Below is one of Bishop Emeritus Fabian Bruskewitz's writings and talks about The Paradoxes of Freedom:
Not only the English language, but the realities of our Christian religion and the philosophy that underlies it, are subject to paradox. In speaking about freedom, then, we sometimes may be using the term in an way which indicates something other than the true freedom. The unauthentic use of the term freedom or liberty, is certainly one of the most rampant and difficult and perplexing, religious, theological, social and political problems that we have today. Just yesterday, a document was issued by the New York Institute on religion and public life which is headed by Father Richard John Neuhaus. Among the signers of this document were Cardinal John O'Connor of New York, Cardinal Bevilaqua of Philadelphia, and Cardinal Maida of Detroit. The document is entitled "Behold These Truths." I also had the honor, along with other Archbishops and Bishops, of signing this document. One of the thrusts of what we have said, is that, "The great threat to the American experiment today is not from enemies abroad, but from disordered liberty. The bitter consequences of disordered liberty resulting from the denial of moral truth, are by now, painfully familiar: abortion, crime, consumerism, drug abuse, family disintegration, teenage suicide, neglect of the poor, pornography, racial prejudice, ethnic separation and suspicion are all rampant in our society." We also say that, "The judicially imposed abortion license is at the very core of the disordering of our liberty," although our concern "is by no means limited to abortion." In the 1992, Planned Parenthood verses Casey decision, regarding a Pennsylvania abortion law case, the Supreme Court of the United States declared, "At the heart of liberty is the right to define one's own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life." This statement, of course, is the antithesis of the ordered liberty affirmed by the Founding Fathers of our country, to say nothing of the absolute contradiction that this concept has to Catholic doctrine. In his great encyclical, The Splendor of Truth, our Holy Father quoting Genesis 2:17, "of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat" said that the Lord of God commanded man saying that you may eat freely of every tree in the garden but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for of that day that you eat of it you shall die." The Pope goes on, "With this imagery, revelation teaches that the power to decide what is good and what is evil, does not belong to man,but to God alone. Man is certainly free in as much as he can understand and accept God's commands, and he possesses and extremely far-reaching freedom since he can eat of every tree in the Garden, but his freedom is not unlimited. It must halt before the tree of knowledge of good and evil, for it is called to accept the moral law given by God. In fact, human freedom finds its authentic and complete fulfillment precisely in the acceptance of that law. God, Who alone is Good, knows perfectly what is good for man, and, by virtue of His very love, proposes this good to man in the commandments."
Our Holy Father then goes on to say, "God's law does not reduce, much less do away with human freedom, rather it protects and promotes that freedom. In contrast, however, some present-day cultural tendencies have given rise to several currents of thought and ethics which center upon an alleged conflict between freedom and law. These doctrines would grant to individuals or social groups the right to determine what is good or evil. Human freedom would thus be able to create values and would enjoy a primacy over truth, to the point that truth itself would be considered a creation of freedom. Freedom would thus lay claim to a moral autonomy which would actually amount to an absolute sovereignty."
Pope John Paul II warns us that reason itself cannot create values and moral norms. Were this to be undertaken, a freedom which creates moral norms on the basis of historical contingencies or the diversity of societies or cultures, not only would the Church's teaching on the truth about man be contradicted, but it would be the death of true freedom. Human freedom and God's law meet and are called to intersect. The Holy Father says, "Patterned on God's freedom, man's freedom is not negated by his obedience to the divine law. Indeed, only through this obedience does it abide in the truth and conform to human dignity." The Second Vatican Council says, "Human dignity requires man to act through conscious and free choice as motivated and prompted personally from within, and not through blind internal impulse or merely external pressure. Man achieves such dignity when he frees himself from all subservience to his feelings, and in the free choice of the good pursues his own end by effectively and assiduously marshalling the appropriate means."
Jesus told us that "You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." Genuine liberty, then, and genuine freedom are associated intrinsically and inherently with the truth, and if we stray from the truth we become, not free, but slave to error. The truth, of course, is not simply a complexus of assertions and affirmations, but the truth, as we who are believers know, is a Person, the second Person of the Blessed Trinity, our Lord Jesus Christ, Who said that He was the Truth. It is adhering to Him and inhering in Him that one, then, knows the truth. A certain kind of knowledge can actually be involved in the truth, but truth is more than simply a possession of human knowledge. It is that which embraces the God made Man, the Incarnate Son of our heavenly Father.
This is what involves a paradox that people who flee from Christ, or who are not attached to Him, are actually in the depths of their being, not free, but in a certain sense, are slaves. Adhering to the doctrine taught by Christ and transmitted infallibly and indefectably down through the centuries, by Christ's bride and body, which is His Catholic Church, enables one to approach Christ Himself, and in that approach, in that encounter, and in that embrace, to experience true freedom and genuine liberty.
