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Freedom

July 4, 2013 by  
Filed under Free Will, Grace, Liz Estler, Spiritual Direction

The 4th of July, for the United States, is a day to celebrate independence, liberty and freedom.  But, what really is true freedom?  God created us in His image and likeness and gave us free will.  And, Freedomthis free will is one of the ways in which we most resemble God.  For that reason, God never violates our free will.  Yet, we are never so free as when we freely choose the ultimate Good, God Himself.  Our true freedom is found in God.  Our true citizenship is found in heaven (cf Philippians 3:20a).

In the beginning, original sin damaged our ability to freely choose God, making our freedom limited and fallible (cf “Catechism of the Catholic Church” [CCC], 1739).  And so, it was for freedom that Jesus set us free, in order that we might not submit to the slavery of sin (cf Galatians 5:1).  In the sacraments, which were instituted by Christ, we continue to receive the grace of God through the Holy Spirit, to make a free choice for God.  Thus, freedom is a Trinitarian gift.

This gift of freedom is not license.  It is not exercised by choosing to do evil, by turning a deaf ear to God’s Word, by deadening ourselves with sin.  In fact, when we sin, we become less free to love God and neighbor and to give of ourselves.  When we focus on ourselves (cupidity) and turn inward, our wills become ill and the choices we make are not effective options.   We become blind and turn a deaf ear to injustice.  We end up by violating the moral law and rebelling against divine truth (cf CCC, 1740). St. Augustine said: “If you believe what you like in the gospels, and reject what you don’t like, it is not the gospel you believe, but yourself.”  And, this likewise applies to what the Church believes and teaches.  If we call ourselves Catholics, and pick and choose what Church teachings we will follow and what we will not follow, we deceive ourselves and end up following the unholy trinity of me, myself and I.   It is only when we receive the grace of Christ that our wills are healed so that our choices are good ones. We cannot do it on our own. God’s work in us doesn’t lessen or prevent our freedom.  It actually makes true freedom possible.

What does all this have to do with spiritual direction?  A good spiritual director helps us get to know ourselves better and shows us our blind spots.  The director helps us detach from worldly attachments and choose Jesus ever more fully, so that we may indeed freely choose to live, serve, and die as the adopted sons and daughters of our heavenly Father that we have become through our baptism in Christ, so as to rise to new life in Him.

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About Liz Estler

Editor, Roman Catholic Spiritual Direction. Liz holds a Master of Arts in Ministry Degree (St. John's Seminary, Brighton, Massachusetts), Liturgy Certificate (Boston Archdiocese), and a BS degree in Biology and Spanish (Nebraska Wesleyan University - Lincoln). She has served as hospital chaplain associate, sacristan, translator and in other parish ministries. She was a regular columnist for a military newspaper in Europe and has been published in a professional journal. She once waded in the Trevi Fountain!

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  • Wretched Sinner

    Liz, this is an excellent piece! Superb! It is interesting that you write on this since I have been pondering on this exact topic lately.

    It seems to be such a paradox. If we love God then we obey His commandments which to the eyes of the world those who follow the teachings of the church are in a way enslaving themselves to the hierarchy of an organized religion. Whereas from the eyes of the faithful, as you point out, to follow the desires of our self is the ultimate enslavement and to follow God’s laws is true freedom. Freedom from the slavery of sin.

    The other day I was pondering on why so many people I know take sleeping medicine. I kept pondering and I realized how merciful God is being to them and they don’t even know it. God is allowing themselves to be in agony so as to prompt their self-reflection and contrition – but they instead choose to numb themselves to sleep. Instead of deliberating and doing real work on figuring out what’s wrong they blame it on their poorly created genetic nervous system and numb themselves. It’s incredible. They are enslaved to their whims and flesh and desire and they can’t find peace.

    If we are truly free and chose to obey God and His church – we will find peace. We can rest assured of our obedience and consent to God’s Goodness and REST. Our conscience is calm and at peace. Even though this sometimes is hard – because we go against the laws of the flesh or against the concupiscences so entrenched in our fallen nature.

