April 8th, 1981, Serial No. 00873

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Monastic Spirituality Set 3 of 12




So I'll talk about a couple of things that are in between. And it's good for us to see the connections between these various things that we're talking about. Obedience and stability obviously have a lot to do with one another, how they come together in something. And if we consider actually the reason for obedience or the core of obedience to be a kind of training for freedom, then we have to look at stability in the same way. And actually, stability and freedom seem to be in kind of opposition or attention, just the way obedience and freedom are in tension. So let's pass from considering obedience to thinking about freedom a little bit, and freedom and commitment, and then finally talk about stability. So that's what I'd like to do this morning. First of all, the sort of thing that happens when obedience does not lead to freedom, obedience


is not a function of freedom. I was recently reading this book by Ruth Burroughs, Before the Living God, which is the story of her life. Now, she's a Carmelite, and she lived in a little monastery in England, where you'd have to say that the spirit was not very much alive, but obedience was still intact. Obedience was okay, but the rest of it wasn't there. And she writes about it with enormous frankness. It's unusual to find a book written by somebody who's still a nun. You get these books by nuns who've jumped over the wall, but one who really stuck with it and yet suffered like this, and was inside this kind of structure. It's unusual. And she doesn't mince words about it. Didn't they let her publish it? They let her publish it. That's the astonishing thing. And the monastery still exists, and presumably the same superiors that she was under. Either they're out in the cemetery, or they're still in the community. How they could permit it, I don't know. It's not what you'd call...


Well, she's the present superior. She is, yes. No, she was a little while ago. I think she's retired. Oh, she's saved. She's a poor clergyman. No, she's not. She's still a Carmelite. She's still a poor Carmelite. This is her description of the way it was in the monastery under her first superior, who was a good woman, actually. Mother Teresa in no way played the fine lady. She scrubbed many a floor and cleaned many a toilet. Nevertheless, her rule was absolute. The enclosure of Carmel was rigid. Contact with the outside was minimal, and under the complete control of the priors. Nothing and no one could come in or go out without her knowledge. And this is usual. This is a normal thing in a cloistered community. It was this severe form of enclosure which, in practice, ensured her total power and control of the sisters. She controlled their minds. No literature and hence no new idea or thought could get in. She alone was informed of what was going on outside, and it rested with her whether information was passed on. She could indeed keep the community in a state of ignorance.


She could, and usually did, exercise the same restrictive role within the community itself. Sisters had practically no relations with one another. No one could speak intimately to another without asking leave from the priors. And though St. Teresa clearly made provision for this need in her constitutions, it was completely overlooked. No one thought of asking this permission to communicate with her. In other words, there wasn't any horizontal communication at all, virtually. Everything was vertical. Only to the priors could one speak of one's personal concerns. The recreation periods were formal. The priors and subpriors sat at the top of the room, the rest of the community in two rows down each side, the lay sisters always at the bottom. The novitiate, when present at the community recreation, sat with their mistress next to the priors. Endless were the topics forbidden at recreation. Anything personal, anything about one's family affairs was banned. Often it was difficult to find anything interesting to talk about. It was quite usual for the priors to do the talking.


And this was not an exception. This was sort of the way it usually was in the enclosed communities in the past, not only of women, but also of men. It is not surprising that in such conditions there was no one to replace the priors, because they all remember the girls. So she would continue in office and the evil of immaturity would be perpetuated. That's what happened. That's the fruit of the structure. Our mother's word was absolute. It was sufficient to say, our mother says, in order to get an immediate response. And of course the whole mother thing, the whole parental thing, the parent image, the mother image or the father image, which dominates in this kind of religious life, actually keeps people in a state of childhood. You can't say really that it's anybody's fault, it just happens. It seems she knew everything. I remember questioning some point of history that was being discussed, and that was just a fact. I thought it was inaccurate. In fact, I was quite sure it was. My jaw dropped when one of the sisters said, with an air of finality, it is true, our mother


says so. I was a Protestant at the time. There was only one will in the humanity intended to be only one mind. It needed very great independence of mind and real enlightenment to preserve one's own truth. This is the same thing that Martin was struggling with in the Trappist Monastery, although with men it's not as bad as it is with women, because men reserve sort of an area of independence around themselves, at least in their thinking, at least in their minds, and they don't usually try to impose a mental or emotional tyranny over each other, but women do. They usually have a good number, don't you? Yeah, yeah. It may not be contemporary, but there's enough usually so they can find some space, but that's not so with women's monasteries, and when a bunch of women are left alone like that, it can really get harder, because the feminine thing tends to turn in on itself very often, create an enormous pressure. And then the mother comes. One of the most important matters taught was that our mother held the place of God, and


this is in St. Benedict's Rule, too. You can take that in a right way, you can take it too casually, or you can overdo it, and if you overdo it, then people remain children. We must not question her orders. It was not only sisters who entered young who were reduced to mental immobility by this teaching. Women of mature age and great experience would accept this principle without question and see in it the supreme way of dying to self. That was the thing, those were the rules of the game. And it's not entirely wrong either, but that's an exaggeration, which prevents that from happening, which is precisely supposed to happen, that is, the maturing of the individual. There is no doubt that it was the occasion of multiple acts of heroism on the part of a multitude of Carmelites, and earlier times it might be condoned, but anyone who has experienced the harmful effects of this system must cry out against it. Many injustices could be committed by the prioress, and there would be no redress for the victim. The fascination of her office was such that most of the community would automatically be in sympathy with the prioress and automatically condemn the victim.


