Freedom Inside

“You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:32)

James Dean New York

I think there is something about today’s gospel passage that might stun our American minds.

The Lord Jesus speaks of liberation. “Come to Me. Learn from Me. You will know the truth then. And the truth will make you free.”

Now, I think we Americans naturally imagine liberation as an escape from being inside to being outside, in the open. That’s what I spontaneously imagine, anyway. Free = outside. Maybe in the car. But definitely not inside.

Both the Lord Jesus and His interlocutors, however, clearly imagined ‘freedom’ in a completely different way, which makes the passage more difficult for us to understand. They did not think that free = being outside. To the contrary, everyone involved in the conversation imagined that ‘free’ meant: being safely inside the house, with no danger whatsoever of being thrown out. A slave must fear being expelled from bed and board, because he has no standing, no real foothold that binds him irrevocably to his home. A free person, on the other hand = someone who dwells securely in his house.

Now, I think this difference actually might be pretty important, when it comes to understanding a lot of the things that the Lord Jesus said. Our American idea of the autonomous individual is simply something that didn’t cross His mind. Christ has revealed to us that the cosmos, taken as a whole, is a household, governed by a loving Father.

It is actually impossible to leave this house. The image of gaining freedom by getting outside, out of the reach of any authority over me—this image of freedom is such a fantasy that it didn’t even occur to anyone in the conversation in the gospel reading.

The heavenly Father runs the cosmos as a bed and board for us, and we all have the absolute right of the freeborn child to our place in it. None of us are slaves who need fear expulsion. So teaches the Christ. ‘The flowers of the field neither toil nor spin, so why would you worry?’

The only way out of the household of God is not a real way, but a fantastical lie. Namely, being seduced by Satan into thinking that we are trash, and that by all rights we will be cast out to the curb sooner or later. Satan tricks us into thinking that the Father is not kind, but is actually a tyrant, so we’re probably better off at the curb. Such are Satan’s lies.

Christ does not set us free, then, for some errant adventure in the windswept, dusty wilds–no matter what our American imaginations might conjure up. To the contrary. Freedom = dwelling securely in this great household operated by God, where we live together, under His ineffably benign authority.

Land of the Free

church of all nations

…Thanks to the wonders of internet technology, I am sitting here in the empty ballroom of a huge Jerusalem hotel listening to the second quarter of the Redskins-Broncos game. Suprisingly close! Go ‘Skins!

…This morning we celebrated Holy Mass at the rock where the Lord Jesus agonized in the Garden of Gethsemane. The place is enclosed by an evocative Barluzzi church, which is known as the Church of All Nations. It was built by donations from various countries, including the U.S. One of the interior domes is subtly emblazoned with the seal of the United States.

US sealThe Agony in the Garden may be the most important mystery of Christ’s life for us Americans–citizens of the land of the free.

Yesterday in Bethlehem we meditated on the Incarnation. The Son of God united our humanity to Himself, remaining a divine Person. As Fr. Golas put it, the Lord Jesus never agonized about His identity. He always knew His mission, His destiny. He always knew the gracious plan of the Father, a plan for our welfare but for His woe–at least for His woe in Gethsemane.

Christ, knowing all things, freely chose to embrace the will of the Father. In the Garden of Gethsemane, He taught the world what freedom really is.

Christ never agonized about His identity. But He did agonize. He agonized so intensely that He sweated drops of His Precious Blood.

masada
Masada on the Dead Sea
Christ’s perfect freedom did not entail His stopping being human. We human beings do not want to suffer and die.

God truly became man; therefore, He wanted to live and be happy. He did not come to the garden because of some sick death-wish.

“Father, let this cup pass from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours be done.”

Freedom does not allow us to avoid all pain. Our generation of Americans has forgotten that freedom is something noble for which our forefathers suffered and died.

Freedom means doing the will of the Father. Freedom means harmonizing our wills with God’s will. Freedom means trusting God. The most free person is the one who trusts God the most. Trusting in Providence is the consummate act of freedom. The great anthems of our country have sung this truth.