To be free means that we are not slaves to our passions or to our addictions or to our lower nature. It means that we are not slaves to the fashions and the modes and the pressures of those around us. It means that we understand very well what constitutes false or unauthentic freedom and false or unauthentic conceptions of freedom. It means that we are free from slavery to our television set, or to the communications or entertainment media, to our habits, particularly habits of pleasure and habits of acquisition. Genuine liberty and genuine freedom mean that we are able to discern the difference between means and instruments, and goals and final purposes. It means that we treat all things except God, as good servants but bad masters, much as fire which can warm our houses and cook our food, while at the same time, it has the potential to overwhelm us and to destroy us.
In the last verse of the hymn entitled America, we sing, "Our fathers' God to Thee, Author of liberty, to Thee we sing. Long may our land be bright with freedom's holy light, protect us by Thy might, great God, our King." Obviously, it should be the prayer of those that are Christian Americans that the concept of freedom which in itself is free from distortion, mutilation, bias and error be the guiding light of our country.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church says, "The exercise of freedom does not imply the right to say or do everything. It is false to maintain that man, the subject of this freedom, is an individual who is fully self-sufficient, and whose finality is the satisfaction of his own interests in the enjoyment of earthly goods. Moreover, the economic, social, political, and cultural conditions that are needed for a just exercise of freedom are too often disregarded or violated. Such situations of blindness and injustice injure the moral life and involve the strong as well as the weak in the temptation to sin against charity. By deviating from the moral law, man violates his own freedom, becomes imprisoned within himself, disrupts neighborly fellowship and rebels against divine truth." The Catechism also says, "The more one does what is good, the freer one becomes." There is no true freedom except in the service of what is good and just. The choice to disobey and do evil is an abuse of freedom and leads to what Sacred Scripture calls in the epistle to the Romans "the slavery of sin." The Catechism says, "Human freedom is a force for growth and maturity in truth and in goodness. It attains its perfection when directed toward God our Beatitude." The Second Vatican Council says, "God created man a rational being, conferring on him the dignity of a person who can initiate and control his own actions. God willed that man should be left in the hand of his own counsel, so that he might, of his own accord, seek his Creator, and freely attain his full and blessed perfection by cleaving to Him." St. Irenaeus wrote, "Man is rational and therefore, like God. He is created with free will and is a master over his acts."
John Donne, expressing this same truth in poetic form, said that man can never be truly free unless he is chained by God's commandments, any more than he can be truly pure unless he is ravished by God's love.
Carrying this thought a little further, Pope John Paul II has said, "The relationship between man's freedom and God's law is most deeply lived out in the heart of the person in his moral conscience." As the Second Vatican Council observed, "In the depths of his conscience, man detects a law which he does not impose on himself, but which holds him to obedience. Always summoning him to love good and avoid evil, the voice of conscience can, when necessary, speak to his heart, more specifically - do this; shun that. For man has in his heart, a law written by God and to obey it is the very dignity of man according to which he will be judged."
The moral freedom, called freedom of conscience then, does not mean that one can form one's own conscience as one wills. Conscience is the supreme subjective norm of morality. However, conscience must conform itself to the extent possible to the objective norm of morality, which is, of course, law, natural law written on the human heart, divinely revealed law, laws of the Church, and in some particular instances, laws of the state. Conscience, which is deliberately erroneous cannot be followed without assurance of moral sanction. Following one's conscience then, contrary to the popular image that that phrase conjures up, does not mean doing whatever one pleases or one desires. It means obeying our rational nature which is passing judgment on the rightness or wrongness of an act. This obedience, however, must touch the objective norm of morality which is law, and ultimately the Giver of that law Who is our divine Master and Creator.
Jesus, after all, told us there would be people who would try to kill us and claim to be doing this evil deed as an act of their conscience.
While every human being has a right to be free from external coercion in certain matters, such as the belief and practice of religion, nonetheless, this human being is not thereby free from truth, because to leap from truth which is the state of true freedom into error and falsehood is to chain oneself with fetters of slavery. Similarly, human nature is disordered because of original sin and its effects, and our own contribution to the world of sin by the actual sins that we commit. We human beings then, do have propensities and tendencies, which go by the name concupiscence, and sometimes even are named by sin although they are not truly sins but only those things which derive from sin and lead to sin. This concupiscence which is in every human being certainly has the capability of enslaving a person. Edmond Burke, the great English statesmen, once said that there are some people who will never be free because their passions form their fetters.
There are people who suppose themselves to be free, when in reality they are slaves. On the other hand, those who may, in some instances, chafe against the benevolent wisdom of God which directs their lives, are actually breathing the air of that freedom of which St. Paul speaks in the Epistle to the Galatians as the freedom of the children of God.
The paradox is carried forward by St. Paul who loved to express the fact that when one views things with the eyes of faith, one has an insight into genuine reality beyond those things which are merely apparent. In his Second Epistle to the Corinthians, he tells us paradoxically that as Christians we are deceivers, yet always truthful; we are unknown, yet well known; we are chastised, but never killed; dying and behold we live; sorrowful, but always rejoicing; poor, but enriching many; having nothing, but possessing all things.
+ Bishop Fabian W. Bruskewritz
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