I noticed that if the prioress had her knife into a person, that sister became something of an outcast in the community. And often enough, the unfaithful, disobedient nun, the nun lacking in religious spirit and humility, she's got those words in quotation marks, was merely a potentially independent spirit who dared to question the prioress and show some frustration, temper, and resentment. Rarely was any of this sort of thing done in Malice. Usually the prioresses were kind women, sincerely seeking what they thought to be the good of the sisters. But they lacked training, lacked a knowledge of themselves, and so acted through emotional compulsions, obvious to others but hidden from themselves. Insecure in their position, basically afraid, the only way to govern successfully was by this way of suppression. They could not afford to have independent people around them. Life would be too complicated, government extremely difficult. That's the kind of paranoia of that position, of that structure. And this can become pretty general in the church, too. It was essential to maintain the mother-child rule, the one who knows and one who doesn't. There was little or no thought-out policy.


One prioress would follow in the steps of another, informing more or less to the same pattern. This has always been done. This has been the custom when catchwords are not to be challenged. Then later on, she gives an example of a run-in that she had with a prioress. She spoke to a priest, to a spiritual director. I remember the extraordinary sense of relief when he supported my view and remarked that I must keep my own judgment, that the prioress is not the only one guided by the Holy Ghost. It sounded blasphemous. I might not have accepted it from a less spiritual priest, but coming from this one, I let it into my heart, for it found ready essence. It was the beginning of my intellectual and emotional freedom. And then she describes how she had a kind of conflict with the prioress who didn't seem to be paying attention to her, the sister that needed him. And she had to bury this sort of sense of her own judgment, of her own truth, until it comes


out again. And then she was made superior later on. She describes how she felt about the thing. The first thing I wanted to do was to make the sisters happy. I wanted to create such an atmosphere of mutual trust between the prioress and the sisters, among the sisters themselves. I saw how much the latter depended on the former, that each one would have the unconscious security of being valued, trusted, and loved. For the average person, and that is what most of us are, this is the atmosphere in which a true deep prayer life can flourish. I have been prioress for some years, and I have learned how the two go together. It is only the gifted person who can thrive in spite of an unhappy environment. Above all, the aramidical spirit essential to karma needs this warm, trusting atmosphere. If people are vaguely conscious, they are objects of suspicion. If they are lonely, in a way religious should never be. Then solitude becomes a purgatory. The contented nun is happy in solitude. Only in an atmosphere of acceptance can a person reveal herself as she is, and thus grow an understanding of herself, and be open to development.


In fact, all virtues flourish where there is trust. The more people are trusted, the more responsible and honorable they become. At least, that is what my experience has proved. So you get clearly two different climates there, two different ways of looking at religious life. Two whole different spirits. One of them is a spirit of control, and the other is a spirit of trust. One is a spirit of suspicion, and a sort of monopoly of mind and will, monopoly of judgment, monopoly of maturity, and of personhood, and of freedom. It's all on one side, it all belongs to the superior. And the other is sort of a spirit of dialogue. Now, the principle of obedience still has to retain its absoluteness, but it's got to be in the truth, that's the point. Remember Haussler's article in Theology of Obedience. Obedience has to be in the truth. And it's very possible for a structure, and for the whole climate of the community, and for the superior to get out of the truth and into something else.


When you have this kind of thing. That's precisely what that is. Sort of quenching of the spirit. Because the commitment that the person makes in obedience, because when you invest your freedom in the structure, in the community, in the system, in the superior, that investment entitles you to receive your freedom back on a deeper level. The seed that your plant is supposed to lead to fruit. But if something happens in between, and somebody sort of accepts your freedom from you, accepts that seed, but doesn't allow it to produce its fruit, and to come back a hundredfold, then something's wrong. And this very frequently happens. And, well, that's the situation that the Church is confronted with now. How to let that seed of freedom, which people entrust to it, be actually transmitted to God, and received back with its 30-fold, 60-fold, 100-fold. And not just throw it away in a bank somewhere. Because that's what happens. It's like a bank system.


You hand in your gold bullion, and you get back paper money. Africa uses this analogy. And the gold bullion is yourself. It's your freedom. And you get this paper money, sort of a check, a receipt, for a certain amount of grace, or credit, or merit, or whatever. But somehow that gold has to come back to you. The paper money is not good enough. And it easily gets inflated, in the sense that you get a whole illusory notion of a supernatural world, and the graces that were piling up somewhere. Where somehow those graces ought to be active in our lives. They ought to be real in our lives. It's called realized eschatology. It doesn't mean that there aren't tunnels and dark places to go into. And I don't present this as if it were an easy problem to solve. It's far from an easy problem to solve. Nobody's got the answers. But it requires a certain attitude. The attitude which is most typified by Pope John XXIII.


