Monday, July 6, 2009

On Freedom

Probably one of the more helpful things about being a philosophy student is that I can look at the image above and ask myself: what does that really mean? Is that a lived reality in the US? You might find those questions silly--I don't. We throw around these terms a lot, especially in the political realm, but I do not think there is one shared understanding of what they truly mean--or even how we go about achieving these goals.

The US was founded on these principles, and it is our duty as US citizens to at least give these principles some critical thought--and I don't mean that in the negative sense.

What does it mean to be free? Is freedom merely the choice of choosing one brand of cereal among five? Even then, you don't have complete choice in the matter, since it's the companies that set the choices before you. Is freedom the ability to say whatever you want? Clearly, we can't just say anything.

Now, I'm not providing answers, but it's important to see that these principles that the country fights for are highly complex with a lot of nuance.

Personally, one of the helpful ways that I have come to see and experience freedom comes from my Jesuit training. One of the most important questions that is asked of us to consider is to reflect on those places in our lives in which we are most unfree. Many of us enter the novitiate with a lot of personal baggage, and we are asked to sort through that. Some of what we carry with us in our hearts is very life-giving, and it is important to be grateful for those memories. Other baggage, however, has shaped us into who we are today--and not necessarily in the best way possible. That may be memories of physical abuse, addiction, abandonment, etc. These moments of great hurt, through God's grace, can be moments of joyous light and reconciliation, but too often they continue to weigh us down in anger and despair. If we are not able to deal with the baggage in a healthy way, it can consume us for the rest of our lives. In a sense, we become people of unfreedom.

St. Ignatius knew this, and the Spiritual Exercises was one of his ways of forming people to lead more free lives. It's about having rightly-ordered desires that give life, not bring death. We are asked to have faith that God can heal us of these infirmities, that God can lead us into fuller and richer lives. If we grant permission, God will carry our burdens in the same way that Christ carried the cross. But, if we cling on tight, we will never be able to let go.

God wants us to be free people. Let us rejoice in that, and let us allow God to lead us into such a life.

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