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An “Education to Freedom”

9/13/2003 - 8:30 AM PST

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Deacon Keith A Fournier
© Third Millennium, LLC


John Paul II spoke to all Christians last week, from Slovakia, and his message is a sobering and important one:

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"In our days, many baptized Christians have not yet made their faith their own in an adult and conscious way," the Pope said today when celebrating an outdoor Mass before 150,000 people…. They call themselves Christians and yet they do not respond in a fully responsible way to the grace they have received; they still do not know what they want and why they want it…" This is the lesson to be learned today: An education to freedom is urgently needed….


Especially in the family, parents must educate their children to a correct freedom, so as to prepare them to respond properly to God's call… . The family is the nursery where the little plants, the new generations, are nurtured. In the family, the future of the nation is forged."

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An authentic vision of freedom is one of the great themes, or “hermaneutics”, of this Popes extraordinary teaching. A “hermeneutic” is a lens through which one views something. This extraordinary Christian leader views the current global challenges facing Christianity through the lens of authentic or counterfeit notions of freedom.

In his monumental work “The Gospel of Life” he warns of a “counterfeit notion of freedom” that he clearly sees at the root of what he has properly labeled the contemporary “culture of death.” By using that phrase he has coalesced all the evils, from abortion to modern slaveries like pornography and drug addiction, to disdain for the poor and a cheapening of all life which has sustained capital punishment (no longer justified to protect the common good of society) and the growing trends toward euthanasia and eugenics. They all participate in a utilitarian view wherein people are used as instruments and property rather than seen as images of God, irrepeatable gifts, with inalienable rights and dignity.

He also warns of what he calls a “promethean attitude”, embraced by individuals and embraced by groups, states and regimes that see the person as something to be used rather than as a gift. This attitude becomes institutionalized in what the social teaching of the church refers to as “structures of sin” that are rooted in and propelled by a view of freedom as raw power over others, especially the most vulnerable. This notion of freedom as some contrived “right” to do whatever one chooses without reference to what is true, moral or in keeping with our obligations in solidarity, leads to what he rightly warned of as “the death of true freedom” in that extraordinary encyclical letter

In his letter, the “Splendor of Truth” he further develops this extraordinarily important “hermeneutic” and positions it in a magna carta on the moral life. He brilliantly articulates the path to authentic freedom through the proper understanding of and exercise of the freedom to choose the good. Frankly, the profound insights of this letter reveal the stuff that families, communities and nations can be built and rebuilt upon. Contrary to what many, even Catholics think, these “Encyclical Letters” (the word simply means “circulating” and was coined in the first centuries of the Church when these letters were literally circulated) contain extremely relevant insights not just for Christians or ‘religious” people but for all people. After all, no-one owns truth, it has a claim on us.

How desperately we need this “education in freedom.”

He spoke this profound message concerning an education in freedom from Slovakia, before an image of Mary, the mother of the Lord, to whom he is so profoundly devoted. She is a model of the ultimate exercise of freedom. Through her “Fiat”, her freely chosen surrender of love to God’s invitation, brought heaven to earth and earth to heaven. True freedom still does. Forty years ago that image of Mary had been removed from the same site when then Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev visited the city. His message was decidedly different.

Two diametrically opposed messages and two different symbols spoke from the same place in Slovakia.

The first, an icon of Marxist-Leninism, only one of the failed ideologies of the bloody twentieth century, characterized by movements, right and left, that embraced and proclaimed a false view of freedom; a symbol of a tyranny wherein a counterfeit promise of freedom led to enslavement and killing fields - all in the name of creating a “new man” and a utopian State.

The second, an icon of Jesus Christ, who still proclaims to the men and women of all the nations of the world that freedom is found at a cross of true love and progresses on a path of repentance and forgiveness; that we can “know the truth and the truth will set us free”. Here ...

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