That's the flip-over from one attitude to the other. And this is a miracle. John XXIII and the Vatican Council. From a climate of control and parent-child to a climate of trust and letting the other person grow up, letting the other person be a human being, a person, an adult, and to be free. Because in trust, you allow another person to have his freedom. Actually, that's the point. Where there's no trust, you don't permit the other person to have this freedom because it's too much of a threat. In one way or another, it's too much of a threat. He may attack you, he may overcome you. It may prove that he's stronger than you are if you let him have this freedom. It may prove that he's got more light than you are, that he's smarter than you are, that the Holy Spirit is speaking through him. And so, there's a kind of a psychological climate and an emotional climate in the Church. It's as if the Church sometimes has a kind of false self, and so does the religious community. Which quenches the growth of the real self


inside, quenches the emergence of that child that's inside, the one to be born, the child of God, the Spirit. That's the sort of background. Obedience needs to be in service of freedom. But it's not a simple thing, because it's not as if today, you know, you surrender yourself in obedience, and tomorrow you get back this hundredfold. Tomorrow you find yourself this self-realized person, Superman. It doesn't work that way. It's a matter of years. It's a matter of a whole life of walking in faith, right? A whole life of walking in faith and handing yourself over to God. And yet, all that time, something is supposed to be happening. There's something that should be quickening and being born in you all that time. And there should be signs of that. Signs that you're not just giving up on life. That you haven't just handed it in for some kind of paper money. That it's really working in you. That somehow your freedom, that seed is growing in the ground, even though you may not be completely in touch with it. And that's really what we have to work out.


How a kind of, I don't know, what do you call it? A pedagogy of freedom, in which you know when a person is dying inside, and you know when he's being born inside. And you're able to guide him in the way of birth, in the way of growth. Even though he's going through a tunnel. Even though the seed is still in the ground. He's going through the desert, the darkness, the winter, whatever you want to call it. But we don't have that knowledge. We don't have that experience. We sure need it. And that's why all of these outfits outside the church are such a challenge to us. Where they seem to start from freedom, and we start from commitment. They start from total liberty, we start from structure. They start with a kind of creativity, a kind of free creativity. And we start with a commitment to what we have received. Which somehow has a lot of trouble being creative. Finding it's freedom, building it's freedom. I think of that University of the Trees with all of their wild philosophy. It's something that challenges us. Because they are creative.


And we have to obviously find the same thing but in the roots of truth. In the roots of the truth that has been given to us which is the word of God. And which the church has faithfully handed down to us. But the trouble is the church can't tell you how to make that seed germinate. The church can't tell you how to be free. Or how to be creative. You have to find that out yourself. And now I'm talking about the hierarchical church. The growth has to come out of the seed. It has to come out of the soil. Nobody can tell you how to do that. There have to be two principles operating there. The principle of obedience and authority. And the other principle of freedom. Which has to find itself inside itself. And in doing that, of course, it finds God. It finds the spirit inside itself. And makes its contribution. God speaks to it. But nobody else can do it for you. And yet, very often the church or the community or the superior tries to do it for people. And leave them. And that child thing is deceptive. When I use that word, it means two things.


One thing is the real child. The one that's alive. The child which is freedom, creativity, growth. The child which is all eagerness in life, quickness and movement. The child which is living and growing. The other child is the submissive child which is intimidated. And which has decided it's better to remain small. The child which has given up on life. Now that's an unhealthy child. That's the one that the structure very often tends to produce. And this Catholic neurosis that Sebastian Moore talks about is precisely that. A sort of commitment to remain perpetually a child. And then the whole structure that lends itself to that. The whole consciousness that allows that to happen. It's a very difficult area, but somehow this is essential for us to confront. And as I say, there are no simple answers. It's not as if you throw away the structure and you start all over again. And now you go out and start a free commune


on this side. No, it doesn't work. You live within a structure, but the structure gets transformed by this consciousness of freedom somehow. That's where the churchism is. You don't throw away the structure. We have to be willing to gamble in some areas. Whether we're successful or not shouldn't be the most important point. But you need to experiment, to try to make an effort in some areas. And if it doesn't work, then you need to attach to that. As long as we have the honesty to admit that we've made a mistake when we do. In other words, the freedom to make mistakes and therefore to take a risk. Because this other way of thinking avoids all risk. That's the thing. It's the super cautious thing that avoids all risk. It's full of guide rails and you don't go across the street and never get anywhere. To be open


to the structure's changing from lived experience. That's right. And then the structure on the outside of that. That's right. Okay. So, obedience is in the service of freedom, really. But that's not an instant thing. Like I said, freedom is in the context of obedience to God, after all. Freedom has all these counter-terms to it. If you talk about freedom in isolation, it's a wild and meaningless term. And that's what a lot of people do nowadays. Sort of the existentialist view of freedom is that you're absolutely free. You're free as an isolated self. But that's not true. That's meaningless. Because meaning comes from relationship. It comes from context. So we've got all these counter-terms to freedom that we have to talk about. As soon as we raise the word freedom, we have to raise the subject of truth, right? We have to raise the subject of context, of community, of relationship, of reality. Because to be free, really, is to be in touch


