The Spirit of Freedom
"'Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom' (2 Cor 3:17). What distinguishes the son from the slave is that he is free. Freedom is one of the greatest goods that humans can possess. There is today a universal aspiration towards freedom from political, social, economic, psychological and other constraints. We are witnessing an ever deeper sensitisation with regard to the bonds that fetter our human freedom and a relentless effort to break them. The Christian, as a human being, plays a part in this effort. But the freedom given by the Spirit of Christ is situated at a different level; it is independent of external conditioning. St Paul's surprising indifference to a person's political condition is thus accounted for: to be a slave or a free person, where civil liberty was the very basis of human dignity, that seemed immaterial to him (1 Cor 7:21). Christian emancipation is radical in a different way. Nor is it to be confused with the ideal of wise men, Stoics or others, who, through reflection and moral effort, sought to acquire perfect self-control and to establish themselves in an inviolable inner tranquility.
The Christian's freedom is emancipation with regard to sin, to the law and to death. It is personal and interior, a fruit of the Spirit of Christ in us. A person can be free in a prison. Politically and socially without constraint, he can be the slave of his passions, which stifle his options and force him into evil. Our selfishness, our pride, our sensibilities, our need to impose ourselves, to look well, our narrow attitudes, these are our real chains...
What we do according to our will is free. Our will is directed towards what is good. If, because of a passion or a bad disposition, we turn away from what is good, we act slavishly, because we are driven by a force external to our will. However, we are easily mistaken. We mistake what is not the true good for the good. Blind, we willingly follow the inclination of our passions. We seem to be free, but, in fact, we are the slaves of our evil passions. We are slaves too when we abstain from evil only because of a contrary, coercive law. Freedom is essentially positive. It is emancipation from fetters, but more profoundly, it is the capacity to accomplish good.
We are free when we act voluntarily through love of the true good. On the one hand, there is the demand for the truth. We must act with a view to the true good. We do not discover the knowledge of this good by a philosophical analysis. Christ reveals it to us, he who is the Truth... The freedom of the Spirit is lucid and true. It is the power to accomplish good, the true good that the Spirit of Christ brings to our knowledge. The Christian's freedom is not independence from every law. As St Paul, that great champion of freedom says, 'I am not free from God's law but am under Christ's law (1 Cor 9:21).
On the other hand, there is in freedom a demand for spontaneity. We are only free when acting of our own volition. A law imposed from outside is a servitude. The freedom of the Christian consists precisely in this, that the Holy Spirit predisposes our will to do the true good, by the gentle attraction of love for that good. It is by pouring his love into our hearts that he makes us free, to follow the law of love. Whatever we do because we want to do it, we do freely, even if that is prescribed by God. Freedom is necessarily internal. 'For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery' (Gal 5:1)...
That does not happen automatically. We do not receive our freedom as a boon acquired once for all. And we do not become free passively. The gift of the Spirit is rather a power to become free. It remains a task to be accomplished, by allowing the law of love to penetrate progressively and actively into every layer of our being and our activity - and that is the work of a lifetime.
Our freedom demands our co-operation with grace, our persevering and laborious efforts, which express in a concrete way our constant docility to the Spirit... If we look within ourselves, we can easily see the multitude of bonds that fetter the freedom of the Spirit, that hinder the blossoming of love in us. We easily confuse freedom with self-assertion, the affirmation of our egoism. But true freedom is a service of charity, of self-forgetfulness...
The Spirit of love who acts in us does not lead us to an isolated perfection. His action is always directed towards the growth of the whole Body of Christ, the gifts he bestows are for the good of all. We are never so free as in the renunciation of our individual freedom in order to put it at the service of our brothers...
Where the Christian's emancipation is most clearly distinguishable from every other freedom is in the emancipation from the ultimate slavery of death. In Christ we are freed from the fear of death (Heb 2:14) and that silent anguish that it engenders in the inmost depths of human consciousness, an anguish which more often than not does not have a name, but which is present like a sombre back-drop to the whole of life.
'If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you' (Rom 8:11)."
Let us pray:
"We beseech You, O Lord, mercifully pour into our souls Your Holy Spirit, by whose wisdom we were created and by whose providence we are governed."
The stained glass image of the Holy Spirit, descending as a dove, is from Jesus College chapel in Cambridge.