Sunday, June 27, 2010

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. 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."
But if you go on biting and devouring one another,
beware that you are not consumed by one another.
I say, then: live by the Spirit and you will
certainly not gratify the desire of the flesh. For
the flesh has desires against the Spirit, and the
Spirit against the flesh; these are opposed to each
other, so that you may not do what you want. But if
you are guided by the Spirit, you are not under the
Gal 5:1,13-18

Too often in our society we equate freedom with the ability to do whatever we please, to act however we want and satiate whatever desires we may choose to entertain. However, many of these desires constitute in themselves a form of slavery that robs us of free will and negates our freedom. How many of us have suffered with an addiction, whether of a chemical nature like alcohol or drugs or else of a more mental nature like addiction to pornography or violence? Many things can be enslaving; such as wealth, lack of wealth (aka financial anxiety), possessions, lust, anger, fear, hatred, and of course pride. If we indulge these sinful inclinations then they will own us just as surely as if we were slaves in the physical sense. This is not something that just affects "sinful" people either, as we are all sinful regardless of how highly we are esteemed by those in the world or even those in the Church. Even Popes sin, even the self-proclaimed lay leaders of parishes sin, and there are many among us like the Pharisees in the Bible who will proclaim their "holier-than-thou" status right up to the point where they're thrown into the lake of fire. To their credit I think that many in the hierarchy realize this fact, I've heard many including the Pope who seem very willing or even eager to highlight their faults and show themselves to be ordinary people with the failings inherent in all flesh. As Socrates is claimed to have said, the wisest among us are those who recognize their own ignorance and lack of wisdom. It is only through losing ourselves and our notions of self-importance and power that we will truly become free from the chains that bind us to our dying flesh.

In his book 1984, George Orwell parodied the philosophy of totalitarianism with the line "freedom is slavery." To an extent this may in fact be true. When left to his own devices, man can be a cruel and destructive force. It is only in subjugating our will to something larger and more powerful, whether that be the "social contract" of Hobbes or the God of Christianity, that we can be at peace with ourselves and with those around us. We do not clearly see the perfect reality of the universe, we can at most only see what is immediately around us and visible to our senses. Even the great insights of science only get us so far, since they are to an extent dependent upon our fallible senses for interpretation. Because of this limited sight, we are not always conscious of what evil consequences our actions may create. Even when we can predict those consequences, often we either willfully ignore them or enter into our actions fully accepting them and deeming our own pleasure to be worth the cost. We only have to look as far as events occurring in our own time and place to see this in action. The Gulf Coast oil spill came about as a result of a company seeking short-term gains without care for long-term risks. They cut corners and sacrificed safety in order to increase profits, knowing that such a disaster was at least possible as a result, and when the unthinkable happened they pretended to be surprised and tried to salvage their public image with the least amount of expense possible. They chose the freedom of personal wealth over their obligation to society and the environment, and as a result we have a catastrophe of immeasurable scale. Whenever we as flawed human beings put our selfish desires ahead of our duty to society and our fellow human beings it inevitably ends in sorrow, whether we're talking about abortion or polluting the environment or starting unjust wars or any other situation where selfish interest is in conflict with concern for humanity.

As our technological command over nature increases, the conflict between greed and compassion will grow larger and much more dangerous. Even an atheistic, humanist worldview would have to agree that we must subjugate our own egos and selfish desires in order to survive as a species and preserve our planet, but how much more so are we as Christians called to put the needs of others over our own desires and look at their safety and security as paramount over our own? How much more are we as Catholics called to become slaves to the Cross of Christ, to follow him even to death and not look back so that our subjugation can lead to the freedom of the world from sin and evil? To paraphrase the words of Bob Dylan, you gotta serve somebody and it's either going to be the Devil or the Lord. We're not powerful enough to serve ourselves, even when we think we're doing so we're only doing the bidding of Satan. We all have a choice to serve Good or evil, and if we thought about the consequences I think that we'd all arrive at the same position. It is only in serving the Lord that we find the true freedom to cast off sin and become true people as we are meant to be. It isn't easy, I certainly haven't found the way and very few actually have, but through God's grace and the inspiration of the saints perhaps one day we can find the strength to give away our lives to God.

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