with reality. It's not to be isolated all in yourself, somewhere. Not to be free from reality, but free in reality, free for reality. Counter-term of service, of commitment. We'll get to that. Obedience to the Spirit. And if you're obedient to the Spirit, well, service to the Spirit is freedom, actually. It's an expansive type of service rather than a contractive type of service. It doesn't enslave you, it liberates you. Service to the Spirit means that somehow, it's a collaboration in which your full creativity is engaged, because the Spirit is sort of coming up in the middle of your, in the center of yourself and freeing you. Expanding you, opening you. Giving you options and possibilities. Suggesting possibilities rather than imposing them. Opening rather than closing. There's another term there, too. Another one or two, which I've forgotten. We have to


make the counter-pose to freedom. We'll probably run into them later. I wanted to say something about the theology of freedom. First of all, if you look the word up in say, in the Dictionary of Biblical Theology to get the biblical theology of freedom, or in Kittel, of course, any dictionary, any biblical dictionary. But then you need some way, actually, of getting deeper than those words. Getting deeper than the mere words. What you need is some way of getting a grasp and experience of what they're talking about. You have to get beneath the surface. And we're not always in shape to do that. But a person that I find very helpful in this is Rahner. He's really got a... Merton is good, too. But Rahner takes it from a, in a way, perhaps a more clearly and solidly theological point of view. Merton's coming from a spiritual biblical monastic point of view. We're used to Merton, so I'd like to honor


him a little bit. In his book Grace and Freedom he's got a lot of articles on freedom, and one of them is a theology of freedom. I'll sort of recommend it to you and I've got a Xerox of it here. You can only just touch a bit of it. But it's worthwhile, you see, because this is the core of what we're talking about, actually, this business of freedom. This business of finding the self, finding the person, and not simply handing it over to some alienating process where it never comes back. Where it never comes back. Just a few notions to give you the taste. Now, according to him, freedom is a gift of God, and freedom is only had in God. Of course, that's a fundamental Christian notion. And the idea is actually that our freedom comes from our knowledge of God. Our freedom comes from our knowledge


of the true and living God, the God of the Jews. Now, Rahner is marvelous in that he opens up our Catholic thinking and our Catholic theology to two things, and those two things are related. He opens our thinking up to mystery, and that's in the direction of the Father. From a kind of boxed-in thinking, you know, a closed thinking to an open thinking against the background of mystery. Mystery is God. It's the true and living God. It's the Father. And he finds that mystery in everything, behind everything. He finds it in your whole life. In other words, everything you think and everything you do and everything you will is related directly to that mystery. And that's the secret. And then on the other side, he opens us up to liberty, to freedom. On one side, mystery. On the other side, freedom. And the mystery of God corresponds to the liberty of man. And one corresponds to the Father, and the other corresponds to the Spirit. And somehow, in our Catholic thing, we've gotten a word so solidified, the dimension of the word so heavy and so solidified that it hasn't been able to open up to the mystery


and to the freedom. It hasn't been able to open up to the background of the Father, the unbounded. That's the liberating subjection. The liberating sort of, what we call it, obedience, is the obedience to the Father. And it hasn't been able to open up to the freedom of the Spirit. And it's this thing of control, of possession, as it were, which the word lends itself to, the revelation lends itself to. Somehow you can get that into a box. But if you do, then it's not itself. You just have the word dimension. Even the dogmatic formulas of the Church and everything, they're necessary, absolutely necessary. But all these things that are made defensively and made in order to protect the faith, or in order to keep you from getting into trouble, what they tend to do, in the end, is to betray the spirit of the gift that we have received, the expansive spirit of the Holy Spirit, the expansive spirit of freedom. Every time the Church gets defensive, and she has to get defensive,


the danger is that she gets neurotic at the same time, and excludes precisely that which she's supposed to be giving. It's very difficult to get out of this, and the Church has been struggling with it now for 2,000 years. But see what happens. The Trinitarian revelation, the Trinitarian gift, gets narrowed down to the one dimension of word, and the word is locked in in such a way that it can't germinate, that it can't give birth and branch out to the other two dimensions. It can't root down into us in depth and mystery, and it can't sort of extend its branches freely up into the sky and the spirit. It seems like Jesus sure would be pleased with that. He's always said in the Gospels, always father, you know. Yeah, yeah, he sends us to the Father. He doesn't want to become a great sort of stone statue, because somehow even Christ can be turned into a massive statue, the shadow of which takes away our life, instead of the light of Him giving His life,


you know? It becomes a statue instead of light. That's the secret. We're saying one side of the thing, and all of it sounds critical, perhaps, over-critical. We have to look at things from this side at one time or another. We have to look at even the underside of our good things, you know. In order to be freed from the shadow of history, and boy, history is full of shadows. We're still in the long shadows of history, 2,000 years ago. And in order to be free to really have the gifts that we are given in Christ, in the Trinity, we have to get out of those shadows. Most of those shadows come from splits in the Church, you know, from fights, battles, with the Pharisees, even the Jews. I'm going to break with these in the Protestant Reformation, and I'll be there. The freedom God always guarantees


