Are you free?
Am I free?
What even is freedom?
Most definitions seem insufficient to me. Society teaches us to see freedom as our ability to do whatever we want. We are told that everything we want to do is our ‘right,’ and that we can do or have anything we want. We are told to acquire more things and more money so we can be more free. We are told that the absence of restriction and the complete independence from everything and everyone are the goals.
But are we really free by being the sole guide of everything in our lives? Are we really free by keeping all options open and being completely self-reliant? Does any of that actually lead to greatness?
Are parents less free because they chose to spend the rest of their lives with one another in marriage? Or are they more free because they now have someone to live their lives with in a meaningful and holy way?
Are families less free because they have children or more free because of the new and beautiful opportunities opened up by having new persons in the family?
Are pro sports players who play a single sport less free than the college student who participates in every intramural sport, or is the professional player more free because he has specialized and excelled in his craft?
Is the cook less free because he follows a recipe he has perfected, rather than cooking without a recipe and hoping it comes out just as good?
And aren’t all of these people able to live better and fuller lives by working with others (the other spouse, the team, the sous chefs) rather than trying to be independent and self-reliant?
Perhaps these examples are insufficient, but they at least open our mind to the idea that freedom is not just the absence of restriction, or the ability to do whatever we want. It’s not about what I have, or what I can do on my own. Paradoxically, your freedom isn’t just about you.
One more question on freedom: was Jesus free when he was nailed to the cross for our sins?
Yes. He was most free.
He freely died for our sins, loving each and all of us with an unconditional love beyond what we can imagine. It was a supreme act of goodness and charity.
Accepting and following the will of God makes a person free. We might have the illusion of control over many parts of our lives, but our actual control is much more limited to our own actions and response to the circumstances we find ourselves in. We can always choose to give our best effort to what is put before us. We can always choose to be a good person, to share truth, and to look on others with the kind of love that God first showed to us. Any of this comes from a first choice—a choice to draw near to God.
There is something inside of each of us that seeks a truth and a freedom. We seek something more. And that goal, even if we do not know how to articulate it, is the Lord. Jesus provides our ability to understand true freedom, because Jesus is all goodness, all love, and all truth. And without the knowledge of that truth, freedom becomes corrupted, warped, fickle, superficial, and empty .
Once we understand that everything we seek is in Jesus, we can become more free because we are grounded in the sure and solid foundation that is Him. We can draw close to Him in the sacraments, in prayer, and in community with one another, and through this learn to discern His will for us, both in the big things of life and in the little movements throughout our days. We have real freedom when we use our capacities to choose to do the good, and in doing so, choose to follow God.
And so when we look to the lives of saints like Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross who died in Auschwitz or Saint Lawrence who died on a flaming gridiron in Rome, we see that in spite of the difficulties and restrictions, they were free to the end of their lives because they chose to give themselves to God and trust in His love and guidance—they chose to do the good.
We, like those and other saints, can also rejoice in following the law of the Lord . We, like them, can gaze upon the image of the crucified Lord and recognize not only our source of salvation and the infinite love He has for us, but also our need to humble ourselves and carry our crosses as He did. We, like the saints, can joyfully proclaim the goodness of the Lord in the midst of any difficulties, going forth in this world and striving for greatness, because we are made for greatness—we are made for sanctity. If we do this, if we choose to follow God in whatever way he has called us and choose to respond like He would in whatever situation we find ourselves, we will find the true freedom meant for our lives.
 Benedict XVI, Address to CDF, 10 February 2006.
 Ps 119:14.
Photo by the author. High Altar of St. Andrew Catholic Church, Roanoke, VA.