Arts and Culture

Freedom is One of God’s Great Gifts to Us

I have a habit. How long have I had it? I am not certain. Did it start when I began to teach philosophy many years ago? I don’t think so because I can now recall having the habit even when I was a seminarian studying for the priesthood. The habit is asking someone, “Are you reading anything really good now? Anything really special?”

One of the reasons I probably do this is I may want to tell the person about some book that I am reading that I wish to recommend strongly. I think another reason I ask that question is that I have been deeply influenced by some books. It is not merely that I have found some books especially interesting but rather that some books have profoundly influenced me. Probably that is one of the reasons that I write about books frequently in this column. It may be that I am hoping that readers of the column will be moved by my comments to turn to the book. I am hoping that my experience in reading the book will be the experience that others will have.

In his very insightful book, “The God of Space and Time,” New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1969, pp. 208, $4.95) Bernard Cooke writes the following:

“Sin is the greatest barrier to human freedom, but there are many other influences that work to diminish human freedom or make it impossible. One of the most important of these is ignorance, which is generally accompanied by elements of error. Unless men do know about the options that do exist for them in their life and experience, they are not really free to choose from among these options. One of the surest ways of enslaving people is to control their sources of information; conversely, one of the most effective ways of freeing people is to inform and educate them.” (p. 124)

I hope every teacher believes that whatever subject he or she teaches should liberate the students, should free their students. All knowledge can liberate us, all truth can free people to move into the future. Some truths can liberate more than others, but all truth can be free.

I think to appreciate the importance of what Cooke is saying it is necessary to think about freedom as one of God’s great gifts to us. The risen Christ enables us to achieve a level of freedom that we can attain only because of his resurrection. Christ has conquered death and this risen Christ lives within us strengthening and sharing his freedom with us. Commenting on how hope is the antithesis of fear, Cooke emphasizes how hope enables us to confront the evils that threaten us:

“In the emphasis on the hope that comes with the resurrection of Jesus we can see another element in the soteriology of the early Church: By his death and resurrection Christ frees men from the fears that would destroy their freedom of spirit. Perhaps what is most important, he has taken the sting of fear out of death itself. Since death is an archetypal symbol of fear in humans, the ‘defusing’ of death as an evil liberates man’s entire consciousness.” (p.125)

Every time we celebrate the eucharist, we have a special opportunity to allow our faith, hope, and love to be deepened. We are not alone on a journey and we can be certain that on that journey we will be challenged and tempted. St. Augustine claimed that it was no little thing to gain the kingdom of heaven.  So I am not claiming that it is easy to be a Catholic Christian. However, I do believe that following Christ should create a profound joy within us, a joy that can even coexist with disappointments and trials.

When I reflect that through what theologians call sanctifying grace, we share in God’s life that we actually have the Risen Christ and his Spirit living within us. Christ is not just in heaven or not only in the consecrated wafers but actually at the center of our personal being. Because of the presence of Christ and his Spirit, our personal existence has reached a new level of living. I think that this presence of Christ and his Spirit can change our consciences.

I think that is what Paul was pointing to when he urged Christians to have that mind in them which was in Christ Jesus. Not only can our consciences be transformed, broadened, and deepened but we can become dynamic signs of God’s love. We can become like living sacraments, channels of the Holy Spirit. When we meet someone who is sharing God’s life, we also meet God living in that person. The Christian community has a special power to cause a revolution in culture, a Christian revolution, a revolution animated by faith, hope, and love.

Father Lauder is a philosophy professor at St. John’s University, Jamaica. He presents two 15-minute talks from his lecture series on the Catholic Novel, 10:30 a.m. Monday through Friday on NET-TV.

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