By St. Josemaría Escrivá
I have often reminded you of that moving scene in the Gospel where Jesus is in Peter’s boat, from which he has been speaking to the people. The multitude following him has stirred the eagerness for souls which consumes his heart, and now the Divine Master wants his disciples to share his zeal. After telling them to launch out into the deep, duc in altum, 1 he suggests to Peter that he let down his nets for a catch.
I am not going to linger now over the details of what happened, although there is much to be learned from them. What I would like you to consider with me is how the Prince of the Apostles reacts to the miracle he has just seen: “‘Lord, depart from me,’ he says, ‘for I am a sinful man.’” 2 This is true, and I am quite sure it applies perfectly to the personal situation of each one of us. Nevertheless, I assure you that having witnessed during my life so many marvelous works of divine grace performed through human hands, I feel moved, and more so each day, to shout out, “Lord, do not depart from me, for without you I can do no good at all.”
Precisely because of this, I readily understand those words of Saint Augustine, Bishop of Hippo, which ring out like a wonderful hymn to freedom, “God, who created you without you, will not save you without you.” 3 Every single one of us, you and I as well, always has the possibility, the unfortunate possibility of rising up against God, of rejecting him (perhaps by our behavior), or of crying out, “We do not want this man to rule over us.” 4
We have learned with gratitude, because it makes us realize the happiness we are being called to, that all creatures have been created out of nothing by God and for God: both men, who are rational creatures, although we so often act unreasonably, and the irrational beings who roam the surface of the earth, or burrow in its inmost recesses, or sail the azure skies—some soaring so high that they come face to face with the sun. But in all this wonderful variety, it is only we men (I am not referring now to the angels) who can unite ourselves to the Creator by using our freedom. We are in a position to give him, or deny him, the glory that is his due as the Author of everything that exists.
This possibility makes up the light and shade of human freedom. Our Lord invites us, urges us to choose the good, so tenderly does he love us! “See, today I set before you a choice between life and death, good and evil. If you pay heed to the commandments of Yahweh your God which I command you this day, by loving Yahweh your God, by walking in his ways, and by keeping his commandments and his statutes and his ordinances, then you shall live…. Choose life, that you may live.” 5
Ask yourself now (I too am examining my conscience) whether you are holding firmly and unshakably to your choice of Life? When you hear the most lovable voice of God urging you on to holiness, do you freely answer, “Yes”? Let us turn our gaze once more to Jesus, as he speaks to the people in the towns and countryside of Palestine. He doesn’t want to force himself upon us. “If you have a mind to be perfect …,” 6 he says to the rich young man. The young man refused to take the hint, and the Gospel goes on to say: abiit tristis (“he went away forlorn”). 7 That is why I have sometimes called him the “sad lad.” He lost his happiness because he refused to hand over his freedom to God.
Consider now the sublime moment when the Archangel Gabriel announces to the Virgin Mary the plans of the Most High. Our Mother listens, and asks a question to understand better what the Lord is asking of her. Then she gives her firm reply: Fiat! (“Be it done unto me according to thy word”). 8 This is the fruit of the best freedom of all, the freedom of deciding in favor of God.
This hymn to freedom is echoed in all the mysteries of our Catholic faith. The Blessed Trinity draws the world and man out of nothing, in a free outpouring of love. The Word comes down
from Heaven and takes on our flesh, an act which bears the splendid mark of freedom in submission: “Behold I have come to do thy will, O God, as it is written of me in the scroll of the book.” 9 When God’s appointed time comes to save mankind from the slavery of sin, we contemplate Jesus Christ in Gethsemane, suffering in agony to the point of sweating blood. 10 He spontaneously and unconditionally accepts the sacrifice which the Father is asking of him: “Like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, like a sheep standing dumb before its shearers.” 11 He had already told his disciples that this was to happen, in one of those conversations where he would pour out his heart so that those who love him might know that he is the Way, the only way, to approach the Father. “This is why my Father loves me, because I am laying down my life to take it up again afterward. Nobody can rob me of it; I lay it down of my own accord. I am free to lay it down and free to take it up again.” 12
We will never fully understand Jesus’ freedom. It is immense, infinite, as is his love. But the priceless treasure of his generous holocaust should move us to ask, “Why, my Lord, have you granted me this privilege which I can use to follow in your footsteps, but also to offend you?” Thus, we come to appreciate that freedom is used properly when it is directed toward the good; and that it is misused when men are forgetful and turn away from the Love of loves. Personal freedom, which I defend and will always defend with all my strength, leads me to ask with deep conviction, though I am well aware of my own weakness: “What do you want from me, Lord, so that I may freely do it?”
