this freedom in people such as Jesus, in Elisha, in Paul. More recently we found it in the lives of people like Martin Luther King, Jr., Bishop Oscar Romero and Blessed Mother Teresa. They said an unconditional ‘Yes’ to Jesus and had a radical indifference to the values of wealth, status and power that permeate our world.
Freedom has a different meaning for each of us. For those of us who are “crazy in love with Jesus” (Pedro Arrupe), freedom means following the way of life that Jesus taught us; whereas, for those who haven’t yet fallen in love with Jesus, this would seem restrictive rather than freeing. It all depends on your perspective. I am incredibly grateful that I have fallen in love with Jesus – it is such a privilege and at the same time it is a very humbling experience. Thank you for this post.
Thank you for sharing such beautiful thoughts. I believe that in Western Society, especially in the United States but also elsewhere, freedom has an immature connotation of “being able to do what I want”.
I love your quote from Pedro Arrupe. I agree that, in the Ignatian tradition, true freedom is the intellectual, emotional and spiritual freedom to be detached from anything that separates us from the love of Christ. I appreciate you sharing your experiences as you seem to have found that freedom.