Freedom is as Freedom Does
Deacon Keith A. Fournier
© Third Millennium, LLC
The great struggle of this hour is being waged - knowingly or unknowingly - over freedom. It is a contest with extraordinary implications. Almost every contemporary concern that we face as Christians can be positioned within this struggle. As Christians, freedom has a specific meaning and it must be viewed within that context. It is a lens through which we are invited by our faith (when fully and properly expounded upon) to view both how we live our lives and how we engage in our mission to this contemporary age.
How one defines human freedom will influence the way that he or she views almost everything. Freedom has consequences. Our choices not only change the world around us, but they make us to be the kinds of persons we become. The very capacity to make choices is what makes us truly human persons. What we choose either humanizes us further or leads us, ultimately, into slavery.
Our capacity to choose reflects the "Imago Dei", the Image of God, present within every human person. As the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council wrote in their document on the Mission of the Church in the Modern World, "Authentic freedom is an outstanding manifestation of the divine image within man." (Gaudium et Spes, "Joy and Hope", 17) Classical, orthodox Christians of every community, confession and ilk, must begin to listen closely to those who are using the word "freedom" today. We must ask what they really mean when they speak the word and we must examine their actions.
Freedom is as freedom does.
We need to hear the true voices of freedom in our hour and reject the siren song of the contemporary libertines. I believe that two voices in particular tower above all the others in proclaiming the truth concerning human freedom, its essential connection to truth and its obligations in solidarity to view the other as another self. Those two voices come from Pope John Paul II and his successor, Pope Benedict XVI.
These two extraordinary Christian leaders are being presented by some advocates of a false vision of freedom as archaic remnants of some perceived "oppressive system." Yet, just the opposite is true. Their message points us toward the future and they are the champions of authentic liberation. To a growing number of Christians, young and old, from every community and confession, as well as many other people of faith and good will; they are becoming recognized as the pristine and prophetic voices that they truly are. The authentic vision of human freedom that they proclaim is exposing the contemporary counterfeit notion of freedom.
The message is that there is such a thing as truth, and that freedom must always be exercised in relationship to that truth. Otherwise, it will lead to new forms of slavery and anarchy. Freedom is as freedom does. Truth must direct our exercise of our freedom to choose. Truth alone has the ability to lead us all to a future of authentic human freedom. It is only in choosing what is good that we experience human flourishing, serve the common good, promote justice and promote true liberation.
The late John Paul the Great was a prophetic voice for authentic human freedom. His successor, Benedict XVI, has stepped into the trajectory that he began, without missing a beat. Together, they give leadership to the emerging freedom movement of this Third Millennium. They expose the lies of this age and tell the truth about its illusory claims to freedom.
The recent news was filled with quotes from a message that Pope Benedict delivered to an assembly of families. He coined a phrase that was heard around the world, "anarchic freedom": "Today's various forms of dissolution of marriage, free unions, trial marriages as well as the pseudo-matrimonies between people of the same sex are instead expressions of anarchic freedom which falsely tries to pass itself off as the true liberation of man,"
He is absolutely correct.
In that phrase he summarized much of the teaching of his predecessor. This "anarchic freedom" is what Pope John Paul the Great referred to as a "counterfeit" notion of freedom. It can lead to something he warned of in his extraordinary encyclical letter "The Gospel of Life", the "death of true freedom" One of the overriding themes of The pontificate of Pope John Paul II was his clear teaching concerning - and his insistence upon- a true and authentic definition of human freedom. Only a true and authentic freedom, can light the path for individuals, communities, Nations and the international community to find their way.
Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict are freedom fighters. In their insistence upon the existence of absolute moral truths that are intended to guide all human behavior, they proclaim, in both word and in deed, that the struggle for freedom is the struggle of our age. The Catholic Church exists to proclaim and point the way to authentic human freedom. According to Pope Benedict , this was Pope John Paul II's mission, "…when, in face of all attempts, apparently benevolent, in the face of erroneous interpretations of freedom, he underlined in an unequivocal way the inviolability of the human being, the inviolability of human life, from its conception until natural death."
It is also becoming his.
Exposing the "erroneous interpretations of freedom" and proclaiming the full truth concerning freedom is the task of the hour. He is clearly up to that task. Our invitation is to heed his words and follow them, committing ourselves to the struggle for freedom. In one of his seminal works entitled "Introduction to Christianity" Pope Benedict XVI wrote: "…one could very well describe Christianity as a philosophy of freedom."
And, so it is.
Philosophy deals with the existential questions. The men and women of this age are asking the fundamental questions men and women of every age have asked. They hunger for truth and the yearning to be truly free. They will never be fully satisfied without God, who is the source, author and way to freedom. When freedom is authentic in its exercise it leads men, women and Nations to true liberation. The contemporary neo-pagan and post modernist age has become intoxicated on the wine of a false notion of freedom as a raw power over others who are weaker and the "right" to do whatever one wills.
The new counter culture movement of this age is the Catholic Church.
Pope Benedict recently opined concerning legal abortion and creeping euthanasia: "The freedom to kill is not true freedom, but a tyranny that reduces the human being to slavery." By calling what is always wrong a "right", contemporary men and women are increasingly bound by the chains of their own self delusion, materialism and nihilism. They are being imprisoned by the lies of "anarchic freedom."
Through the leadership of the Catholic Church, this false freedom will be exposed, opposed and overcome. The truth concerning freedom will be proclaimed and demonstrated. Many will reject this anarchic freedom as a counterfeit, recognizing the deceptions of materialism and nihilism. They will come to see that the slavery of this age has treated human persons as property to be used and disposed of at will for far too long. The Catholic Church proclaims the way of authentic human freedom and liberation through Jesus Christ.
She is rising to the moment.
To an age enamored with so many false concepts of "choice" the Catholic Church proclaims the unchangeable truth that some "choices" are always and everywhere wrong. Choosing them does not make one free, rather it erodes freedom and leads to slavery. The Catechism of the Catholic Church addresses these wrong exercises of human freedom reminding us of the extraordinary implications of our use of our power to choose: "Mortal sin is a radical possibility of human freedom, as is love itself." (CCC, 1861.)
It is not simply that we can choose but how and what we choose that truly matters. Authentic Human Freedom will never be found in decisions that are made against God and against the Natural Law. As Pope Benedict XVI stated, with the clarity that the world so desperately needs in this crucial moment, such a "freedom" is anarchic.
Freedom is as freedom does.
Deacon Keith Fournier is a Deacon of the Diocese of Richmond, Virginia. He is a graduate of the Franciscan University of Steubenville, the John Paul II Institute of the Lateran University and the University Of Pittsburgh School Of Law. A human rights lawyer for twenty five years, Deacon Fournier is the Senior Editor of Catholic Online and a contributing editor of Traditional catholic Reflections and reports. The author of seven books, his eight entitled "The Prayer of Mary: Living the Surrendered Life" will be released from Thomas Nelson Publishers in July of 2005.