Andrew M. Greenwell on Rethinking Freedom
According to Blessed John Paul II, to achieve perfect freedom, human freedom must mature. He recognized that even if we keep the commandments we are, as St. Augustine put it, still "in part freedom, in part slavery," ex parte libertas, ex parte servitus.
Perfect freedom demands that this half-free-half-slave condition be overcome by training in selflessness to the point where we are able to exercise "self-giving." "Perfection demands that maturity in self-giving to which human freedom is called." (Veritatis splendor, No. 17). We have to be able to love God and love neighbor, and this requires moral training and moral effort.
How do we mature our freedom so that it may be perfect?
The growth toward perfect freedom requires the recognition that the moral life is connected to truth, and so involves the exercise of reason. In particular it requires the exercise of conscience and the proper formation of conscience. (In this regard, conscience has to listen to, and abide by, the teachings of the Church's Magisterium regarding the natural moral law and the divine law.)
It requires training and growth in the virtues: prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance.
It requires listening to one's human nature, its well-ordered inclinations, including the "theology of the body," but only when concupiscence is stilled. Perfection is not gained by following the demands of a body that thirsts for a disordered passion. "The person, by the light of reason and the support of virtue, discovers in the body the anticipatory signs, the expression and the promise of the gift of self, in conformity with the wise plan of the Creator," as John Paul II put it. (Veritatis splendor, No. 48).
Perfect freedom is not something, however, we can achieve on our own. We are not a bunch of Pelagians running around trying to save ourselves. Even if we wanted to save ourselves and perfect ourselves, we can't.
To achieve perfect freedom requires the gift of God's grace. (Veritatis splendor, No. 17) It is "grace, which enables us to possess the full freedom of the children of God, and thus to live our moral life in a way worthy of our sublime vocation as 'sons in the Son.'" (Veritatis splendor, No. 18).
Perfect freedom is in fact the calling of the Christian. "It is for freedom that Christ has set us free." (Gal. 5:1, 13). There is therefore an "inseparable connection between the Lord's grace and human freedom." (Veritatis splendor, No. 24)
It is grace that allows the Christian to obey "the new law of the Holy Spirit," and thereby grow "in the freedom to which he or she is called by the service of truth, charity, and justice." (Veritatis splendor, No. 107).
It is also grace that obtains for us forgiveness when we fail in our pursuit for the "freedom for excellence." "[I]f redeemed man still sins, . . . though he has fallen into sin, [he] can always obtain pardon and enjoy the presence of the Holy Spirit." (Veritatis splendor, No. 103)
In the public square, our country speaks of freedom to the point where it is hackneyed. But the "freedom" touted on the television, taught in our public schools, claimed by all manner of activists, and heard in every political stump speech is a far cry from Servais Pinckaer's "freedom for excellence" or from Blessed John Paul II's "authentic freedom" or "perfect freedom."
Where are the cries of a responsible use of freedom? Where are the suggestions that we may be answerable to God for the use of our freedom? Where is the insistence that we must abide by the commandments? Where is the realization that we must inculcate and grow in virtue? Where is the awareness that we must properly form our conscience? Where is the knowledge that we need God's grace to be free?
As a nation, it seems that we need to re-think freedom.
Andrew M. Greenwell is an attorney licensed to practice law in Texas, practicing in Corpus Christi, Texas. He is married with three children. He maintains a blog entirely devoted to the natural law called Lex Christianorum. You can contact Andrew at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Pope Benedict XVI's Prayer Intentions for January 2013
General Intention: The Faith of Christians. That in this Year of Faith Christians may deepen their knowledge of the mystery of Christ and witness joyfully to the gift of faith in him.
Missionary Intention: Middle Eastern Christians. That the Christian communities of the Middle East, often discriminated against, may receive from the Holy Spirit the strength of fidelity and perseverance.
Keywords: freedom, Veritatis splendor, authentic freedom, freedom for excellence, freedom of indifference, Andrew M. Greenwell
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