Christ himself gives us the answer: veritas liberabit vos(“the truth will set you free”). 13 How great a truth is this, which opens the way to freedom and gives it meaning throughout our lives. I will sum it up for you, with the joy and certainty which flow from knowing there is a close relationship between God and his creatures. It is the knowledge that we have come from the hands of God, that the Blessed Trinity looks upon us with predilection, that we are children of so wonderful a Father. I ask my Lord to help us decide to take this truth to heart, to dwell upon it day by day; only then will we be acting as free men. Do not forget: anyone who does not realize that he is a child of God is unaware of the deepest truth about himself. When he acts he lacks the dominion and self-mastery we find in those who love our Lord above all else.
Convince yourselves that to get to Heaven we must commit ourselves freely, with a wholehearted, constant, and voluntary determination. By itself, however, freedom is insufficient: it needs a guide, a pole-star. “The soul cannot proceed without someone to guide it; this is why it has been redeemed in order that it may have as its King, Christ, whose yoke is easy and whose burden is light (Mt 11: 30), and not the devil, whose rule is oppressive.” 14
Reject the deception of those who appease themselves with the pathetic cry of “Freedom! Freedom!” Their cry often masks a tragic enslavement, because choices that prefer error do not liberate. Christ alone sets us free, 15 for he alone is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. 16
Let us ask ourselves once again, here in the presence of God: “Lord, why have you given us this power? Why have you entrusted us with the faculty of choosing you or rejecting you? You want us to make good use of this power. Lord, what do you want me to do?” 17 His reply is precise, crystal-clear: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart and with thy whole soul and with thy whole mind.” 18
Don’t you see? Freedom finds its true meaning when it is put to the service of the truth which redeems, when it is spent in seeking God’s infinite Love which liberates us from all forms of slavery. Each passing day increases my yearning to proclaim to the four winds this inexhaustible treasure that belongs to Christianity: “the glorious freedom of the children of God!” 19 This is essentially what is meant by a “good will,” which teaches us to pursue “good, after having distinguished it from evil.” 20
I would like you to meditate on a fundamental point, which brings home to us the responsibility we have for our own consciences. Nobody else can choose for us: “men’s supreme dignity lies in this, that they are directed toward the good by themselves, and not by others.” 21 Many of us have inherited the Catholic faith from our parents, and, by the grace of God, supernatural life began in our souls from the moment we were baptized as newborn infants. But we must renew throughout our lives, and every day of our lives, our determination to love God above all things. “He is a Christian, a true Christian, who subjects himself to the rule of the one and only Word of God,” 22 without laying down conditions to his obedience, and being ever ready to resist the devil’s temptings by adopting the same attitude as Christ did: “Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and serve none but him.” 23
St. Josemaria Escriva was born in Spain in 1902 and was ordained a priest in 1926. In 1928, he received the divine inspiration to found Opus Dei, a Catholic organization of lay people and priests who try to grow close to God through their ordinary lives. St. Josemaria died in 1975 and was canonized by Pope John Paul II in 2002.
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By Scott McDermott
If I didn’t make you do a double-take with that title – well, I’m disappointed. Charles Carroll of Carrollton (1737-1832), the only Catholic signer of the Declaration of Independence, seems to have little in common with King Henry II’s 12th-century Chancellor and Archbishop of Canterbury, St. Thomas Becket. Obviously, Becket was a priest, while Carroll, a married layman, earned vast wealth through his plantations and business ventures. Carroll died in his bed at age 95, while Becket was murdered at the altar in his prime.