The Word Embodied
“For freedom Christ set us free.” (Gal 5:1)
Everything else paled when Elisha was anointed by Elijah. He left all for the call. The commitment became his life. The promise was all he would keep of himself.
We do not easily make commitments. Still less easily do we keep them. This is true of any time and nation. And yet it is particularly true of us. These days, it is difficult for a person to keep a promise fifty hours, much less fifty years.
And so we avoid commitments or postpone promises. “I will be your follower wherever you may go.” But it will have to wait. I have other things to do, jobs to accomplish, plans to realize. “Let me bury my father first. ... Let me return to what I cherish.” I am not ready to give it all away.
It is often presumed that freedom is a state of being loose and unattached. Some people go so far as to think they lose their freedom when they commit themselves. Freedom is construed as giving in to any immediate desire and impulse. And yet such a notion of freedom—“giving free rein to the flesh,” Paul calls it—is slavery.
We only begin to be free when we start the process of self-definition called commitment. And our freedom is only realized when we give ourselves away in love.
Our commitments, ultimately, are our homeland, our nests, our lairs. They are where we reside, where we center our being.
Such a prospect is awesome: that our fundamental task and responsibility is to commit in love. This is why, like the Galatians, we might be frightened by such liberty. Comfort and escape, as well as other cravings of the flesh, entice us when we confront freedom’s awesome implications.
Viktor Frankl, in The Doctor and the Soul, wrote of the stakes involved when we face our true liberty:
As soon as we lend our minds to the essence of human responsibility, we cannot forbear to shudder: there is something fearful about human responsibility.
But at the same time something glorious. ... It is glorious to know that the future of the things and the people around us is dependent—even if only to a tiny extent—upon our decision at any given moment.
What we actualize by that decision, what we thereby bring into the world, is saved; we have conferred reality upon it and preserved it from passing.”
Perhaps the only lasting things we humans make in this world are our promises, our commitments. Perhaps, too, our promises are the only parts of us that we ultimately keep.
Without such making and keeping, it could be possible that we die having never fully lived.
But when we make bold to respond to the vocation of our humanity, that call to loving commitment given us by God and nurtured by Christ’s Spirit, we partake in the very life of our Creator.
For freedom Christ set us free; so stand firm
and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery. (Second Reading)
John Kavanaugh, SJ
Father Kavanaugh was a professor of Philosophy at St. Louis University in St. Louis. He reached many people during his lifetime.
**From Saint Louis University