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Archive for August 5th, 2010

You Shall be Free Indeed

Free at Last!

Free at Last!

“… Jesus therefore was saying to those Jews who had believed Him,  ‘If you abide in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.’

They answered Him,  ‘We are Abraham’s offspring, and have never yet been enslaved to anyone; how is it that You say,  ‘You shall become free’?’

Jesus answered them,  ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin. And the slave does not remain in the house forever; the son does remain forever. If therefore the Son shall make you free, you shall be free indeed.’ ” (John 8:31-36)

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My Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Sometimes the Lord has to shake us up in order to get us to understand what He is saying to us through His Word. As humans we tend to read and interpret scripture through the lens of our natural faculties.  Thus, in order to force His disciples to understand the Word he was bringing to their attention, He had to break them free of their normal way of understanding so that the spiritual meaning of the Word could get into their hearts not their minds.

For instance, in the scripture cited above, Jesus shocked those Jews who believed in Him when he declared to them that if they really wanted to experience real freedom they needed to come to knowledge of the truth and that this knowledge would make them free.

They were shocked because, in their thinking, the Jews (and Israel)  were a free independent people since the time of Abraham when the Lord promised that He, the Lord would bring forth a great new, independent nation from the union of Abraham and Sarah. The fact that they had been in bondage in Egypt, then in Babylon,  and now under the control of Rome were seen by them as just  passing stages that could not nullify God’s covenant with Israel to be a free people that belonged only to God.  It was only from this viewpoint that they could respond to Jesus with the statement  “… we have never been enslaved to anyone”

Today, we are similarly shocked because we have a worldly understanding of what “freedom” entails.  In the world’s way of thinking, personal  “freedom” means the ability of a person to do what that person chooses without restraint from any outside regulation or impediment. In the political sphere it is the right of a people or nation to determine their own destiny apart from the tyranny of an alien power.  We don’t really understand how “knowing” a concept or principle could set any one free in and of itself.

Take the term “freedom” itself. Just knowing the meaning of the term does not set anyone free. I can say that “I am free” all I want but If the government in my country places restrictions on what I may say and do I am not truly free.

Thus we moderns also find it difficult to understand just what is this “freedom” to which Jesus refers. And not only that, but what is this “Truth” that by knowing, will truly set us free?

The problem stems from the fact that, we, like the Jews of His time, we also tend to interpret all communications in terms of our cultural understanding of what freedom entails in our limited natural and temporal environment. We completely ignore the fact that there is an eternal spiritual environment that is by far more important than the brief interval we spend in our earthly frame of existence.  In doing so we are also ignoring that there is a spiritual and eternal “freedom” that is more important than any expression of “freedom” we find in this world.

What Jesus was trying to tell them, and us, was that, by God’s grace, an entrance to this true and eternal freedom, spiritual freedom, is now available to man. A freedom to become what the Father originally intended for humanity. A freedom to be in harmony with His will and a deliverance from the sin nature that held us all in bondage. Jesus’ message to them, and us, was that entrance into this ”freedom” depends entirely on “knowing the truth” and that that this “truth” would be the only way they could come to know what true “freedom” really is.

As a result of Adam’s sin of rebellion against God, all of us inherit in our flesh a spirit of rebellion (sin) from Adam and, in giving in to this rebellious spirit, we thus become the slaves to our own fleshly instincts rather than the freedom that comes from being in total harmony with the will of God as his Children. We are born as slaves to our sin nature and Jesus came from the Father to take on our sin nature and, thus, deliver us from slavery to sin, restoring us to the true freedom of the Children of God.

In this true freedom we are transformed into the image of the Son and we become God’s instruments to bring forth His Kingdom into this fallen world.  In this state the Father, working through the Holy Spirit, uses the spirit of Jesus in us to accomplish His work in this world.  In order to do so He depends on our freedom so that out of agape Love we willingly do what He places in our hearts. This exercise of freedom to choose what God chooses can be termed “the Liberty of the Children of God”.

This is the “Truth”, the good news, that Jesus came to bring, and, in fact, since  He, Himself, is the “Truth the Way and the Life”, it follows that “no one comes to the Father but through Him”. This is the “Truth” that, when accepted by faith into our hearts, does indeed set us free from sin, death, and the oppression of the world. This “Truth” is communicated to us through His Word and made Life to us though its activation in our lives by the Holy Spirit.

The problem we Christians have today is, that although we have received the “Truth” through the Word, many of us have not put the Word into action, through love, as we ought. That is why Jesus declared to those who followed Him that in order for this “Truth” to take root in their lives, His Word must abide in them, such that it becomes a living principle through which they act out their lives in agape love. He further told them that if they yielded to God to bring them to this stage, then and only then, could they really be His disciples.

But how, you may ask, is this freedom of the Children of God manifested in the world we live in?

By faith and through faith.

By faith we understand that what we experience in this world is passing and we place our sights on that which is eternal.  And through faith  we make our choices  to act in this world in the Liberty we have as God’s Children.

“So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth” (Col. 3:1-2)

By faith we detach our selves from the circumstances which surround us and hem us in, knowing that in exercising our liberty as children of God, we are fulfilling the will of the Father and that our focus is on Him and Him alone, to do His will. It is in this manner, then, that our true freedom is manifested – the freedom to act with  our free will in the liberty accorded to the Children of God.

