Nov 16, 2014

First Friday, October 3, 2014

We, you and I, are fearfully, wonderfully made. What is it that makes us wonderful? It is that we are made in the image and likeness of God. Typically, this is taken by theologians to indicate the faculties of the intellect and will. This is not to exclude other reflections of God's image in man but rather to zero in on the way in which man is most like God: the capacity to love. One cannot choose something or some act of which one is not aware. Specifically, it is impossible to love what is unknown. So the very idea of the possibility of love requires both that something of the object is known and that we are free to choose. As we discuss freedom, it may be helpful to untangle this word and concept from modern misunderstandings.

The liberum arbitrium or free will is what we call the power of choosing or freedom of choice. This liberty consists in two things: libertas a coactione, freedom from external compulsion; and libertas a necessitate, freedom from internal necessity. Free will embraces both of these categories. Theologians, generally, make several distinctions when talking about free will: 1) libertas contradictionis, which is the liberty to act or not to act; 2) libertas specificationis, which is the liberty to specify acts of the same kind; 3) libertas contrarietatis, which is the liberty to choose between contraries: love and hate, good and evil. This third distinction is applicable only to humans in the wayfaring state. It is not applicable to God, to the Saints or to the Angels. It is actually a defect rather than a constitutive part of freedom. God and the heavenly courts are eminently free.

We must always be cautious of this distinction in our minds when we speak about freedom. Freedom must never be confused with license or licentiousness. Libertas is always marked by restraint and moderation, whereas licentia is marked by arbitrariness. The modern idea of freedom is excessively influenced by its confusion with license. Ironically, there is nothing particularly modern about this conception of freedom. Tacitus remarked on it saying, "Licentia quam stulti libertatem vocant." (License, which the foolish call liberty). And John Milton wrote, "None can love freedom heartily but good men; the rest love not freedom but license." Pope St. John Paul II adds: "Finally, true freedom is not advanced in the permissive society, which confuses freedom with license to do anything whatever and which in the name of freedom proclaims a kind of general amorality. It is a caricature of freedom to claim that people are free to organize their lives with no reference to moral values, and to say that society does no have to ensure the protection and advancement of ethical values. Such an attitude is destructive of freedom, such as the elimination of human life by legalized or generally accepted abortion."

Cicero once wrote. "legum servi sumus ut liberi esse possimus." (We are servants of the laws so that we are able to be free). There is, also, a ubiquitous motto, often attributed to St. Augustine, which reads "Cui servire est regnare." (Whom to serve is to reign.) The Anglican Book of Common Prayer makes use of a freer translation: "Whose service is perfect freedom." So, with apologies to Cicero, we Christians would say: Dei servi sumus ut liberi esse possimus. We are servants of God so that we are able to be free. The freedom for which we are searching is not merely a freedom from compulsion but a freedom for choosing what is true, good, and beautiful.

There is much that we simply do not have the power to change, but "even in the most unfavorable outward circumstances we possess within ourselves a space of freedom, that nobody can take away, because God is its source and guarantee." (Jacque Philippe, Interior Freedom) The place of freedom is interior. It is only secondarily concerned with exterior realities. This space is the core of the human heart created to be filled and fulfilled by the presence of God alone. The longing for or presence of anything which is not God or does not lead to God, creates a relationship of slavery because it cannot provide for the deepest desire of the human heart. Licentiousness and vice become their own punishment, robbing the person not only of their strength and freedom in choosing the good, but becoming a compulsion of habit, also robbing them of their relationship with God, the life of grace, and the One who truly satisfies and never passes away.

In our Alleluia verse from Psalm 95 we heard, "If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts." This psalme is the traditonal psalm of the invitatory for the breviary. The Latin is nuanced and give wonderful expression to the sentiment: "Utinam hodie vocem eius audiatis, "Nolite obdurare corda vestra." It is more a plea than a statement of what one ought to do is one happens to hear God's voice today. "Oh, if only you would listen to his voice today." What would you hear? You would hear him saying, "harden not your hearts!" In our Gospel, Jesus uses language which sounds rather strong when he chastises several villages: "Woe to you Chorazin! Woe to you Bethsaida! And as for you Capernaum!" These, too, are pleas. If we do not respond with love for the love which God has manifested for us, we risk losing it all. We need to increase this space of interior freedom in our hearts so that, cooperating with grace, we can begin to make a response.

As Jacque Philippe puts it, "We find confinement unbearable, simply because we were created in the image of God, and we have within us an unquenchable need for the absolute and the infinite. That is our greatness and sometimes our misfortune. We have this great thirst for freedom because our most fundamental aspiration is for happiness; and we sense that there is no happiness without love, and no love without freedom. ... man cannot live without loving. The problem is that our love often goes in the wrong direction: we love ourselves, selfishly, and end up frustrated, because only genuine love can fulfill us. Only love, then can satisfy us; and there is no love without freedom. ... Love is neither taken nor bought. There is true love, and therefore happiness, only between people who freely yield possession of the self in order to give themselves to one another."

There. The Cross. This Eucharist. Jesus hands himself over for us. He yields possession in order to give himself to us. In his Sacred Heart, he has made room for our entrance because he consented in freedom that at the last, even his heart should be pierced.

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