The Freedom Christ Won for Us
During four days in September, from Thursday the 16th until Sunday the 19th, Benedict XVI made an historic trip to the United Kingdom that was rich in significance. In the prayer vigil before the beatification of Cardinal Newman, the Holy Father stressed that “each of us has a mission; each of us is called to change the world, to work for a culture of life, a culture forged by love and respect for the dignity of each human person.”
In Friends of God St. Josemaría wrote forcefully: “I want you to be rebels, free and unfettered, because I want you—it is Christ who wants us!—to be children of God.” Both the Pope’s words and those of St. Josemaria point to an important truth: every man and woman has to strive to appreciate better each day the core of their dignity and the basis of their mission: the freedom of the sons and daughters of God.
St. Josemaría urged those he dealt with to have the courage to be free, with the risk and responsibility that this entails. The Holy Father, in the vigil ceremony before the beatification, said: “as men and women made in the image and likeness of God, we were created to know the truth, to find in that truth our ultimate freedom and the fulfillment of our deepest human aspirations.”
During his life, St. Josemaría raised his voice against the growing “depersonalization” he saw in society around him: a crowd mentality, alienation, totalitarianism and dictatorships, clericalism…. Also today, the Pope said, “a ‘dictatorship of relativism’ threatens to obscure the unchanging truth about man’s nature, his destiny and his ultimate good.” Confronted with these attacks on the person and human freedom, a Christian needs to launch out in defense of the dignity of every human being.
However, a mistaken notion of human freedom is also widespread today. If freedom is seen as merely the capacity to choose, without first seeking the truth, or as a excuse to free oneself from the task of constructing a just society, abdicating or ceding one’s own rights, then we could ask what sense it makes to defend that freedom. The founder of Opus Dei insisted that freedom, in its principal and radical meaning, is freedom before God and for God, assisting his creative action. True freedom entails a commitment, an obligation to God, to the world, and to ourselves.
Thus freedom is inseparably united to responsibility. Each exercise of our freedom is necessarily accompanied by a series of consequences that make demands on each one of us. Freedom and responsibility mutually enrich one another in our personal growth. St. Josemaria highlighted as a manifestation of responsible freedom the active participation of Christians together with other citizens in the most varied types of associations, unions, political parties, etc., in order to intervene and be present in the human decisions on which the present and the future of society depend: “Freely, according to your own interests and talents, you have to take an active, effective part in the wholesome public or private associations of your country, in a way that is full of the Christian spirit. Such organizations never fail to make some difference to people's temporal or eternal good.” But above all, Christians have an influence on society through their presence, their example, and their apostolate, fulfilling their family and professional duties in a “unity of life”: being a contemplative in the midst of the world.
The Pope said in England that “we are challenged to proclaim with renewed conviction the reality of our reconciliation and liberation in Christ, and to propose the truth of the Gospel as the key to an authentic and integral human development.” The great challenges of history have to find Christians prepared, with a strong sense of responsibility, as St. Josemaría insisted tirelessly: “We children of God, who are citizens with the same standing as any others, have to take part fearlessly in all honest human activities and organizations, so that Christ may be present in them. Our Lord will ask a strict account of each one of us if through neglect or love of comfort we do not freely strive to play a part in the human developments and decisions on which the present and future of society depend.”
But making Christ present in temporal affairs does not mean imposing a single perspective, as though there existed only one solution, the “Catholic” one. Rather it means defending freedom in the immense gamut of what is open to opinion, whether in political, social, economic, cultural, theological, philosophical, scientific or artistic questions.
The founder of Opus Dei contrasted the recognition of this healthy and legitimate pluralism, characteristic of a lay mentality (that is, a way of thinking grounded in freedom and personal responsibility) with a conception of freedom typical of both clericalism and of a secular “laicism,” a freedom that fails to respect the just autonomy of temporal realities and the laws established by God in his creatures. “When one understands in depth the value of freedom, when one passionately loves this divine gift of the soul, one also loves the pluralism that freedom brings with it.”
In defending freedom as an essential characteristic of the secularity of the lay faithful, St. Josemaría did not mean to say that freedom was absent among clerics or religious. Rather he wanted to emphasize that the activity of the laity in the world has to be marked by freedom—“there are no dogmas in temporal affairs,” he used to say. But it is a freedom that is guided by the truths of the faith and principally by the Truth which is Christ.
A Christian’s faith needs to illumine all temporal concerns, since one does not cease being a Christian when becoming a member of congress, a doctor, an architect, or a housewife. Each, in accord with their circumstances, is called to sanctify their family and work in the world, to bring them to Christ.
Pope Benedict XVI too has insisted that for Christians “there can be no separation between what we believe and the way we live our lives.” “I appeal in particular to you, the lay faithful, in accordance with your baptismal calling and mission, not only to be examples of faith in public, but also to put the case for the promotion of faith’s wisdom and vision in the public forum. Society today needs clear voices which propose our right to live, not in a jungle of self-destructive and arbitrary freedoms, but in a society which works for the true welfare of its citizens and offers them guidance and protection in the face of their weakness and fragility. Do not be afraid to take up this service to your brothers and sisters, and to the future of your beloved nation.” However, as the Roman Pontiff also pointed out, “the role of religion in political debate is not so much to supply these norms, as if they could not be known by non-believers—still less to propose concrete political solutions, which would lie altogether outside the competence of religion—but rather to help purify and shed light upon the application of reason to the discovery of objective moral principles.”
From here flows the healthy pluralism mentioned above. To try to link the Christian faith to a specific position in the temporal area, no matter how well-intentioned this may be, would be a form of clericalism and tyranny, St. Josemaría insisted, because it would mean annulling the personal freedom of others. He went so far as to affirm: “It is not in accordance with the dignity of man to fix absolute truths in questions where necessarily each person will look at things from his own viewpoint, according to his particular interests, his cultural preferences, his personal experience.” In fact, the recognition of the dignity of the human person requires not only tolerating, but also welcoming the viewpoints of others as an enrichment, while the attempt to set “absolute truths” in these temporal questions open to opinion represents an impoverishment, a lack of trust in the contribution of others to the truth.
St. Josemaría always strove to see freedom, in its deepest sense, through the light the Holy Spirit granted him about a Christian’s divine filiation. The freedom of the children of God is the greatest treasure we have received from the Creator, which Christ gained for us by his redemptive death. On the cross, in a sublime way and with full freedom, Christ showed his infinite love for the will of the Father and his desire to free all mankind from the slavery of sin, and through his Resurrection attained for us victory over death.
In Glasgow, the Holy Father invited his listeners to seek Christ with their whole heart and strength: “Search for him, know him and love him, and he will set you free from slavery to the glittering but superficial existence frequently proposed by today’s society. Put aside what is worthless and learn of your own dignity as children of God.”