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What is Liberty?

TEXT OF THOMAS MERTON:

What is Liberty?

 

There mere ability to choose between good and evil is the lowest limit of freedom, and the only thing that is free about it is the fact that we still choose good. To the extent that you are free to choose evil, you are not free. An evil choice destroys freedom. We can never choose evil as evil: only as an apparent good. But when we decide to do something that seems to us to be good when it is not really so, we are doing something that we do not really want to do, and therefore we are not really free.

 

            Prefect spiritual freedom is total inability to make any evil choice. When everything you desire is truly good and every choice not only aspires to that good but attains it, then you are  free because you do everything that you want, every act of your will ends in perfect fulfillment. Freedom therefore does not consist in an equal balance between good and evil choice but in the perfect love and acceptance of what is really good and the perfect hatred and rejection of what is evil, so that everything you do is good and make you happy, and you refuse and deny and ignore every possibility that might lead to unhappiness and self-deception and grief. Only the man who has rejected all evil so completely that he is unable to desire it at all, is truly free.

            God, in whom there is absolutely no shadow or possibility of evil or of sin, is infinitely free. In fact, He is freedom. Only the will of God is indefectible. Every other freedom can fail and defeat itself by a false choice. All true freedom comes to us as supernatural gift of God, as a participation in His own essential Freedom by the Love He infuses into our souls, uniting them with Him first in perfect consent, then in a transforming union of wills. The other freedom, the so-called freedom of our nature, which is indifference with respect to good and evil choices, is nothing more than a capacity, a potentiality waiting to be fulfilled by the grace, the will and the supernatural love of God.

            All good, all perfection, all happiness, are found in the infinitely good and perfect and blessed will of God. Since true freedom means the ability to desire and to choose, always, without error, without defection, what is really good, then freedom can only found in perfect union and submission to the will of God. If our will travels with His, it will reach the same end, rest in the same peace, and be filled the same infinite happiness that is His. Therefore, the simplest definition of freedom is this: it means the ability to do the will of God. To be able to resist His will is not to be free. In sin there is no true freedom.

            You fool! You have really done what you did not want to do! God has left you with the pleasure, because the pleasure also was His will: but you have neglected the happiness He wanted to give you along with the pleasure, or perhaps the greater happiness He intended for you without the pleasure and beyond it and above it!. You have eaten the rind and thrown away the orange. You have kept the paper that was nothing but a wrapping and you have thrown away the case and the ring and the diamond. And Now that the pleasure – which has to end – is finished, you have nothing of the happiness that would have enriched you forever. If you have taken (or forsaken) the pleasure in the way God willed for the sake of your happiness, you would still posses the pleasure in your happiness, and it would be with you always and follow you everywhere in God’s will. For it is impossible for a sane man to seriously regret an act that was consciously performed in union with God’s will.

            Liberty, then, is a talent given us by God, an instrument to work with. It is the tool with which we build our own lives, our own happiness. Our true liberty is something we must never sacrifice, for if we sacrifice it we renounce God Himself. Only the false spontaneity of caprice, the pseudo liberty of sin is to be sacrificed. Our true liberty must be defended with life itself for it’s the most precious element in our being. It is our liberty that makes us Persons, constituted in the divine image. The supernatural society of the church has, as one of its chief functions, the preservation of our spiritual liberty as sons of God. How few people realize this!.

 

CONTEXT

Author                  : Thomas Merton (1915 – 1968)

Writing                  : New Seeds of Contemplation

Language              : English

Time                     : 1949

Place                     : The Abbey of Our Lady of Gethsemani, Trappist, Kentucky, USA

Genre                    : The Collections of his reflections

Purpose                 : To teach the reader “How to become a contemplative”.  In this part, how to attain the freedom as a human being and following the will of God.

Chapter                  : Chapter 27, “What is Liberty?”

Publication               : New Directions Publishing Corporation, New York, 1961

 

VOCABULARY

Good – evil, freedom - liberty[1], spiritual, fulfillment, self-deception, the will of God, submission, the supernatural, the grace, sin, pleasure, happiness, liberty, sacrifice, person, the divine image, the Church, and the son of God.

SOURCES

The experience of his contemplations  as a monk in the Abbey of Our Lady of Gethsemani, Trappist, Kentucky, USA.

 

ANALYSIS

A.    How to choice between good and evil

As a human being, God has given us the ability to choose what is the best in our life. Our choice making us mature enough to develop our spirituality. Regarding of this, Thomas Merton give us the understanding how we should to make our choice. Our choice is not only between good and evil, but using our freedom only choose what is good. Because, if we are using our freedom and our choice is an evil, as a human being we are not free, even that choice destroys our freedom. In the time of making choice we must be free and our choice is continually aim at what is  good.  This way will help us to sustain our existence as a human being.

B.     How to free from the evil and how to reject the evil

First of all, we must be free from the evil and how to reject the evil. Even, According to Thomas Merton, we should to be hatred, to reject, to refuse and to ignore evil from our life. If we can do it, we will be truly free. Because, if we give chance evil living in our life making us unhappy, our life full of self-deception and grief. It is important to reject all evil completely and organizing our eyes only looking at what is good. 

