One would think that, in our age in which people seem to speak constantly about freedom, we would know what Paul means when he affirms, “for freedom Christ set us free” (Gal 5:1). If one were to read Paul’s words in light of the ideology of freedom that so dominates our contemporary political discourse, we could imagine that—politically speaking, anyway—Paul is imagining Christ as a sort of liberator who fights for the freedom of his people, so that they can live as they want, without anyone telling them what to do. But Paul is not a post-Enlightenment political theorist, and this is not at all what Paul means when he uses the word “freedom.” Perhaps the problem is that we have confused “freedom” and “independence.” God offers us freedom, not through independence, but through life in him. We find our freedom not by declaring, “I will not serve,” but by responding to God with a heartfelt, “let it be done unto me according to thy word.” God created us to be in relationship with him from the beginning, and it was in this relationship that Adam and Eve found their freedom until the fall, when they asserted their independence. It is noteworthy that throughout salvation history God offers his people freedom: not a freedom that his people can exercise independently, but rather a freedom that grows through the people’s covenant relationship with God. In Christ, it becomes absolutely clear that this covenant with God must be lived out, not by isolating ourselves from our neighbors through an illusory independence, but by being in the only right relationship possible to our neighbors that is fitting once we have been redeemed by the God of love: loving them as we have been loved by God. To insist upon a self-interested and ultimately isolating independence is to reject the freedom that God offers in favor of a slavery to created flesh (i.e. idolatry). In Christ, Paul points to a different way: “do not use this freedom as an opportunity for the flesh; rather, serve one another through love” (Gal 5:13-14).
Grace: An intimate knowledge of the many blessings received, that filled with gratitude for all, I may in all things love and serve the Divine Majesty.
Reflection: In the meditation upon sin, we made reference to Dante’s vision of hell, a cold, desolate place where the fire of love has been extinguished and all lies in a spiritual torpor. This is the perfect image of the heart grown cold to the stirrings of love which God places within it. At the opposite end of Dante’s journey lies a vision that perfectly encapsulates the final meditation of the Spiritual Exercises, the Contemplation to Attain Divine Love. From the lowest reaches of the spiritual universe, Dante ascends to the heights of heaven, where he views “the love that moves the sun and the other stars.” At the heart of the universe lives the Trinitarian God, whose perfect love draws all being into an ordered symphony of praise. Dante feels himself drawn into this harmonic vision through the enflaming of his passions and desires. No one with eyes to see can sit impassively at the vision of God’s love. From the disordered state in which Dante had fallen at the beginning of the poem, he becomes progressively cleansed of his disordered affections through the grace of God and the intercession of Beatrice until finally he is able to pass through the heavens and stand in the presence of God. But notice that Dante only sees God’s depths after he has been interiorly transformed.