Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The Freedom of the House

In the indeterminate and apparent freedom of an existence in which everything was possible but nothing made sense, [Augustine] was enslaved by an illusory image of freedom: banished from his true self and unfree in an utter lack of relationship that was founded on being distanced from his own self, on separation from the truth of his own self.

In contrast with that, the gift of the victorious Christ is that of coming home and the building of a house that that makes possible; but the house is called ‘Church’. Here the theme of the Spirit as freedom, as liberation, in clearly coming into play, but in a way that is paradoxical for thinking nowadays: freedom consists of oneself becoming a part of the house, to be taken and used in the building. This conception in not paradoxical from the point of view of the classical concept of freedom: anyone is free who belongs to the house; freedom is being at home.”

Pilgrim Fellowship of Faith, 57

Reflection – ‘O come, O come Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel.’ The theme of freedom is an Advent theme. The Messiah, the anointed one of God, comes as a liberator, a deliverer to release people from their bondage and secure them in freedom.

Ratzinger reflects here very deeply on this, in his typical simplicity of language and profundity of thought. Freedom does not consist in being adrift in a world without roots and without ties. Freedom does not lie in the rejection of transcendent meaning and consequent moral law. Freedom is a matter of living in the house God has fashioned for humanity.

It does not take any great theological training to see the truth of this. The victims of Hurricane Sandy, for example, know all about it. To be homeless is not freedom; it is ceaseless struggle for survival in a cold brutal world.

To be free is to be at home. This is a good Advent word for us. We can meditate then on Going Home as an Advent work—this return to the mercy and love of the Father that is the whole substance of our earthly pilgrimage. (Real subtle plug by the author there, by the way… but surely every reader of this blog has already bought my new book, right?).

Of course in Advent our focus shifts to the even deeper truth that ‘home’ has come to us—that God is not simply waiting in heaven for our return, but has fashioned a ‘home away from home’ for us here on earth, first in the humanity of his son Jesus Christ, and then in the establishment of the Church, the place where we receive Him and enter into His life as Son of the house.

This strange idea that in the Church we find our true freedom is worth giving careful thought to. It is so alien to our modern way of thinking. The Church is understood by so many—even by Catholics—as a limitation to our freedom. We may see it as a proper and right limitation to our freedom; we may rankle and bridle and cast it off as an intolerable limit to our freedom; of course, many don’t even think about it one way or another, but simply ignore it as an irrelevancy. But most moderns automatically understand it that moral law = reduced freedom, and the Church upholds the moral law.

That the moral law, and that which lies under the moral law, which is the deep truth of God, of man and his institutions, and of the created world is in fact our freedom, that without it we are constricted, impotent beings, incapable of decisive fruitful action in the world—this is an entirely different way of looking at it. And that the Church not only teaches us the truth of morality, but gives us the power to live upright lives—the power of grace and the life of God in Christ coming to us through the sacraments—this is radical stuff indeed. To be in the Church and to safeguard our communion with the Church is to live a free life. Most people do not easily think that way. We want to do what we want to do. Not very noble, but there it is.
But this is the faith we profess: we believe in one holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. Remember how I blogged last week about every line of the Creed being something we need to incarnate or it is irrelevant? Consider this post a meditation on how to live out that one.

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