As we make our way on our Lenten journey seeking to free ourselves from excessive worldly attachments Sharon Nelsen has submitted this chapter of a book by Abbot Jerome Kodell . May it aid each of you in taking another step closer to the interior freedom that God wills for us.
by: Abbot Jerome Kodell, OSB, Life Lessons from the Monastery, Section 20, pages 89-91.
The story is told of the little boy who liked to watch his sister’s goldfish swim around in its home, a bowl of water. But the more he thought about it, the more he didn’t like that the fish was confined to such a small space and had no real freedom. So he got a hammer and broke the bowl to give the fish its freedom.
There is a lot of confusion about the meaning of freedom. On the fourth of July, we speak about freedom and independence as if they were the same. It is helpful to distinguish freedom as a condition of the person, and liberty as a condition of the environment. There are many independent people who are not free and many dependent people who are. Henry David Thoreau and Nelson Mandela were completely free when they were behind bars, though they did not have liberty of movement, but some of the people who put them there, though they were at liberty to come and go as they chose, were not free.
Freedom is the prize of human maturity. It is meant for all but not achieved by all. It permits us to live by norms that we have chosen and internalized.
For many, freedom means the ability to act without external restrictions. This is the counterfeit of freedom that inspires bizarre ideas and activities associated with TV talk shows. This understanding of freedom is partially true, but by missing a large part of the truth, it becomes false.
True freedom involves being unbound from internal restrictions. Not being enslaved to those sometimes unseen masters that often drive our decisions and actions: Those fall in the area of passions, fears, prejudices, resentments and insecurities.
These hidden internal masters can make us prey for the external masters: opinion, fashion, social pressure, esteem of peers, influence of celebrities.
It is impossible for a human being to live without a master. We did not create ourselves. “You are not your own” (1Cor. 6.19). The free person is one who has decided on and chosen God as master. Slavery is serving a master you haven’t chosen. St. Paul teaches that Christ has freed us from slavery to sin. But he goes on to say, “Freed from sin, you have become slaves of righteousness” (Romans 6.18). In other words, you have to choose one master or the other, sin or righteousness, or rather, sin or God. True human freedom begins when we recognize God’s lordship over our lives and take the first steps to making god our master. St. Augustine says, “Whoever is not bound by this chain is a slave.”
The usual path to freedom begins from a desire for no restriction at all (better known as license); to a desire to answerable to no external norm (such as the laws and restrictions of church and society); to a desire for an internal norm that will direct our lives.
The role of the Ten Commandments or, the Ten Words, is helpful in illustrating the path to true freedom: The Ten Words are external norms of behavior but they are meant to be far more than that. They are presented twice in the Bible:
I, the Lord, am your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, that place of slavery.” (Opening words in Exodus 20.1-17 and in Deuteronomy 5.6-21)
Then follow the “Ten Words,” which tell us how to stay out of a deeper slavery. The translation “Commandments” is unfortunate, because it puts a negative slant on these Ten Words of God to us.
They are meant to show us ways to live in freedom. If internalized, they become part of our inner norm grounded in God, whom we have chosen as our master. Until they become part of us, we are enslaved to our own egoism, living in the world as a dangerous place, where people are adversaries who must be taken advantage of and overcome.
The lack of freedom ultimately causes a deep insecurity, a void which must be filled. It spawns jealousy and fear, and is the source of wars and quarrels, infidelities, and larcenies. Because I am empty, I try to fill up the vacancy by control of others, by possessions, by power. The more I receive of this kind of compensation, the more I need, because my insecurity is not being recognized and addressed at its source.
Ultimately, only God can heal us from insecurity and slavery and give us the gift of freedom, and God wants to do this—even “desperately”—and is very near and available.
In communion with the Creator who made us and loves us, we begin to know our own worth and the worth of others, and we are free to accept ourselves and everyone else as we are, knowing that we are accepted by our loving Father. We are on the road to personal freedom.