What is True Freedom?

15 October 2008 St. Teresa of Jesus
Galatians 5, 18-25

Let me take our reflections from the first reading. St. Paul’s letter to the Galatians talk about true freedom. But before we go and understand true freedom, we should define our terms. The common understanding of freedom --- the way freedom is talked about in contemporary culture --- may refer to 1) our individual capacity to be self-determining, 2) the feeling of freedom in a certain situation (for example, one has a number of choices and options), or 3) to the act itself of choosing this object and that object (Haughey, Behavior Underpinnings).

St. Paul believes that we do not have absolute freedom: we are always subject to someone. The closest absolute freedom is when we are subject not to the elements of the world or to legalities such as the Torah, but solely to God. If we are subject only to God, then differences between us are unimportant. We are all brothers and sisters whether we differ in culture, race or orientation. If, however, we are subject to a specific human-made law (especially in a specific community), then what differentiates us from others becomes important. For example, under God, it doesn’t matter whether you are an Atenean, a Lasallite, or a scholar in UP. But, under a specific community of the Ateneo, then being an Atenean matters --- and the rest of the La Salle and the UP community are out of its fold. If we operate under the law of God, then we do not discriminate because everyone is equal. But if we operate under the UAAP, then being Atenean or Lasallite or UP matters.

Paul makes a distinction in his letter. Those who subject themselves to the elements of the world are people of the ‘flesh’. Their desires determine their actions. Paul therefore makes a list of a way of life rooted in the flesh such as sexual aberrations, idolatry, social evils and intemperance or lack of self-control. These failures are against justice and love. These are people whose lifestyle have not accepted the rule of God in their lives.

On the other hand, those who subject themselves to God are people of the ‘Spirit’. These are those whose faith works through love (Gk, agape). And Paul lists the fruits or qualities of those living in the Spirit in his letter. As contrasted with qualities of the people of ‘flesh’, these are desirable qualities about a believer’s relationship with others such as “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”

From the above, freedom then is not the capacity to choose anything recklessly and unfettered. Freedom is to choose what is good because it makes us move closer to our true nature as God’s children. Our freedom then makes us choose what is more eternal (such as love). What we have chosen to love, will determine our actions. Begin to love music, later on, you see yourself becoming a skilled musician. Start to act kindly, later you see yourself becoming a kind person. Begin to commit yourself to someone, eventually, you allow your beloved to determine your life. We allow who or what we chose to determine our lives. Our beloved will stamp us with its shape. We become what we love. Just look at those who genuinely vowed to love each other: they enjoy something together, which was, once in their lifetime, the sole enjoyment of one of them.

On the other hand, to choose what is bad is not freedom. When we let our ‘flesh’ determine us, the more we become enslaved by it: choose to cheat once, until cheating becomes irresistible; choose to take drugs, and later we become addicted to it. It is therefore not an accident that our favorite sins and bad habits are called, even scientifically, as ‘addictions’. We are held bound by a specific desire or a particular chemical.

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