What is Freedom?

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How come “my rights, my freedom” is so often the refrain of those who want to do self-destructive things?

Teens, who insist on being “free” from parental constraints, are often the ones who want to drink, have sex, do drugs or defy other rules of morality. They want to be free not to go to Mass. Free not to be Catholic. Free to have an abortion. Free to indulge themselves without boundaries.

Is that really the definition of freedom then? Is it the right to be totally self indulgent?

How do you define “freedom” in your household?

If God made us in His image so that we might know Him, love Him and serve Him—out of our own free will—then really isn’t freedom like a trust fall into His arms? Remember those ‘70s experiences…you are surrounded by a group of friends and you let yourself fall back because you know they’ll catch you and lift you up. That’s a small inkling of freedom.

On the other hand, we can choose to follow the devil, but really that is like choosing to be shackled, chained to the ground, unable to rise.

Perhaps the best image of glorious freedom is the soaring eagle. It rises up, gliding on air currents. The eagle isn’t earthbound. Doesn’t that sound wonderful?

Yet, we can’t experience that kind of freedom when we are bound by a pact with the devil. Our children need to know that immorality and sin won’t lead to a sense of freedom like the eagle enjoys. Making choices to be ego-indulgent generally leads to depression, which feels really HEAVY. This is because goodness (Godness!) isn’t there.

When I was teaching a college class one of my students asked, “Why do we have an ego if the best idea is to get rid of the ego in the end (in a holy life)?”  It was a question I couldn’t answer at the time. Back then I had strayed from the faith, and was looking for answers in Eastern meditation.

When I returned to Catholicism I found that God wants us to surrender to Him by first experiencing and renouncing attachments to the world. God allows the devil to tempt us and we get to say, “no thanks” over and over again. Sometimes we give in to temptation. THEN we get to learn more about God. We learn about His forgiveness. Through our worldly ego encounters we learn about love, mercy, tenderness, beauty and goodness.

In the process of experiencing the world we have the opportunity to meet God. We begin to see the contrasts. Good is pitted against bad. Beauty is pitted against ugliness. The choices are real.

I remember when my daughter was in preschool. Her teacher was so good. By her example she showed the little ones how to be cheerful, cooperative and hard working. Then she would remind them, “Make good choices, or choices will be made for you.”  The kids could choose to throw things or lash out at a classmate. But those choices would lead to consequences they didn’t like. They would have to sit in a corner. “You made a poor choice so now I have to step in. You lost your freedom.”

We have an ego in order to develop our understanding about God and goodness. Then we surrender that ego (which is really just the tool to grow in knowledge.) Once we know God better, we can trust in Him to use us according to His will. THEN and only then do we experience true freedom. We are lifted up into His arms.

St. Teresa of Avila experienced ecstasy and was lifted off the ground during her prayers. So also was St. Joseph of Cupertino, who flew like a bird whenever he thought about God.

Jesus, our Lord and Savior, rose out of the grave, having conquered death.

That’s true freedom!  Spread the word!

Image Credit: Matthew Hull

Copyright 2012 Judith Costello

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About Author

Judith Costello is the artist/author of Sacred Images: A Coloring Book for Prayer which includes 40 illustrations, 3 pages of ideas for adding color, design and borders, and a worksheet on designs. The full-color cover is one of Judith’s paintings. The book and her work can be found at www.unwindstudio.com and on Facebook under Unwind Studio:Where Art Relieves Stress.

2 Comments

  1. Is any discussion of authentic freedom complete without a warning against what can become the counterfeit of freedom (promoted by the ape of God) called license?

  2. Kevin, Thanks for commenting. I wanted to clarify…I think you saying that Satan disguises the “gift of freedom”–which comes from our being made in the likeness of God–with “license” which is a man-made construct to do as we please?
    The term “ape of God” threw me for a minute…I wasn’t familiar with it til I looked it up. The devil is an imitator…trying to be like God when he can’t come close…thus the phrase.

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