Monday, February 18, 2013

To be free is to be liberated from our own "freedom"

An interesting and, I think, fruitful, conversation about Christian freedom arose from my post on Saturday. The immediate cause of the discussion was something I quoted from Fr. Carrón's letter-to-the-editor of the Italian newspaper La Stampa: "I was then forced to shift my gaze to what made it possible: Who are You, who fascinate a man to the point of making him so free that he provokes the desire for the same freedom in us, too?" This provoked a response from a friend. Her response was that she saw no freedom at all in Benedict XVI's decision to abdicate the Chair of St. Peter because in giving up the papacy to devote himself to a life of prayer, he was giving up something demanding for something even more demanding. I responded by writing, "Freedom is not freedom from, but freedom for... I think one of Carrón's main points is that with this gesture Joseph Ratzinger shows us that true freedom is only realized by being dependent only on Christ, who is Freedom, just as He is Truth."

In turn, this response of mine prompted another friend to observe that the word freedom "is a great and ancient word of Christianity, and is not to be abandoned simply because the world has made it petty and twisted it." I agree, which is why I needed to reflect on what I meant by invoking freedom, not glibly, but perhaps a bit too ambiguously.

What is freedom, at least from a Christian perspective? While I would never presume to give a definitive answer, I assert strongly that it is only by looking at Jesus Christ that we have any hope of arriving at a truthful answer. So I turned, as I did yesterday, to the Lenten spiritual exercises given in 2004 by Archbishop Bruno Forte to the papal household, still headed at that time by Bl. Pope John Paul II, published in English as To Follow You, Light of Life. Taking Jesus' three temptations as his starting point, Forte wrote:
Jesus does not seek easy consensus or pander to people's expectations, but rather subverts them. Jesus chooses the Father: with an act of sovereign freedom he prefers obedience to God and abnegation of self over obedience to self, which would imply the rejection of God. He does not succumb to the pull of immediate success; he believes in the Father with indestructible confidence. In the hour of temptation, Jesus reaffirms his freedom from himself, free for the Father and for others, free with the freedom of love
Jésus tenté dans le désert, by James Tissot

Turning to Jesus' "Yes" to the Father in the Garden of Gethsemane, Archbishop Forte noted that it is only in Mark's account of this event (8:35) "that the Gospels preserve Jesus' use of of the affectionate Aramaic form Abba in addressing the Father." He then observed that our Lord's "Yes" to the Father "is born of unconditional love: his freedom is the freedom of love, the freedom of one who finds his life by losing it... able to risk everything for love. It is the daring of one who gives all."

Finally, His Excellency attested beautifully to the witness given us by Jesus- "He witnesses to how none are freer than those who are free from their own freedom in the name of a greater love. Free from self, he exists for the Father and for others: he is not concerned with self-promotion, but with promoting God and his Kingdom among men and women."

I believe it is this freedom that Fr. Carrón points to in both his initial response to the news of Pope Benedict's decision to abdicate, "The Incredible Freedom of a Man Taken Hold of By Christ," and in his letter-to-the-editor of La Stampa, "Ratzinger's Cross."

Last night, after finishing this post, I finished watching Éric Rohmer's La Collentionneuse. This movie ends with a remarkable reflection on freedom, on its existential dimension.

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