What Is Freedom?

God made us to be free. He didn’t create us like the animals that simply act upon instinct and can never lift themselves beyond immediate impulses and feelings. He made us in his image and into his likeness so that

At the heart of the Exodus experience, we find God’s call of freedom for his people. Just as Moses led the Israelites out of bondage to pharaoh in Egypt, so Jesus has liberated us from sin and all that holds us back from a life of sonship through the love of God the Father. St. Paul describes this in Galatians 5:1: “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand fast therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” To be free is to be unimpeded and able to act in accord with the good. This is why Christ died for our freedom.

God made us to be free. He didn’t create us like the animals that simply act upon instinct and can never lift themselves beyond immediate impulses and feelings. He made us in his image and into his likeness so that we can know him as a Father and can love as he does, giving of ourselves for the life of others. Our free will enables us to deliberate and choose on our own initiative what we recognize to be good. It is an invitation, calling us to see the truth and to act upon it with love. Freedom is ordered toward communion, requiring a free and mature possession of self so that we can offer it to others and receive their love in return.

And yet, we are held back by so many obstacles, impeded and even controlled by outside influences. Enslaved in Egypt, Israel was overburdened with work and lost sight of God’s loving care. We experience slavery in being bogged down by attachments, out-of-control desires, wounds, fear, and all the difficulties of life. We cannot do what we want and, even more so, what we should do. We can find ourselves like the Israelites groaning for real freedom. Too often, however, we view freedom to do whatever we want rather than a precious gift to be cherished and preserved. 

Freedom is a gift that can become a burden. We must learn how to shape and order it toward what is truly good. If we become trapped within ourselves, living according to our own thoughts and desires, we miss the goal of freedom. Ultimately, God is the one who helps us to understand the meaning of this gift and who teaches us how to use it correctly. Jesus modeled true freedom in his relationship with the Father and the complete gift of himself on the Cross. Jesus came down from heaven to teach us the true meaning of freedom and how to preserve it. His Incarnation is a rescue mission, coming down and “taking the form of a slave” so that we could share in the freedom of his divine Sonship (see Philippians 2:7). Jesus enables us to choose the things that lead to life, letting go of what holds us in bondage to the world, and to experience the peace that comes from self-emptying love.

In daily prayer, we attune ourselves to Jesus and through him to the Father. Through the grace of this prayer, we grow in virtue and the courage we need to keep our passions in check. Freedom needs discipline to stay on course and regular asceticism prunes back the obstacles that constantly crop up that impede us. We also need the support of others. Only a false freedom thinks that we can live autonomously and achieve the good on our own. We are made for communion and depend upon others to live a life of true freedom. As Christian men, we need fraternity to stay on the right path. In freedom, we can receive the gift of others and respond to it in charity. 

The modern world is obsessed with freedom but every day we see the destructive effects of a false and distorted freedom. We do not have to recreate our identity and dissipate our energy into amusing and pleasing ourselves. It is only in a gift of self that we will come to true happiness. This is how Jesus teaches us to be free, not to hold back, and to give of ourselves for the important things. God wants us to be free so that we can lead others to freedom, defending our family and friends from the slavery of the world and sin. Ultimately our freedom is for more than just ourselves. In choosing the good of others and sacrificing ourselves for them, we become free just as God is free, in the goodness of love. 

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