Independence Day at Mississippi Abbey
Scripture Readings: Hos 2:16-18, 21-22; Mt 9:18-26
Today is a day when our nation celebrates its most cherished attribute: FREEDOM. This is also a central attribute of our Christian faith. What exactly is meant by “freedom” has become confused over the history of our country, but our faith has remained clear about it.
Every human being has three fundamental tasks in life: what to believe, how to behave, and what to care about. These three tasks are what freedom—cultural or religious—is about. Being in the image of God means we are made free.
It was the American philosopher Isaiah Berlin who made the important distinction between “freedom from” and “freedom for” or “freedom to.” That distinguishes our cultural understanding of freedom from that of our faith.
Our cultural understanding is that we want to be free from… free from constraints to seeking our preferred forms of personal gratification. Sometimes this even means we want to be free to become enslaved or addicted to certain forms of gratification. I recall as an undergrad at the U of Iowa I would take my girlfriend out dancing on Friday and Saturday nights. Over time I became addicted to the Hokey Pokey…but I turned my self around. (Imagine: what if the hokey pokey really is “what it’s all about”?!)
And when I did, I became free for, free to. One becomes free to pursue authentic fulfillment and to practice self-constraint, self-discipline, and commitment to a particular person or cause. We become free for sacrificing lower levels of personal satisfaction for higher levels of self-gift. We become free to put the community’s principles before one’s own personality. AND we can do that because it appeals to us.
Christianity is often thought to be primarily about the first two tasks in life: what to believe and how to behave. Those are important, but secondary. Christianity is first and foremost about what we care about. And Christianity’s understanding of freedom is first and foremost ordered to what we care about and how we care about it. We must be free, it tells us, to care most about what is pervasive, enduring, and deep. That is not easy.
Our view of freedom affects not only how we think, it affects how we feel. Those who favor freedom from feel a sense of elation when pursuing and obtaining their preferred pleasure or ego-gratification. They are driven.People who favor freedom for have the opposite set of feelings when pursuing the superficial; they feel the waste of time. They are drawn to what endures.
When one enters marriage or a monastery, one goes through a process of becoming purified of unconscious views of “freedom from.” It is an arduous task characteristic of the formation period. But we can remember what Guigo the Carthusian said, “We go to God by unburdening ourselves. It would indeed be a hard way if one had to burden herself.” If we reflect on the beatitudes we see that they are an unburdening of oneself.
The Christian understanding of freedom is that we must be free from the bondage of self so as to be free to pursue the good of the other for the others own sake. That’s what it’s all about!