The Father utterly vindicated Christ’s free act of trust. Christ loved life; He did not want to die. But He obeyed the will of the Father to the end. He offered His human life–then the Father gave it back to Him…

…We also visited Masada, where the last Zealots of the first Jewish rebellion held out against the Roman Tenth Legion. The Jews committed suicide rather than surrender.

We conducted a moral analysis of what happened. We concluded that committing suicide was not the right thing to do. Fight to the death, sure. Suicide? No…

…We also visited Qumran, and we floated in the Dea Sea for a few relaxing minutes.

God Asks Permission His Way

annunciationI am ashamed to admit that I am just now getting around to reading all the homilies and speeches our Holy Father gave when he was in the Israel in May.

When he was preaching in the Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth, the Pope made a remarkable observation.

He was recounting what happened at that spot, when the Archangel Gabriel awaited the Blessed Virgin’s response:

The narrative of the Annunciation illustrates God’s extraordinary courtesy. He does not impose himself, he does not simply pre-determine the part that Mary will play in his plan for our salvation: he first seeks her consent.

In the original Creation there was clearly no question of God seeking the consent of his creatures, but in this new Creation he does so.

Of course it is a beautiful thing to see the Archangel waiting on Our Lady’s free response–to see the Lord waiting on it, all creation waiting on it.

Pope in Nazareth
Pope meditating during Vespers in Nazareth
What struck me here the most, though, is the way the Pope blithely contrasts this with the way God created us in the first place.

In the original Creation there was clearly no question of God seeking the consent of his creatures.

Of course there wasn’t. He created us out of nothing. You can’t ask nothing permission to create it, because there is nothing to ask.

You can only seek the permission of a free person who already exists. Existing is a given–literally. God gave us ourselves.

Then, He asks us to give ourselves back. Freely giving ourselves back is the one and only way for us to deal with having ourselves in the first place.

It is pointless and absurd to fuss about existing, because it never was, and never could have been, a matter for advice and consent.

But offering oneself back to God as an oblation of love–now that is something to fuss about…

ben
My brother Ben
Speaking of which, a friend asked me to mention that The Bethlehem Monastery of Colettine Poor Clare nuns in Barhamsville, VA is having a “Come and See” day on November 14 for women 18-35.

…P.S. Just in case you were looking for White in the Grey Lady recently, Ben White has moved on from the NYT and is now contributing to a daily briefing on politico.com called “Morning Money.”

Soldering 101

Last month I received a very warm compliment after Mass.

captain kirkBut yesterday I got the best compliment EVER:

Father, we love to listen to you preach.

You have a kind of tone when you speak…

It’s like Captain James T. Kirk! You talk like Captain Kirk of the Starship Enterprise!

…Here is Captain Kirk’s homily for this beautiful Sunday:

The Law of the Lord is perfect. –Psalm 19:7

We human beings are complicated. Some of us are more complicated than others. But all of us are complicated, compared to other creatures, like squirrels and dogs. Squirrels and dogs follow instinct. We, on the other hand, make choices.

We are unique creatures on the earth. We have free will. The problem is that we don’t exactly know what to do with it.

Continue reading “Soldering 101”

Election

voting_machine_jokeTo vote is to choose. All the individual voters make their choices, and the Republic elects a president. Sometime in the next few hours, we will know how this election turned out.

It pertains to our dignity as intelligent, discerning adults to make our choice as voters. We are blessed to live in a land where we have this duty and privilege. This is the heart of American freedom.

Everything in this world, though, is imperfect. Politics is imperfect.

Let us cast our minds, then, to the eternal Election Day, the day of the divine election.

From all eternity, unto all eternity, God Almighty has chosen. He has made His election. He has voted. He has chosen to love us.

We did not choose this. We did not choose to exist. We did not choose to be redeemed by the Precious divine Blood. We did not choose to be called to heaven.

God chose. God voted. He marked His ballot with His blood. Who did He vote for? Us.

Election Day 2008 in America is certainly important. We cast our ballots with sober awareness of everything that is at stake. But the eternal election day matters more.

It is an act of freedom for us to cast a ballot. It is an even greater act of freedom to submit to the choice of God.

It is very important who wins the presidential election in the United States today.

But let’s not forget who won the Election on the eternal Day of Christ. We did.