Victor Frankl, a survivor of Auschwitz, has left us a witness of Christian freedom when he wrote: "We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread.  They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms - to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way. And there were always choices to make.


            "Every day, every hour, offered the opportunity to make a decision, which determined whether you would or would not submit to those powers which threatened to rob you of your very self, your inner freedom; which determined whether or not you would become the plaything of circumstance, renouncing freedom and dignity to become moulded into the form of the typical inmate."


            Where even two people are living together, they discover the necessity of rules. But we are not living in Christian freedom when our moral behaviour is controlled by rules and commandments, sanctions, threats or promises, even in God’s name. St Paul tells the Galatians (Gal 5: 1, 13-18) that Jesus Christ lived and died to make us truly free. Christians are not freed from observing laws and customs, but we are freed from the imposition of laws and customs, because we don’t need to have them imposed on us. We are not freed from traditions and social conventions, but we are freed from the enforcement of traditions and social conventions, because we see their positive value. We are not freed from submission to rules, but we are freed from unwilling submission to rules, because we observe them willingly.


            In order to illustrate Christian freedom from enforcement, let’s consider the law of speed limits on the road. I willingly accept speed limits when I’m driving because I want to drive safely, without inflicting harm on myself or on others. I don’t need the police to enforce the speed limit on me. Even if I think I can get away without a fine, I don’t exceed the limits.


            It is clear what we are freed from: imposition and enforcement. But what are we freed for? What are we freed to do?


            There are liberated people, even Christians, church-going Catholics, religious and priests, dare I say even Secular Franciscans, who have obviously been freed from submission to rules, and even from rules and requirements. They have adopted the practice, widespread in our secular society, of reducing requirements to options, and simply doing what they like.


            Have they been freed merely for self-indulgence? St Paul says, “When self-indulgence is at work, the results are obvious: fornication, gross indecency and sexual irresponsibility; ... jealousy, bad temper and quarrels; disagreements, factions, envy; drunkenness, orgies and similar things” (Gal 5:19-20).


            Jesus freed us from slavery to external law but not so that we would fall into slavery to our unbridled passions. Freedom does not consist in doing what we like. Freedom is not licentiousness. It is the power to choose rationally and to act accordingly. It involves a personal choice made with moral responsibility.


            St Paul says: "You cannot belong to Christ Jesus unless you crucify all self-indulgent passions and desires" (Gal 5, 24).  That does not happen without controlling our nerves, without the love of silence, without seeking the truth, without peace of mind, and without love for the Author of life and love for our neighbour. Here is the outline of a programme for spiritual life.


            Neither a law-enforced life nor a self-indulgent life is the Christian life of freedom. The third and saving possibility is a life led by the Spirit of Jesus. The Spirit-led Christian rejects false freedom where one is free to do what one likes, and chooses true freedom where one is free to do what one should. We are saved from self-indulgence, not by subjection to a set of moral laws and religious practices, but by responding wholeheartedly to good laws and practices, to God’s love, and to the Spirit of Jesus dwelling in us.


            So, Christian freedom involves liberation from self-indulgence. We are free to do what we should do, guided by the Spirit of Jesus and responding willingly.


            We take the first step in achieving inward freedom when we “choose our selves". This happens when we affirm responsibility for ourselves. This attitude is contrary to blind conformity and it is opposed to routine existence. It is an attitude of being alive and decisive.


            It means that we recognize that we exist in this particular spot in the universe at this particular time, and that we accept the responsibilities of our existence. We show the "will to live". We accept ourselves as we are. We accept the responsibility for fulfilling our own destiny, which is God's will for us. We accept the fact that we ourselves must make our own basic choices.


            We are free to love, free to serve God's will, free to "serve one another in works of love" (Gal 5:13), free to take on ourselves the radical requirements of the Gospel, free to respond to God's all-consuming love for us, free to give, free to sacrifice, free to die to selfishness, ultimately free to die to our earthly life, when that is required of us.


            Let us pray that we will be free to bear the fruits of the Spirit of Jesus. St Paul says: "What the Spirit brings is  ...: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, trustfulness, gentleness and self-control.” He adds, “There can be no law against things like this" (Gal 5, 22-24).

Carl Schafer OFM

National Spiritual Assistant SFO-Oceania