The life experiences of St. Thérèse of Lisieux and Etty Hillesum indicate the next point we need to consider. True freedom, the sovereign liberty of Christians, resides in the possibility of believing, hoping, and loving in all circumstances, thanks to the assistance of the Holy Spirit who “helps us in our weakness.” Nobody can ever prevent us. “For I am sure that neither death, nor life, not angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
No circumstance in the world can ever prevent us from believing in God, from placing all our trust in him, from loving him with our whole heart, or from loving our neighbor. Faith, hope, and charity are absolutely free, because if they are rooted in us deeply enough, they are able to draw strength from whatever opposes them! If someone sought to prevent us from believing by persecuting us, we always would retain the option of forgiving our enemies and transforming the situation of oppression into one of greater love. If someone tried to silence our faith by killing us, our deaths would be the best possible proclamation of our faith! Love, and only love, can overcome evil by good and draw good out of evil.
The rest of this book aims to illustrate this beautiful truth from different points of view. Whoever understands it and puts it into practice achieves sovereign freedom. Growth in faith, hope, and love is the only pathway to freedom.
Before investigating this more deeply, it is worth examining an important point that concerns the different ways of actually exercising freedom.
Freedom in action: Choosing or consenting?
The mistaken idea of freedom described earlier often leads people to imagine that the only way of exercising freedom is to choose what suits them best from among various possibilities. The greater the range of choices, they think, the greater their freedom. They measure freedom by the range of options.
This idea of freedom quickly leads to dead-ends and contradictions. It is remarkably widespread, albeit subconsciously. People want to have a choice in all of life’s circumstances. A choice of vacation destinations, choice of jobs, choice of the number of children they will have, and soon a choice of their children’s sex and the color of their eyes. They dream of a life resembling an immense supermarket, where each aisle offers a vast assortment of possibilities and they can stroll at their ease, taking whatever they choose and leaving the rest. Or, to use another image, people would like to select their lives as they select clothes from a huge mail-order catalog.