Freedom From and Freedom For .. .
A friend once said to me that Christianity is really good at telling you what to do, but really weak in telling you how to do it. There is something here I think worth exploring. Why does Christianity not seem to emphasize technique and practice like other faith traditions do? Sure we are told to love, but how do we love? What do we do when loving becomes difficult?
I wanted to discuss the theme of freedom from something, and freedom for something. The best analogy I can think of to understand these two ideas is ice cream. Now imagine yourself driving towards Toronto. Toronto is where you are headed and is your ultimate goal. But something happens. You are driving along the 401 highway and there is an exit leading to a giant ice cream store full of all sorts of delightful flavours. Unfortunately however, taking the exit toward the ice cream store will lead you far away from your destination.
It’s a funny example I know, but what would you do? Here you are before two roads which diverge in the wood, will you take the road to your destination, or will you allow yourself to be moved by your sugar tooth?
Here, I think the call I think is to have freedom from our sugar tooth, so that we can have the freedom for our ultimate destination.
In the exercises, Ignatius points out that we are made to praise, reverence, and serve God. This is the ultimate goal or destination to which each one of us is headed. Yet, there are many distractions on the way. There are many things inside and outside of us which threaten to take us away from this ultimate purpose.
Will we choose to love God and do His will, or will we choose our own will? Will we choose to let God provide for our needs, or will we take from others? Will we choose to love God and love our neighbour from a pure heart, or will we not? You see, if our ultimate destination is God and His Will, then right away we will discover many exits along the road which try to take us off course. Before all these exists, we need the freedom to stay the course.
In reality, there is nothing new here. Jesus tells us to love God with all our heart, soul, strength and mind and to love our neighbour as ourself. This is perhaps the “what to do” of Christianity. This is our ultimate goal and everything ought to be measured against this end. In other words, does this person, place, or teaching help me to love Christ more? If not, I should put it aside.
Now we can turn to the how. How do we obtain this freedom from all these desires which threaten to pull us off course?
Here perhaps we can refer to another teaching of Christ. He points out that “When an unclean spirit comes out of a man, it passes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ On its return, it finds the house swept clean and put in order. Then it goes and brings seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and dwell there. And the final plight of that man is worse than the first.
Hence, it is not enough to clean your room so to speak. When we make the attempt to follow Christ, and move away from our attachments there will be a void inside of us. Some form of emptiness caused by our giving up something. The void must be filled as Christ indicates. Nature abhors a vacuum. If we do not heed Christ’s advice then the vacuum will be filled by a number of evil spirits, making us worse off than before. Think of the person who gives up something through an immense act of will, and now replaces that habit with worse habits, or even with a profound pride in their own giftedness.
But then what to do? Shall we give up then on the quest for virtue? Should we just give in to our temptations so as not to awaken an even bigger dragon?
Here I think is where Christianity shows its colours more brilliantly. Christianity is about Christ. The strong man who has overcome the world. It is about Jesus Chirst, the eternal Son of God, who became a man, and said to each one of us that unless we abide in His love, unless we abide in Him, we can do nothing.
You see, Christianity does not emphasize technique like other faith traditions, because at the center of our faith is a relationship with a person who gives us the grace and strength necessary to overcome all our attachments, and all our unfreedoms.
It is to pray to Christ continually, asking Him to give us the grace and strength to persevere, to be strong, and to not give up. As St. Paul says to us, His grace is sufficient for each one of us. For His power is made perfect in our weakness.
Here, then is “the what” of Christianity. It is the person of Christ who died and rose from the dead. Who overcame death in a way that no other mortal ever has. Yet, here also is our how, – it is to be in relationship with the Son of God and to allow His presence, His strength, His peace to flow into us, so that we may overcome all things as He did.
So what do we do when the going gets tough? We put our trust in Christ again, and with faith, perhaps with a rosary, maybe even two, we continue on our way, trusting that the Lord is with us and will help us through.