Cultivating freedom
- Fr. Roy Cimagala (The Freeman) - July 21, 2014 - 12:00am

It's a difficult animal to tame. I am referring to freedom that all of us want to invoke to express what we really have inside our mind and heart. Unfortunately, very little attention is given to the fact that freedom is something we need to cultivate, and as such it requires all kinds of processes and procedures, and patience, and patience, and still more patience.

I remember when I graduated from high school, my father made for me the valedictory that I had to deliver on behalf of my class. It had an intriguing opening line, since my father, who was a lawyer, had a flair for the dramatic in his orations.

"Freedom is not free," my speech began. "Either you pay for it or it buys you out." That was quite a mouthful for a 15-year-old to say, and I tried my best to show that I understood what I said and that I meant it.  Those were the days of teen-age bravura. Now, of course, this memory makes me laugh.

I somehow understood then that what my father meant was that freedom can either make or unmake a man. I've read that in some novels, and seen it in some movies and even in real-life third-person drama. But such understanding was more theoretical than experiential.

Still, I knew then that the seed of curiosity about freedom was planted deeply in my heart. And as years passed, my understanding of it also grew. And what a tumultuous itinerary I had to pass through! Indeed, direct, first-person experience is quite a master teacher.

Our problem with freedom usually stems from the fact that we have a partial understanding of it which we tend to consider as already complete and full. We hardly realize that our idea of freedom would often be short-sighted, narrow-minded, biased and straight-jacketed according to our own subjective criteria.

That is why we often would have the sensation of highs and lows, exuberance and depression. A sense of stability and confidence is hardly felt. But life in general, no matter how much we twist it, cannot help but show us the real objective face of freedom through the many contradictions and humiliations we suffer along the way.

Yes, reality bites! It sooner or later, one way or another, will burst the bubbles that we unwittingly have been creating for ourselves. Sometimes, we fall crashing down to earth after we managed to build a complex and sophisticated dream world, driven by a false idea of freedom and creativity.

Whether we like it or not, aware of it or not, reality will find a way to tell us that freedom is not something that we spontaneously generated. It's not our own making. It is something given to us, with an objective law that governs it.

It's not our creation, to be used absolutely according to our own personal and subjective terms. It comes together with the most fundamental truth that we are creatures and that there is a Creator. Toward it, the proper attitude to have to is to respect it and its law. And this requires a lot of humility.

The law that governs freedom is, of course, nothing other than God himself, in whose image and likeness we are. That's why Christ, the fullness of the revelation of God to us, said: "I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me."

It is Christ who is the truth that will make us free. And Christ himself lived by this truth. His sense of freedom was bound up with his obedience to his Father's will, no matter how painful that will was.

Saints have understood this character of freedom very well. Many of them have gone to the extent of explicitly saying that freedom is none other than obeying the will of God. That, in its distilled form, is the essence of freedom.

Freedom and obedience therefore go together. One cannot be without the other, in contradiction to the understanding of many of us who often put freedom and obedience as antithetical to each other.

That's why we need to deepen our humility to be able to see this vital connection between freedom and obedience. And again, this humility has to be understood not only theoretically, but also practically. In fact, it should not only be understood. It has to be lived always through the events and circumstances of our daily life.

To cultivate true freedom is to cultivate a growing obedience to God's will. Outside of that orbit, we can only have false freedom.

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