St. John Paul II once said that “freedom consists not in doing what we like, but in having the right to do what we ought.” We like to believe that we are a nation pursuing freedoms with “liberty and justice for all,” but our selfish definition of freedom has left us morally bankrupt and hungry for love.
What are some of the common ways we abuse our freedoms? Let’s take a look at three lies we’ve sheepishly bought into, and an antidote to each:
1. I can do what I want as long as I’m not hurting anyone else. If your actions are contrary to the word and will of God, you are hurting your soul, and possibly causing scandal. In the spiritual sense to cause scandal is to lead others to sin. The Catechism of the Catholic Church lists fashion and opinion as possible provocations.
Antidote: self-denial. In Matthew 16:24, we hear Jesus tell His disciples: “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. Then St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 6:12 says that “All things are lawful for me but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything.” As Christians we are set apart, Jesus didn’t die on the cross so that we can idolize ourselves.
2. You can do what you want as long as you are not hurting anyone a.k.a. “you do you.” This is a disillusioned grace towards the other. If someone was getting ready to jump off of a bridge we’d try to talk them down, or at the minimum get someone else to help them. Yet, when we see neighbors, friends or family members who are living their lives in a way that is destructive to their soul, our response is often a lackluster “you do you.”
Antidote: Instruct, counsel, admonish and pray for others. Among the seven Spiritual Acts of Mercy, three have to do with advising; 1. instruct the ignorant, 2. counsel the doubtful and 3. admonish the sinner. Colossians 3:16 puts it like this: “Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” A fourth and important Spiritual Act of Mercy is to pray for others. Speak the truth with love, and then pray for those whom you instruct, counsel and admonish.
3. Truth is a matter of individual opinion. You may have heard the naive and dangerous: “Your truth is yours, and my truth is mine.” In this scenario personal opinion, in the name of political correctness, is valued more than the truth. This is called relativism. Shortly before being elected Pope in 2005 Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger said that “We are moving toward a dictatorship of relativism which does not recognize anything as for certain and which has as its highest goal one’s own ego and one’s own desires.”
Antidote: Jesus. In John 14:6, Jesus makes it clear that He is the great I AM: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” Preceding that, in John 8:31-32, He says “If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth and the truth will make you free.”
Freedom isn’t complicated after all, it’s found in living out the truth of the Gospels.
St. John Paul II pray for us.