Sunday, June 27, 2010


I'm reading at Mass tonight so I have been preparing. Saint Paul has, as he often does, some difficult stuff today.

For freedom Christ set us free;
so stand firm and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery.

For you were called for freedom, brothers and sisters.
But do not use this freedom
as an opportunity for the flesh;
rather, serve one another through love.
With Paul, I figure that if I think I get it right away, I'm probably not reading  carefully enough.

What does "For freedom Christ set us free" mean for example?

And what is freedom if we are supposed to do something specific with it? As a teenager, this sort of stuff used to bug me. I figured freedom could have no end but itself. If you were supposed to use your freedom to a particular end, then it wasn't freedom. That is what I used to think.

Now, it seems to me that the only freedom worth the name is freedom to be used towards an end.
For the whole law is fulfilled in one statement,
namely, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
Where it gets tricky is when someone, or some organization, tries to define the end entirely in terms of rules. You can't derive specific rules for living from love your neighbour as yourself. That gives us the spirit of the law but no specific content. When people do attempt such a move they always end up maximalizing. Who is to say when you can stop? There is always a way to think of one more thing you can do.

Rene Girard has a nice rule of thumb that I find useful. I can't remember his exact words but the gist of it is this: To love another as yourself means not one tiny bit more. If you deny yourself, then you should feel perfectly free denying others to the same degree.

I think similar problems exist with  "do not use this freedom as an opportunity for the flesh". Does that meet that macaroons are out?

Again, the maximalizing tendency should be resisted. There is a line that says, "Okay no food or pleasures except for the minimum required for nutrition and procreation". Read the larger context, it is plain that neither Jesus nor Paul taught any such thing. And yet some people want to make it that. 

I think—and no one has to agree with me—that Paul's real point here has to do with that notion of choices that limit our freedom. If we always indulge the flesh we slowly lose our freedom. We become, to use Paul's language, slaves to the flesh. 

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