Who would have thought just six months ago that our country, and indeed the whole world, would be brought to its knees by a microscopic, invisible enemy? And now we who live in what is arguably the country with the greatest liberty in the history of civilization know what it means to not be able to do as we please.
The cancelation of public Masses, the shuttering of schools and gyms and theaters, the closure of bars and water parks, the mandate that all must wear masks in public — these would have been unthinkable last Christmas, when COVID-19 had not yet entered popular parlance. Yet here we are.
Personal, temporal freedom is something so prized in the U.S. that tens of thousands have given their lifeblood to defend it. Patrick Henry, a hero of the American Revolution, famously said, “Give me liberty or give me death.”
When we think of freedom, it’s this treasured temporal freedom that usually comes to mind. But there’s another kind of freedom, one that cannot be taken away from us without our consent. This inner freedom is freedom in Christ and it is the precious gift of those who walk by faith in Him.
St. Paul refers to it as “the glorious freedom of the children of God (Romans 8:21).” What did he mean by that? He was talking about life in the Spirit, about those who by the grace of God live by the Spirit and not by the flesh.
“The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship (Romans 8:15).”
Freedom in Christ means we do not fear death. We follow the counsel of Jesus Christ who tells us to “not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul (Matthew 10:28)…” We know that this world is only temporary, that we’re on a journey toward union with God. No pandemic or executive order or social chaos can steal our inner freedom.
This life in the Spirit means we don’t worry about the future and we’re not tortured by our past. We know God has forgiven our sins and we don’t let regrets crush us. We forgive all those who have hurt us and if we can’t yet let go, we ask the Lord to do so for us and help us to let go, too. It may not “feel” like we’ve forgiven, but forgiveness is a fact, not a feeling. It’s an act of the will.
Now for the revolutionary part: Freedom in Christ means we’re not enslaved to our passions. In the midst of a culture that screams self-indulgence, this is truly countercultural. It might be hip to speak of intermittent fasting as a way to lose weight, but if you start talking about the spiritual benefits, many in your audience will smile indulgently but write you off as a kook. Let your actions speak louder than your words.
The truth is, fasting is a transformational way for us to live by the Spirit and experience freedom in Christ. By letting ourselves experience hunger or depriving ourselves of creature comforts and conveniences, we strengthen our will to live by the Spirit in freedom.
This key to inner freedom is often obscured in a consumerist culture. We’re living at a time when many are under the delusion that freedom means the ability to do whatever we want without any restrictions whatsoever.
And yet a life lived without God, without holiness, without regard to following God’s ways does not lead to freedom but leads instead to emptiness, to great unhappiness, to being held captive by earthly desires.
But it doesn’t have to be that way! God gave us the gift of His sacraments.
In baptism, we died with Christ and became children of God. In the brokenness of our human nature, however, we mess up. We fall into sin repeatedly. If we don’t repent of it and turn to the Lord for strength, a pattern of sin in our lives can begin to enslave us. Inch by inch, we surrender our inner freedom.
OK, this is where the awesome sacrament of Confession comes in. Where’s my megaphone? WE HAVE ACCESS TO THE BOUNDLESS MERCY AND HEALING LOVE OF GOD IN THE CONFESSIONAL! The grace is real. The healing is real. Don’t miss out! Frequent, sincere confession helps us live our freedom in Christ. Haven’t been for awhile? Check out this handy guide!
The freedom we find in God’s mercy leads to joy, a joy that’s unstoppable and that we’re called to share. No earthly power can rob us of this freedom and joy. That’s why St. Paul was able to sing hymns to God after being beaten and held in chains in his prison cell.
Venerable Cardinal Nguyen Van Thuan was a sort of modern-day St. Paul figure. Despite spending 13 years in prison — nine of them in solitary confinement at the hands of the communist regime in Vietnam — he knew a tremendous inner freedom. I highly recommend his book, Road of Hope, which he wrote on scraps of paper that were smuggled out of his cell. These little gems were meant to be words of encouragement for his people, but the messages are powerful, pithy and laser-like in focus.
Do you want to be free? Give your heart entirely to God every day without fail. Make Him King of your heart. Approach the sacraments with humility and reverence. Let God’s grace and mercy set you free–the freedom and life in the Spirit you were made for.