to man is the freedom of accepting absolutely the absolute mystery, which we call God. See the relation between mystery and freedom for a minute. This is the relation between truth, also, and freedom. You see, between truth and behavior. In the sense that God is not just one among other objects of our neutral freedom of choice, but He who only becomes known to man in this absolute act of freedom, and in whom alone the very essence of freedom is fully achieved. The essence of freedom is certainly not to be understood as the mere possibility of choosing between a number of objects, one of which is God. Then he goes into his long philosophical thing about freedom. It's that Rahner has got this one point of view out of which he comes, a kind of theory of transcendence in knowledge and in freedom. And he continually has to repeat his basis when he talks about something. Freedom does not first take on a theological character when God is explicitly objectivated in terms of the categories which apply to objects.


Pardon the long words. It just means that freedom isn't a religious thing just when you look at God as an object. Your freedom is religious, it's spiritual in everything that you do. It is theological by its very nature since in every free act God is present, though not explicitly grasped, as its fundamental impulse and final goal. That's something. Do you realize what that does to your life? There's no such thing as profane, there's no such thing as the sacred and the secular because God is in every act of freedom as he is in every act of knowledge. This is a philosophy which immediately turns into theology. Doesn't this have to come not so much from your effort or your activity but from God's activity in you? You become aware of it. Not that you yourself can become aware of it. Something that only can come from an experience like that. But at the same time there's a kind of a seeking.


In other words, it's as if somebody like this writing puts you on to something, then you look for it, you open yourself to it and then you experience it. Sometimes it works that way. But it certainly has to come from God. The awareness of it. But the fact is that he's there all the time beneath the surface, beneath our consciousness even in the things that we're doing. So just if somebody lets you in on that secret it opens up something. And in fact, experience begins to appear from that awareness, from being clued in on that for somebody else. And so for instance, Mana enlightens us to the depth dimension, the spiritual dimension of our ordinary experience. Of our ordinary experience. And then once that channel is opened up, that channel of deeper consciousness, then God can manifest himself too. Because our awareness is somehow open to it. ...


... It happens in all kinds of ways. And part of it is voluntary. Part of it we have to cooperate with. And part of it is even before our cooperation. It's as if he was pouring himself into us in a way. But then he asks us to cooperate on another level. And the two of them have to work together. There's a transformation already that happens in a certain way. Just reading the scripture and giving our minds and our hearts to it. But then there's something else that we have to do besides that. It happens at every level. ... Very good. I don't know if that's what David meant, but it seems like to me there has to be some recognizing of the difference between being conscious of that kind of thing, and just thinking that every act you make God's involved, so I have to do it. Just complete perfection. You're right. Something has to turn on me. Something has to turn on me. There's a spark that has to be there


before that has meaning for you. The words somehow help it though. Because the understanding and the experience, say the understanding like what he's writing here, and the experience somehow reinforce one another. Because at a certain point you need a way of understanding your experience. A way of getting meaning for your experience. And then you permit your experience sort of to be meaningful, to be important for you because you understand why it is. So the two go along together. Yeah, there needs to be an experience. Because you're on that one side, somebody just has that kind of consciousness and it can get the opposite for you. He thinks this is the way God is so intense that each act I have to be perfect. Or you can go on a whole trip or a kind of obsessive thing. Or just a thing that we do with our minds. If we're trying to pray in the wrong way at every moment we do something similar. We get ourselves at the wrong kind of intensity. Which is just the other end.


The opposite from freedom. It's a decisive element of the Christian idea of freedom. That it is not only dependent on God and refers to him as the basis of the freedom of choice, but it's also freedom before God. But if it's freedom before God, it's also freedom to say yes or no to yourself. To your fundamental being. It is decisive for the Christian doctrine of freedom that it implies the possibility of a yes or no to its own horizon. Indeed, it is constituted by this very possibility. And this is so primarily not where God is conceived in categorical notions. Well anyway, I don't want to get into this complicated language, but the point is the basic question we have to answer is just yes or no. And it's yes or no to God and to ourselves at the same time. And it's possible to say no to yourself which puts you in this radical situation of contradiction, which we would call a state of sin. Where everything in you, on the unconscious level, in your being is saying yes and you're saying no. That's a kind of


a position of profound atheism. Practical atheism. Freedom is first of all freedom of being. It's not merely a quality of an act such as it is sometimes performed, but a transcendental qualification of being human. That man is really meant to determine his final destiny. If his eternity is to be the act of his freedom, capable of making ... of making him good or evil in the depth of his being, and not only accidentally, then freedom must first of all be freedom of being. It's a freedom


that somehow is within yourself before you even do anything. Merton talks about that a lot. When he talks about solitude, he's talking about that very often. And when he gets into Zen, it's the sort of area he's dealing with, he's traveling with. ... Freedom, the capacity of the eternal. We would emphasize again that here freedom is precisely not the possibility of always doing something else, of infinite revision, of changing and erasing what you've done. But the capacity for something absolutely final, because it is done in freedom. Freedom is the capacity for the eternal. Natural processes can always be revised and diverted, and are for this very reason indifferent. The result of freedom is the true and lasting necessity. So there you get the real paradox. And here we get the connection between freedom and commitment, you see. To be really free is not to be free like a butterfly, which just travels from flower to flower and has no history.