C.    How to follow God as a Freedom

Who is our model? Where is our place to find our freedom to choose what is the good. Our freedom is only choosing the good given by God. Thomas Merton describes that God is indefectible, infinitely free. That is why, He is freedom. Our freedom is pouring out from God as a model of freedom. The freedom of God is loving us completely. He created this world by His love. In term Latin, Amor Dei. It means because of love. His freedom is full of love. His freedom has infused in our soul, transforming us and making us uniting in the life of God. So, our freedom is really coming from God. Whatever coming from God is the good. Because from the beginning God created this world everything is the good.

D.    The meaning of freedom

If we are constantly following the way of God, automatically, God will be guiding us day by day. This is our way how to face God always, uniting our life with the life of God.  Thomas Merton explains that the freedom can only be found in  perfect union and submission to the will of God. Comparing with the life of Jesus that he is free because of his obedience following the will of God. Frances Kelly Nameck and Marie Theresa Coombs said, “Jesus reveals two ways in which a human being interacts with the Father’s will. One consists in doing the will of God, and the other consists in letting it be done.” Two quotations to explain it, My food is to do (my Father’s) will and to complete his work (John 4:34) and Abba … remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not what I will, but what you will be done (Mark 14:36).[2] Shortly, Thomas Merton states that the meaning of freedom is the ability to do the will of God.

E.     Relationship between freedom and pleasure

The problem is how to be free in the midst of temptation. How to be strong enough to be free in the midst of following our desires. Sometimes we think that everything is good when we are really happy. Wait! The problem is not only like that. Maybe, he are happy, but the happiness is only physically. Or we just follow our desires but it’s difficult to distinguish what is really helping us. A more regular, what we do out of our control just do it, but no meaning. Finally, what we do is not for our spirituality but making us be stunted in growing spirituality. So, the suggestion of Thomas Merton is be careful if just following our pleasures or our desires. Thinking first in doing our actions. Don’t be a sane man. Yes, we have freedom, but our freedom is used to follow God’s will, not following our will.

F.     The Freedom as a talent

This is the point, after we know well our journey how to use our freedom. Thomas Merton invites us to realize that the liberty (freedom) is a talent given by God. It is tool with which we build our own lives, our own happiness. Sometimes, the freedom needs sacrificed. Maybe, we can be suffered, but if  we do pouring from our freedom – our love, we still experience the happiness. Look at the experience of Jesus. He said, “There is no greater love than this, to give one’s life for one’s friends; and you are my friends if you do what I command you” (John 15:13-14). The liberty (freedom) needs sacrificed. It’s logic.   

G.    The task of the Church

Finally, it is the responsibility of the Church to give the comprehensive understanding how to guiding the member of the Church to use their freedom in the true way. Thomas Merton is so sure that The Church has ability to do this mission. The member of the Church as the son of God should be doing what is good. The freedom they have, must be used to  follow the will of God than following their desires. This task is important, because according to Thomas Merton that it is only few people realizing it!.  

 

SYNTHESIS

Our pure freedom is following the will of God. We submit the will of God. From Him we get our freedom and with Him we develop our freedom. The will of God is as our compass. It will guide us and cultivating our understanding that God’s will the best for us. The true freedom is not pleasure which bringing us really happy but the true freedom is when we realize that our actions were guided by God’s will. Clearly, the God’s will is the best for us. God desires to transforms us in God, to divinize us. Moreover, with all our being we ourselves long for fullness of life of God. For this we were made, and our hearts remain forever restless until we rest in that which God wills that we freely will. True freedom, therefore, means choosing this destiny.

 

CRITIQUE

Our freedom must be alive, always growing, like a tree. It is our efforts that nourishes our existence as human being and allows it to grow. It is not intellectual, not made of notions and concepts, but of kind of understanding how to submit the will of God in our daily life. It needs time to exercise how to have sensitivity the will of God. The life of Thomas Merton as a monk, helping him how to have this sensitivity. The solitude the Abbey of Our Lady of Gethsemani in the midst of noisy cities of America helping him to find this wonderful reflection. The true freedom is not this – is not that, but how as human being we really submit the will of God. To achieve this experience is not easy, we need time to discern always until our sensitivity is complete.

We must admit that many people today is so busy. They are always running. Doing things are spontaneously. The sounds are like this, “my freedom is when I can do everything and making me happy”, “ this is my car, therefore I can drive it any way I want”, “This is land, so I can do  with it whatever I please”, and so on. All focus from our will. Those attitudes do not reflect freedom, but egoistic.

To get the true freedom is not easy, but we can do it as Thomas Merton did. Remember, the true freedom is following the will of God. It is expressed only in relation to good. We exercise our freedom to the extent that we act in view of greatest good possible under circumstances (not only pleasures). This is our challenge today.  

 

 

 

 



[1] I use the word of “ freedom” and “ liberty”  in the same meaning.

[2] Kelly Nameck, Frances and Coombs, Maria Theresa, Called by God, The Liturgical Press, USA, 1992, page 13-15.