Tuesday in the week of the Publican & the Pharisee:
BETWEEN THE CFR Podcast and my own t0-read (especially Transformation in Christ and He and I) list I’m in the midst of a flood of thoughts about interior freedom. This is a specifically Christian conception, although it may have non-Christian predecessors in pagan philosophies. How can a person respond fully from, the core of their being, to God as he is really presenting himself to them? To do this the person must be free, but this doesn’t mean free of external chains: a saint can be imprisoned, beaten, enslaved, abused, tortured, maimed, and nearly dead – while still being free to respond to God.
Understanding that external forces can only “kill the body, but not the soul” is a first step, or maybe the first step is realizing that no matter what the world says, God says we are free in the Son. That means that even when the world says you are “oppressed” or “unfree” in any way, you’re not actually hindered at all from responding to God in a way that mirrors the mystery of Holy Matrimony: free, full, faithful, and fruitful. We fear external forces and this fear can prevent us from being free. It is the fear itself – and internalized response – that is the cause of our unfreedom: not anything on the outside. If God calls and we do not respond because of fear, we have failed. It’s not that someone else has prevented us. God does not call us foward if he doesn’t give us the gifts to move in his will. A fearful rejection of God’s call is a lack of faith in God, a lack of confidence in his promises.
Today’s epistle, though, finds St Peter describing to us an entirely different kind of hindrance to interior freedom: those who fall pray to their own desires, “especially those who indulge in the lust of defiling passion and despise authority… They have eyes full of adultery, insatiable for sin. They entice unsteady souls. They have hearts trained in greed. Accursed children! Forsaking the right way they have gone astray…”
It would be especially easy in today’s church to point at Cardinals, Bishops, Priests, Monastics, Nuns, theologians, etc, and say, “they are like this” but to point at or to point out… would be to make us like the Pharisee in Sunday’s Gospel. It’s damnable to point out this failure in the second or third person, but far more difficult and far more laudable to point out this sin in the first person. In the second person, just saying “she gets to do this…” becomes an excuse for me to do it as well. But saying out loud, “I am doing this because I want to…” and saying it with that level of honesty can help others seek their own healing. Peter calls out those who want to. They are enslaved to their own addictions to sin. And they lead others to the same enslavement.
It’s easy, as I mentioned, to point at others.
I spent most of my twenties and thirties involved in things this way. My parents turned into activists, now launching others in this direction. It pains me, today, to see the blowback of my own enslavement.
But freedom comes not from one’s own license to do whatever one wants, but conformity to the God who’s very name is love.
CS Lewis’ Screwtape Letters has a passage on this at the very beginning:
To us [the Demons] a human is primarily food; our aim is the absorption of its will into ours, the increase of our own area of selfhood at its expense. But the obedience which the Enemy [that is, God] demands of men is quite a different thing. One must face the fact that all the talk about His love for men, and His service being perfect freedom, is not (as one would gladly believe) mere propaganda, but an appalling truth. He really does want to fill the universe with a lot of loathsome little replicas of Himself—creatures whose life, on its miniature scale, will be qualitatively like His own, not because He has absorbed them but because their wills freely conform to His. We want cattle who can finally become food; He wants servants who can finally become sons. We want to suck in, He wants to give out. We are empty and would be filled; He is full and flows over. Our war aim is a world in which Our Father Below [that is, Satan] has drawn all other beings into himself: the Enemy wants a world full of beings united to Him but still distinct.
…Our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do our Enemy’s will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.
When that desire to obey manifests, it is God’s Grace that does so. When we lean in, it is His Grace that causes us to lean in at all, and gives us the needed time and energy and tools to do so. It is the dance of human freedom to be God’s Son that moves us, but the Dance is God.
We can only do it when we are Free.
And God will break all the chains we hold out to him.
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