It's to be free in the sense that you can put all of yourself together in an act, and therefore do something that has meaning, and which is not simply isolated. You can be either fragmented and isolated, and you can be like one of those, what do they call them, quantalist paintings of the 19th century, where everything is dots. There's no connection, there's no real coherence, no real meaning and continuity in what you do. But if you're that way, then you're not yourself. Because yourself is some way to be all together in some way, and we know that instinctively. And of course, when somebody makes a profession of faith, that's what he's trying to do. When he's converted, he says, I believe in Christ. What's he doing? He's trying to pull himself all together into one act. He's trying to do something which has eternal significance, and which is not just one act isolated among others in time. And it's an act in which he commits himself, in which he means to somehow root his being for the future and his liberty. So we get this paradox that freedom only exists in commitment.


And then he talks about freedom as the capacity for love in a beautiful way, but I don't want to carry on too long. Let's see if I can find a sentence or two that sums it up. Freedom is always the self-realization of man making his choice with regard to this whole accomplishment before God. It is thus the capacity of the heart, the capacity for love. Ron has written in other places about the heart. What is the fundamental act of man in which he can gather his whole nature and his whole life, which can embrace all that is man, bliss, despair, everyday life, and hours of destiny, sin and redemption, past and future? The answer is not obvious, but it is true. It's not obvious. It has to be somehow revealed to us. The love of God alone is capable of embracing it all. And when he says the love of God, he doesn't mean just the love of God as an object. Remember the Shema in Deuteronomy. You shall love the Lord your God with your whole heart, with your whole soul, with all your strength and everything. The Lord your God is one God. That's the way it's told. The Lord your God is one God and when you love him that way then he pulls all of you together. And the one thing that does that is love.


The love of God alone is capable of embracing it all. It alone places a man before him without whom man would only be horribly conscious of a radical void in nothingness. It alone is capable of uniting all the manifold contradictory powers of man because it directs them all to God, or it somehow roots them all in God. For only his unity and infinity can create in man that oneness which unites the multiplicity of finite things without abolishing and so on. The business of freedom and commitment I guess I touched on that enough in Rana. I'd like to read something from this other this Jesuit. Who are you? Who are you? How are you? How are you? This book


should anyone say forever? It's a good book on commitment. He really seriously looks at the whole question. And so it's good for us to consider it in between obedience and stability because when we talk about commitment you see we're going to talk about stability first but then in this notion of commitment we include stability but then all of the vows, don't we? All of the vows. So it's a kind of review of the whole thing. We've been talking about the whole course. He's been talking about commitment and the book is about commitment. Can anyone say forever? It's about the whole problem of permanent commitments today, you see, when they're really in crisis. And he's been talking about commitment as being he's trying to define and find out what it is. To feel out the area first. Commitment as being a choice and then commitment as being a promise, as it is obviously. But he finds that that isn't sufficient to cover the ground. Both refusal to


make commitments and unfaithfulness in keeping commitments that have been made, promises. Refusal to choose and refusal to keep a promise are usually the consequence of the notion of freedom the person entertains. Therefore the need to examine contemporary notions of freedom. On the face of it, it would seem that freedom and commitment are incompatible or so the wisdom concocted by our age would have us believe. As with so many other values in our culture it's difficult to capture the notions behind the prevailing mood about freedom. But several of the axioms about freedom that seem to be embraced by many of our contemporaries would be expressed in ways such as these. One, if one would preserve one's freedom but am quite shy of committing himself. In other words, freedom and commitment are incompatible. Two, the greater the number of options a person has, the greater the freedom he enjoys. Three, all a person must do to increase his freedom is to augment his capacity for having his own life. Four, freedom is the capacity for indefinite revision, the ability to be always


doing something different. You just heard it round and round there. Five, since freedom and commitment are incompatible in this life, we must settle for one or the other. That's sort of the conclusion. That's pretty rough if we're having to be religious about it. We're forced to that conclusion. In order to deal with these contemporary attitudes about freedom, it might be helpful to distinguish the different ways in which freedom is talked about. Freedom can refer first to the individual's capacity to be self-determining. Or the word can refer to the feeling of freedom one has because the context he's in. That is, he finds himself in a place where he's not hindered, he's not constrained, where he has a number of options. Thirdly, freedom can refer to the act of choice itself, the experience of freely choosing this or that object. And he goes on to criticize each of these. That is, to look at freedom from each of these points of view and to point out that it's not an absolute, that it always calls for a counter-term, and a counter-term is likely to be some kind of commitment. With regard to the first category, the capacity for self-determination,


