By Fr. Jacques Philippe
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.”14 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.”15
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.
Now, it’s perfectly true that the use of freedom often involves a choice among different options. That is a good thing. But it would be completely unrealistic to see the whole question from that angle alone. There are very many quite fundamental aspects of our lives that we don’t choose at all: our sex, our parents, the color of our eyes, certain aspects of our character, our mother tongue. In some respects, the elements we choose in life are far less important than the ones we don’t have any choice about.
What’s more, when we are adolescents our lives seem to stretch before us with a broad range of possibilities to choose from; but as time goes by, that range will get progressively narrower. We have to make choices, and the options we select reduce the number of possibilities left open. Getting married means choosing one man or one woman, thus excluding all others. (It is also worth asking in what sense people actually choose the person they marry—more often than not, they marry the one they fall in love with, which is not really a choice, as the word “fall” suggests! But it’s no worse for that.)
I sometimes say, jokingly, that the choice of celibacy for sake of the Kingdom and the choice of Christian marriage are basically very much alike. A celibate man chooses to renounce all women, and a man who gets married renounces all women except one. That isn’t really such a huge difference!
The older one gets, the fewer one’s options become. “Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you girded yourself and walked where you would; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish to go.”16 Then what will remain of our freedom, if we see it in the “supermarket” terms described earlier?
This false idea of freedom has profound repercussions on the behavior of young people today, including their approach to marriage or other forms of commitment: they put off making a final choice, because choice is perceived as a loss of freedom. Result: they don’t dare to decide and never actually live! Yet life chooses for them anyway, since time passes inexorably.
Being free also means consenting to what we did not choose
The exercise of freedom as a choice among options, plainly is important. However, to avoid making painful mistakes we also need to understand that there is another way of exercising freedom: less immediately exciting, poorer, humbler, but much more common, and one immensely fruitful, both humanly and spiritually. It is consenting to what we did not originally choose.
It is worth stressing how important this way of exercising our freedom is. The highest and most fruitful form of human freedom is found in accepting, even more than in dominating. We show the greatness of our freedom when we transform reality, but still more when we accept it trustingly as it is given to us day after day.
It is natural and easy to go along with pleasant situations that arise without our choosing them. It becomes a problem, obviously, when things are unpleasant, go against us, or make us suffer. But it is precisely then that, in order to become truly free, we are often called to choose to accept what we did not want, and even what we would not have wanted at any price. There is a paradoxical law of human life here: one cannot become truly free unless one accepts not always being free!
To achieve true interior freedom we must train ourselves to accept, peacefully and willingly, plenty of things that seem to contradict our freedom. This means consenting to our personal limitations, our weaknesses, our powerlessness, this or that situation that life imposes on us, and so on. We find it difficult to do this, because we feel a natural revulsion for situations we cannot control. But the fact is that the situations that really make us grow are precisely those we do not control.17 There are many examples.
Father Jacques Philippe was born on March 12, 1947, in Lorraine, France. After studying mathematics in college he spent several years teaching and doing scientific research. He joined the catholic com-munity of the beatitudes and became the first priest to be ordained in April 1985. Father Jacques spent his first years as a community member in Jerusalem and Nazareth. With over half of a million of his books sold on topics such as: prayer, interior freedom, and peace of heart; his writings have be-come classics of modern catholic spirituality. He preaches retreats regularly in France, Italy, Spain, and the USA. He has consolidated his main retreat themes into seven books on spirituality. Currently, his time is now mostly devoted to prayer, writing and touring worldwide. His preaching genuinely helps people to pray, find hope and peace. When fr. Jacques is not on mission, he resides in a hermitage in France where he writes books.
His Books Can Be Found In the Fr. Jacques Philippe Collection
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