What we, as spiritual pilgrims, then need to be seeking, is this true freedom that will liberate us from the world regardless of the circumstances that encompass us. This is the “freedom” Paul and Silas found in the Philippian dungeon (Acts 16:22-36), a freedom to praise and worship the Lord in the midst of their suffering and oppression.  This Liberty of Spirit is the freedom that permits us, by the grace of God, to make the appropriate choices in our lives as we walk along the way of truth  and love.  The exercise of this freedom permits God’s will to be accomplished in our lives and in the lives of those around us. It is only through this spirit working in us and through us that we can proclaim as Jesus proclaimed “ I have overcome the world”

For instance, Blessed Bransma who died in solitary confinement in a German concentration camp wrote these words about the “freedom” of spiritual prayer he found in his enforced separation from human contact,

“Leave me here freely all alone,

In cell where never sunlight shone,

should no one ever speak to me,

This golden silence makes me free.”

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(In order to provide you with a deeper insight into these concepts, we continue the Post with the following excerpt from a talk given by an anonymous nun at the Visitation Monastery in St, Louis Mo. on the principle of Liberty of Spirit as taught by St. Francis de Sales)

Liberty of spirit is an inner freedom that allows each one of us to recognize and then to respond to God’s constant and challenging presence in our lives. This freedom to choose and act is essential to our nature as human beings according to approach to spirituality as taught by St. Francis de Sales.

God has given us the gift of free will to enable us to cooperate freely in the work of our personal salvation, but the choice of whether or not we do so is still ours.

In my other talk, “The Two Wills of God” ., we learned that we become co-creators with God whenever we make life choices based on discernment enlightened by our powers of judgment and the movements of our hearts. Add to this the innumerable calls on us to do this or that. Life becomes a series of choices, a few major ones but most of them very insignificant. I am going to let you in on a secret: 99% of the time, God is pleased with whatever we do provided our actions are motivated by agape love.

God loves us and wants us to become our true selves and to live in harmony with the desires of our heart. This may be the rub. Do we know our deepest desires? Foreseeing the events of the day with our Lord during prayer is one way of getting in touch with these desires and even with our true selves. The love inspiring our choices will be purified by this prayer encounter with the Spirit of God dwelling within us.

St.Francis and St. Jane

St.Francis and St. Jane

In his October 1604 letter to St. Jane de Chantal, St. Francis discusses the meaning of liberty of spirit. He says that liberty of spirit is the freedom of the children of God who know they are loved. It is the detachment of a Christian heart from all things so that it is free to follow the known will of God. Provided that the name of God is hallowed, that His kingdom is coming in us, that His will is being done, a free spirit has no other concern. I always like to point out the timelessness of Salesian spirituality which allows us great freedom to follow what might be called a spirit-led approach to religion and life. These teachings of Jane and Francis from the 17th century are still relevant today.

For a 20th century approach to liberty of spirit, I paraphrase Paul Tillich in “The Eternal Now” who says that God is present to our spirit, not as the creative ground of all things nor as the stage director of history, but as a presence in our personalities that grasps, inspires and transforms us. For the Spirit at work in us awakens a desire to strive towards the sublime and gives us the courage to say “Yes” to life in spite of the difficulties we experience around and within us. The Spirit gives us the strength to throw off false anxieties and provides us with insights into ways not only to cope with the happenings in our world but even to rejoice in the challenges presented.

Salesian spirituality says that we exercise our freedom of choice primarily by the way we choose to love. We can choose between loving for self-serving ends that satisfy our ego desires and loving with a “pure love” that models God’s unconditional love for us. We choose between objects of love that by their nature could lead us either away from or toward God. We have a choice too in whether or not we love the facts of our lives, the unique situations in which we find ourselves.

How do we accept the things that happen in our lives? In the Salesian view, our human nature was created with a desire for good and an inner dynamic of love that moves us towards conformity to the divine will. But our human nature is wounded. Augustine in his prayer, “Our hearts are restless until they rest in You, O Lord,” described the plight of each and every one of us. According to Tillich, we all try to escape from God. We may flee to work which then becomes a necessity and a compulsion. We may lose ourselves in the ecstasy of living, the abundance of life. But God pursues us as Francis Thompson says in his poem, the Hound of Heaven. ‘Nigh and nigh draws the chase, With unperturbed pace, Deliberate speed, majestic instancy; And past those noised Feet A voice comes yet more fleet– ‘Lo! naught contents thee, who content’st not Me.’

The poem ends with: Ah,, fondest, blindest, weakest, I am He Whom thou seekest! Thou dravest love from thee, who dravest Me.’

So, the essential task of our life is to recover the ability to love purely.

In the fine arts center of the St. Paul Visitation Chapel there are stained glass windows depicting Francis de Sales and Jane de Chantal. Etched in the glass of one window is this saying, “All through love, nothing through constraint!” This quotation from Francis de Sales was the background music of our formation as Visitation nuns, and echoes Jesus’ words at the Last Supper found in John 15 verse 9b and following. “Remain in my love. If you keep my commandments you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and remain in his love…This is my commandment: love one another, as I have loved you. A person can have no greater love than to lay down one’s life for a friend.”

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With the above in mind, my friends, let us seek the Liberty of Spirit to be active in our lives each day so that through the love that impels our walk with Jesus, the will of the Father may be accomplished in this world!

“Baruch ha Shem!”, Blessed be The Name

Your Brother in Christ ….  Bartimaeus

(© B.R.Timeo and Bartimaeus’ Quiet Place, [2008-2010])

Recommended Links

St. Francis de Sales and Salesian Spirituality

The Two Wills of God

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