several things should be said. First of all, a person who imagines himself to enjoy a freedom that is never specified, there's a freedom which is just sort of in the open air. It's never rooted. It never comes down to the particular, to the concrete. He never has to express it in any particular, specific, concrete way. Believes in a freedom that eventually cannot exist. Human freedom is not some phantom commodity that enjoys a life apart from particulars. Freedom must be exercised in order to be. And then he quotes this Rahner thing that we read. Freedom is not the capacity for indefinite revision, for always doing something different, Rahner has observed, but the capacity that creates something final. Notice the connection between freedom and creativity. Also. Something irrevocable and eternal. Secondly, since one's capacity for self-determination is exercised, the object chosen will in turn determine the person. It doesn't just travel in one direction. When you do something, your act itself determines


you. The determination that you make reacts back on you and determines you in some way. We're free to choose, but we're not free to reconstitute the reality of the object chosen by us. This is pretty subtle. It will stamp us with its shape. The objects of our choices specify us. Or, as the saying goes, we become what we love. When you act, you automatically commit yourself in some way that comes back upon you and attaches you, roots you. I don't have an example of it. Well, this is true obviously in sin, this is true. That somehow the thing rebounds back on you and takes your freedom away from you, ties you down to some attachment. It's true in all kinds of ways, all kinds of good ways. Thirdly, our capacity to be self-determining creatures has a social history which antedates all of us. But this history acts as a deterrent to the proper exercise of freedom. Our capacity to be self-determining does not come down to us in a pristine state that is just


never having been infringed on, never having been determined. We have inherited the misuse of freedom known classically as original sin. This wound limits our capacity for self-determination and has the effect of both blurring our perceptions of what is good for us and weakening our desire to choose the good. Then he gets to the second meaning of freedom. Freedom in a context. The point to be made here is that no one's freedom exists apart from a particular context. Furthermore, there's no such thing as finding oneself in a context in which an infinite number of possibilities are open to one. Just as freedom in the first sense must get down to particulars, freedom in the second sense must always face the particulars one's life is circumscribed by. You're always in a situation and never without a situation. Unfortunately, the life of prayer sometimes can lead us to the illusion that there's another kind of freedom, which is simply withdrawal from every situation, from every context. Non-commitment is freedom. But that's what it is when it doesn't exist. The spiritual freedom that God gives us


itself is in a situation. It's in a context. Every context is circumscribed. It just got boundaries. It's got limits. Logistically, geographically, historically, and socially, to mention only a few of the factors limiting us. Each person's attempt to be a self- determining individual does not take place within a vacuum, but within an increasingly complex and dense set of circumstances. Every individual's exercise of freedom changes the shape of his neighbor's freedom, and vice versa. That is, the only time you've got an absolute freedom in terms of context is when you're separated from everybody else. As soon as you interact with anybody else, as soon as you have a neighbor, another man on the face of the earth, his freedom and yours sort of have to come to terms because otherwise they can't coexist. Your absolute freedom is going to interfere with his freedom. Exercise of one's freedom, and one assures it. By non-exercise, one runs the risk of losing it. In fact, in a sense, freedom is only freedom when it's exercised. Not entirely, because you're free when you don't act.


But you can't preserve your freedom unless you act, unless you exercise your freedom. This is true. I mean, you have all kinds of analogies on a natural level. If you don't defend your frontier, if you don't weed your garden, you don't have any garden. There are a hundred ways in which this is true. If you don't clean your house, then pretty soon you can't live in it. All kinds of things. To attempt to live one's life in a state of indetermination is the surest way of becoming unfree, because then one will be determined by forces outside oneself. In other words, life doesn't leave you alone. Life doesn't leave you your freedom unless you exercise it. Life doesn't let you be unless you are actively. If you are only passively, you'll contract. You'll be pushed in by life. You'll be bent in by life. And that happens to a lot of people. Our freedom, once exercised, furthermore, always becomes a part of the history that is ourselves. To ask for any other configuration of myself to reality would be tantamount


to asking that my word not be listened to, that my actions be disregarded, or that my person be taken without seriousness. In other words, we want to be taken as persons with a face, with a history, with a meaning, with a personality, able to say a word, able to be taken seriously. Right? Somehow. To be in a relationship, to have a friend, is to want that, certainly. Any relationship with love certainly involves that. You're not a different person every day. You want to be loved for what you are in continuity. The person that's really beneath not only the flesh and beneath the surface appearance, but also beneath the changing behavior every day is the continuity of a person. And if a person doesn't act according to that, you don't really know him or you can't trust him. At any rate, you can't really have a relationship with him. Since we would not have others regard our freedom or our person so cavalierly, neither should we take our own freedom so disparagingly, as not to demand


continuity. Not to expect continuity. The purpose of these comments has not been to make distinctions that might appear merely academic, but to demythologize the meaning of freedom. Okay? Demythologize freedom. Because otherwise it becomes a sort of banner, you know, for any kind of, what do you call it, irresponsibility. If it's not rooted in the realities of social, historical, and personal existence, freedom begins to take on an allure and an unreality that make its attainment impossible. And this is the risk in the kind of talking I've been doing, that is, to talk about freedom and not demythologize it. When he talks about rooting, you see, that's another, a very concrete counter-pose of freedom. Freedom has to be rooted, just like the plant, the seed, I always get back to that, I never think about this, the seed in some way, to be itself, to be able to grow, because to be itself is to grow, it's not just to remain a seed. In order to be itself and to grow, to realize itself, it has to be rooted, not by itself, so it has to be rooted


