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Pointed in the right direction
Other columnists time their articles to be published on (or at least near) major holidays. I apparently write mine on those holidays. It’s a system that serves me beautifully, because I can fully absorb the sights, sounds and spirit of the day and incorporate all of that into my reflections. It probably doesn’t serve all of you as well — at least those of you whose content is delivered via paper-based media — due to the inevitable “lag time” in publication.
But nevertheless here I am, on the Fourth of July, perched at my desk here in firework-free Colorado, ready to share some of the insights on freedom that I have absorbed throughout the day.
First I ran across a quote. Actually, it was an exchange between Ronald Reagan and Pope John Paul II. I read about it on Facebook, so I know it must have actually happened:
Ronald Reagan: “Welcome to the land of the free.”
John Paul II: “Free, yes. But free for what? Free for what?”
It’s a good question — and exactly the kind of question JPII would have asked. Yes, we are (for the moment) free in the United States. But what does that mean? What is freedom? Is it just license — free to do whatever we please? Or should freedom be oriented to something higher?
Apparently, as I learned at today’s Mass, the question is not a new one and is not unique to us here in the United States. The ancient Gadarenes faced similar questions during the time of Christ. They wanted freedom from demons infesting their area. Jesus obliged, driving the demons into a local herd of swine, which then ran headlong off a cliff and drowned. The grateful citizenry came to Jesus and … thanked Him? Bowed down and worshipped Him? No and no. They “begged Him to leave their district.”
They were ready to be free of demons — or at least they thought they were. But they weren’t ready for this. They apparently wanted to keep their swine. Or their peace and quiet. Or whatever it was they lost when those pigs plunged to their collective death.
They were ready for freedom. But they weren’t ready for Jesus. They weren’t ready for what real freedom in Him entails.
A lot of us have a similar problem with freedom. I know I do.
I’m at one of those crossroads in my life. You know the kind — where you’ve walked away from one thing and now you’re ready to move on to the next thing. It seems really great from the outside — you’re free. The world is your oyster. You can do anything you want to do.
But from the inside, it’s not so simple. All of those choices can feel a bit overwhelming. There are so many of them. And each one has a consequence attached. Which is the best choice? Which one should I choose? Which one will cost me my herd of swine, or my peace and quiet, or my sanity?
Being free to do anything I want to do isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
I was created, by the God who loves me, with a unique purpose in mind. He has a plan. He has counted every color-treated hair on my rapidly aging head. He knows where I have been and He knows where I am headed. What’s more, He knows where I should be headed. He knows what I need for my happiness and salvation.
Perhaps real freedom consists in doing whatever I can to get onto God’s “wavelength” and listening to what He has to say to me, in allowing Him to direct my path. Sure, I’m free to wander off into the weeds on my own. Before long, I’ll most likely find myself tangled up in them and will no longer be free to do much of anything else. My “freedom” will wind up enslaving me.
As a nation, we’re in a very similar boat. We are free to live our lives without excessive government interference. (Or at least that’s the original idea.) We’re free to worship God as we choose. We’re free to make choices about our own futures.
But how have we used that freedom? Are we using it to become our “best” selves, the best nation we can be? It seems that, more and more, we have instead bought into counterfeits which, instead of freeing us, have enslaved us to the point where our government believes it needs to violate religious freedom in order to insure sexual “freedom.” We have a lot of decisions to make, particularly now in an election year. Many of us seem to be making them based not on what we know is best in the long run but rather on what satisfies our appetites right now.
I can’t speak for America, but I have personally chosen to deal with my newfound freedom by enrolling in what Father Jacques Philipe calls the “School of the Holy Spirit.” I have learned that without His guidance I don’t necessarily use my freedom so well. I get overwhelmed at the sheer magnitude of options at my disposal. I float from one opportunity to another. I vacillate.
So I am turning to Him in a deeper way. I’m asking the Holy Spirit to guide me — really guide me — in my decisions. I want Him to sift through the options for me, to “look around the corners” that I can’t see and to point me toward the choices He knows will be best for me. Big decisions, little decisions. I’m taking them all to Him.
As a nation, I think we need to do the same.
Bonacci is a syndicated columnist based in Denver and the author of We’re On a Mission from God and Real Love.