Are you really free?

By Barbara Ann Mayer, OSB

Editor’s note: Sisters from Mount St. Scholastica write a weekly column titled “View from the Mount” that appears in our hometown newspaper, the Atchison Globe. This column appeared in the Aug. 13, 2016, edition of the Globe.

Sister Barbara Ann MayerAll humans want to be free. We desire to choose our way of life, our style of clothing, our kind of entertainment, our type of employment. We want independence, but that is liberty, not freedom.

In a recent talk at Sophia Center on personal freedom, Father Jerome Kodell, a Benedictine monk from Arkansas, spoke about stages of progress toward freedom. The first stage is license, doing anything we want to do, which hides our inner masters such as various addictions and passions. The second stage is living according to external laws, like being a good citizen, but lots of good citizens are not really free. They are ruled by laws, and decisions are black and white. True freedom comes from within, from an internal norm. It may be aided by external rules, but may sometimes oppose the law.

Slaves do not choose their own masters, but if we have inner freedom, we can choose our master. People who are dedicated to God choose God as their master. They form a conscience that enables them to follow what God wants for them, which is to be totally free. “Obedience to God is the way to true freedom,” Father Jerome said.

According to St. Benedict’s Rule, humility is a key element of freedom. Humility is acknowledging that we are dependent on God, that we are always children, always beginners on the way to God. Stability, another element of freedom, “means being anchored in who you are and your relationship to God, and you don’t seek easy escape routes because you are at home in yourself,” according to Father Jerome. Benedictine monks and nuns even make a vow of stability, rooting themselves in their particular monastery to form a community where each person is welcomed as Christ.

Oblates, lay people who associate themselves with a Benedictine monastery, strive to live these values in their everyday lives. They try to develop an inner freedom that guides their choices and decisions. This requires a great deal of listening, prayer and discernment, but by practice we learn to acknowledge our dependence on God, to think of the other before ourselves, to forgive and be reconciled with our family/community members, neighbors, and coworkers.

I remember how I felt after a conflict with another sister when she came to tell me she was sorry for what she had said in anger. I, too, apologized for my unkind words and we tearfully hugged each other. I wished that I had been the first to forgive, but even accepting her gesture was rewarding. It brought us closer together.

When we know and accept ourselves as we are – weak, flawed sinners – we grow in freedom. We seek an interior freedom that will guide all our actions and lay bare our need to please or impress. “Inner freedom, the prize of human maturity, is meant for everyone but not everyone achieves it,” Father Jerome told his listeners.Are 

So how do we get rid of our compulsions and obsessions that keep us from being truly free? Acknowledging them is a first step. Once we face them and name them they are no longer our masters. St. Benedict offers 12 steps of humility to help us grow in freedom. It takes continual vigilance and God’s grace to overcome our hidden seductive enslavements. A spiritual guide or director can aid in keeping us honest. Lord, give us the courage and strength to seek true freedom and pursue it.