    • Jeanette

      What you say about people who take sleeping medication can be true but I must add that there are illnesses that cause sleep problems, even in true Christians. I would not jump to a conclusion that people who take sleep medication need to re-examine their lives with self reflection and contrition. I myself have fibromyalgia which entails sleep problems…I did not stay on any type of sleep medications for long but instead just ‘put up with it’ sleeping maybe 2 – 4 hours a night (and sometimes no sleep) with subsequent fatigue. Fortunately, I found out what I needed medically and now sleep soundly. My Good Lord led me, through a few good doctors, to better health. Glory be to God!

    • LizEst

      Thank you, WS! Yes, we find our true freedom in God.

      I echo what Jeanette says below. Yes, there are many who abuse sleep medications. In fact, just yesterday I just skimmed an article about this and the number of deaths that are being caused by it. There are also many who find that, because of disease, because of age, because of a reaction to another medicine they may be taking, because of any number of other legitimate reasons, they may need a little assistance from a sleep medication. This can be quite a significant trial…and hopefully one that you will not have to undergo. It does not necessarily mean that sin, or enslavement to “whims and flesh and desire”, brought on this lack of sleep.

    • http://rcspiritualdirection.com/blog Mary@42

      A beautiful insight Liz.

      @WS, I would be more charitable to those who – like me as per the instructions by my personal Doctor- have to use prescribed medicine to sleep. I was unable to sleep for Four Consecutive Days and Nights in October, 2007, WS, and ended up in Hospital for 2 whole weeks. It was most frightening to my girls and I have never forgotten that terrifying moment. I started hallucinating and bacame delirious during the Holy Hour Adoration before the Blessed Sacrament. By the Grace of God I managed to drive back home safely – five hours later – to find my daughters waiting for me at my Gate. My House Help had frantically called them when I left the house looking confused – but oblivious of it myself – and that aroused her suspicions that something was terribly wrong with me and that frightened her.

      • LizEst

        Thank you for your kind words, Mary. As always, the glory goes to the Lord.

        What a frightening experience for you and for your family. Good thing you were in the presence of the Lord for most of the time. It was a blessing your House Help called your daughters and you got to the hospital. I’m glad you are with us.

        • http://rcspiritualdirection.com/blog Mary@42

          Yes, Liz. I still remember how His Countenance kept changing on the Image in the Adoration Chapel and how I kept talking to Him, not knowing I was hallucinating, this time talking to Him on the Image and this time on the Monstrance. I have no doubt my Personal Patron was propping me up throughout and She took charge to ensure I drove myself back home safely and managed to negotiate through very thick early evening traffic jam

  • MarytheDefender

    True freedom indeed! I remember my religion classes before. Our prof emphasized that we cannot have true freedom if it my merely “freedom from.” Our freedom only fully manifests itself if it is exercised. Hence, we must have “freedom for” something.

    Freedom from sin means freedom for Christ! One sin tends to lead to another and then another until its a vicious cycle. But choosing Christ leads to more and more good. And only God’s goodness brings us joy and peace. :)

    • LizEst

      Thanks, Mary. May the Lord lead you more and more to true freedom! God bless you!

      • MarytheDefender

        Happy Independence Day! / Phil-American Friendship Day! (that’s what July 4 is here) God Bless you too!

        • LizEst

          Thank you, Mary! And, Phil-American Friendship Day to you! Thanks for teaching me something new!

  • AHD

    If we have a free will, then we can love God and our neighbour. If we don’t have a free will, then we would be like robots where someone else would have to press the button for an action to start. That wouldn’t be called love but instead a forced action. One of God’s greatest gifts to us is our free will so that we can love.

  • Jeanette

    Happy Independence Day to all our American friends; from your neighbour Canada!

    • LizEst

      Thank you Canada…and Jeanette! God bless you!

  • KAACD

    Is this your first column for RCS? I’m so glad you’re writing. Your reply’s to comments touch my heart. Your insightful and help me think about my struggles with my relationship with God.

    • LizEst

      Thank you for your very kind words, KAACD. All the glory goes to the Lord, of course. Yes, this is my first column for RCS (I posted a painting last week…but no real writing to speak of). May the Blessed Mother lead you ever more to Christ. May the Lord help you in your struggles and your relationship with Him. God bless you!