in reality, it has to be rooted in ground, rooted in the situation, it has to have earth, it has to have water, it has to have air, it has to have sun, all of that. And so, that's a different kind of freedom, rooted freedom, freedom in context, freedom in relationship. And what, in the end, does freedom become? Freedom becomes communion, right? We think of a freedom first, which is a kind of freedom where everything serves us, and then we have to, that's infantile freedom, then we have to surrender that freedom gradually, that's what we do in obedience to the Word of God, in a conversion, that's what we do in the Church, that's what we do in the head of the monastic life especially, so you make an investment of that freedom, which is still somehow uneducated, absolute, and self-centered, and doesn't know its own boundaries, it doesn't know itself. You surrender that freedom to the needle's eye, to the narrow place, and then you're supposed to get it back as another kind of freedom, not freedom in isolation, or freedom in ignorance, or freedom in a kind of demand of absolute domination,


the way a baby can have, you know, when it just has to be served, it's the center of the world despite its helplessness. Not that kind of freedom, but freedom in communion, freedom in relationship, which means that somehow you are in a state where nothing can hurt you, you're beyond death in a sense, the freedom of communion is standing in a place beyond death, it's standing in the resurrection, since you don't have any fear anymore, since you have nothing to lose, you don't have any walls anymore, and your freedom is a freedom from your own defenses, it's a freedom from your own shell, and so you can move freely as it were, however in communion, not just in abstraction, not just nowhere, but somewhere and everywhere, so that's the reason for giving up the little freedom, our little kingdom, you know, is to come into the kingdom of God, which is communion, but the problem is that something usually happens in the middle, something usually happens


in between the one and the other. It would be the same sort of freedom, like St. Paul or something in prison, St. Paul is a typical one. Well, I mean, if there's anybody in prison or something, they can experience a freedom that goes beyond those walls in prison. Freedom is not something that is put into context, it's something that transcends it. Okay, it does, yeah, when you get to that point, it transcends the context, but it's rooted in the context at the same time, it's a very mysterious thing. St. Paul's freedom was never disconnected from the context, okay, because he was a very involved person. He makes a good example. He was so Jewish that he was completely involved all the time, right? You'd never think of St. Paul being just sort of pulling out and being by himself. He's intensely involved, he's completely relational, and he's always committed to the things around him. He's always, as it were, trying to, almost trying to dominate the world around him, in a sense, with


his gospel, to dominate it and liberate it at the same time. This is all very Jewish. But then, in the end, when St. Paul is in prison, you've got this enormous paradox that his context is isolating him now, and yet he's still he's still got a kind of freedom which transcends it. And this freedom that explodes in the captivity of others, you know, Ephesians and Colossians, whether or not he wrote the directory himself, where this whole cosmic vision comes in, where in this situation of compression, where he's in a prison somewhere, in the darkness, he's seeing the whole universe gathered into Christ. Ephesians and Colossians, those are the ones where this vision reaches its maximum. So there's the paradox. Where his situation, somehow, has closed in on him, completely, and yet this thing expands inside of him, spiritually. And that's simply the freedom of his heart, you know, and charity and commandment


that you read in his writings. That doesn't cancel the thing about being rooted in situation. It's only that even when the situation is adverse, even when the situation seems to crush and kill our freedom completely, we can discover our freedom. But we don't discover it in isolation. It's got to be invested. You see it has to go into the ground. It's strange, too, because it's not, you discover the freedom in the unfreedom, not in spite of the unfreedom, but almost because of it. It seems like being forced into this captivity, and then you see it. But not until the first... It's precisely the Paschal Mystery of the Cross, at that point, where the seed falls into the ground completely, falls out of sight, beneath the surface. And then what explosions and quarrels at that time are envisioned. And that's


more or less true all the time. But the point is that we don't want to make that a principle. The first principle, the principle of contradiction. The principle of the Cross can't be the one and only principle by which we live. Otherwise, we tend to crush our freedom. Too often that's been done. Too often has been the belief that the only way that you realize your freedom is by giving it up. See, that paradox is there, but it can also become a cheat, it can become a swindle. If somebody says, well, the only way that you realize your freedom is by giving it up, so give it to me. I'll take care of it for you, and I'll give it to you back with interest. But then he goes away and you never see him again. Or he sticks you around and shuts you into some kind of some kind of a prison, you know. Anyway, we have to have the scent of freedom and yet at the same somehow we need to have the taste for it if we're going to


prevent the monastic life from turning into this country, from turning into one of these travesties. And yet, we have to at the same time have the what do you call it? The intuition of the wisdom of the cross. St. Paul talked about it in 1 Corinthians. The paradox is really there. And the fact of the gift that has to be made. The seed that has to fall into the ground. The whole thing of the cross. Anyway. Okay, next time we'll talk about stability. So if you read Roberts on this, you have to know that he This This Like Like