Lent: A Process of Real Human Freedom

thumbnail19Today, as we are all on our Lenten journey towards the Passion and Resurrection, I will share with you portions of Fr. Jacques Philippe’s (see Sources and Resources, In the School of the Holy Spirit) essay, Freedom and Submission: There is a serious question underlying all Christian teaching concerning a disciplined growing in holiness, and it is this: “….how can human freedom be reconciled with our submission to God?…It can be objected that…we are merely puppets in God’s hands.  Where are our responsibility and freedom?… “We should state firmly that, the more we are subject to God, the freer we are.  It could even be said that the only way we can win our freedom is by obeying God.  This fact is hard to grasp and will always remain something of a mystery, but a series of points may help us understand why it is true.

“1)  Docility to God does not make us into puppets.  Being guided by God’s commandments and by inspirations of the Spirit does not mean ‘flying on autopilot’ without having anything to do.  It leaves room for us to exercise our full freedom, responsibility, initiative, and so on.  But instead of the use of our freedom being random, or governed by our whims, God guides it in the way that is best for us.  It becomes cooperation with God’s grace, cooperation that does not suppress but uses all our human faculties of will, intelligence, reason, and the like.

“2)  God is our creator, and it is he who holds us in existence as free beings at every moment.  He is the source of our freedom;  and the more dependent we are on God, the more that freedom flows forth from its source…The only thing that He ‘forbids’ us is what prevents us from being free, what prevents our fulfillment as people able to love and be loved freely, finding our happiness in love…

“3)  What is freedom?  It does not mean giving free rein to whim, but rather enabling what is best, most beautiful, and most profound in ourselves freely to emerge, instead of being stifled by more superficial things such as our fears, selfish attachments, or falsity.  If we submit to God, that submission will in fact strip off a sort of shell that imprisons us, to make room for all that is genuine in us…Submission to God prunes things in us but never gets rid of the best that is in us:  our deep, positive aspirations.  Just the opposite:  it awakens and strengthens them, orients them, and frees them from obstacles to their fulfillment.

“4)  This is confirmed by experience:  people who go through life with the Lord and let themselves be led by him experience a growing feeling of freedom.  Their hearts are not constrained or stifled, but expand and ‘breathe’ ever more freely.  God is infinite love; there is nothing narrow or confined about him.  Everything in him is wide and spacious…

“5)  The real solution to the problem is not on the level of philosophy but in life as we live it.  On the level of philosophy, we can always suspect there must be some contradiction between our freedom and God’s will.  Ultimately, everything depends on how we situate ourselves in regard to God.  Any opposition between our freedom and God’s will is resolved completely if our relationship with God becomes a relationship of love, and it cannot be resolved in any other way…Adolescents are unhappy about being dependent on their parents, because that sort of dependence weighs them down;  they would prefer to be autonomous and not to need anyone at all.  But little children (and according to the Gospel we all need to become like that again) don’t suffer because they are totally dependent on their parents, but just the reverse, because their dependence is an exchange of love…

“6) All this means that if we want the (apparent) contradictions between God’s will and our freedom to be resolved, we ought to ask the Holy Spirit for the grace to love God more, and the problem will solve itself…God is infinite good, so that loving him does not constrict the heart but enlarges it infinitely…” As St. Teresa of Avila prayed,  “O God, help me to love you as you deserve to be loved.”

Lenten Blessings,  JC