Word of Life. July 2007. “For you were called for freedom” (Gal 5:13). Around the year 50 A.D. the apostle Paul had visited the region of Galatia, in central Asia Minor, which is now Turkey. Christian communities had sprung up there which had enthusiastically embraced the faith.
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Around the year 50 A.D. the apostle Paul had visited the region of Galatia, in central Asia Minor, which is now Turkey. Christian communities had sprung up there which had enthusiastically embraced the faith.
After Paul had personally presented Jesus crucified to them, they had been baptized, and clothed them with Christ, with the freedom of the children of God. “They were running well” along this new way, as Paul himself recognized.
Then, all of a sudden, they began to seek freedom elsewhere. Paul was surprised to see how quickly they turned away from Christ. This is when he invited them to rediscover the freedom that Christ had given them:
“We have never been enslaved by anyone,” replied Jesus’ contemporaries when he told them that the freedom he came to bring would set them free.
“Everyone who commits sin is a slave of sin,” responded Jesus.
There is a subtle slavery, fruit of sin, which torments the human heart. We know well its many faces: closing in on ourselves, being attached to material goods, hedonism, pride, anger…
We will never free ourselves completely from this type of slavery. Freedom is a gift from Jesus: he set us free by making himself our servant and giving his life for us. We are thus invited to correspond to the freedom that has been given to us.
This freedom is “not so much the possibility to choose between right and wrong, but rather to increasingly move towards what is good.” This is how Chiara Lubich explained it to some youth.
She continued by saying: “I have experienced that what is good frees us, and what is evil enslaves us. Now, to acquire freedom, we need to love, because what enslaves us most is our own ego.
Instead when we always think about others, or about the will of God in fulfilling our duties, or of our neighbor, we are not focused on ourselves and we are thus freed from our ego.”
Paul himself tells us how to do so. After reminding us that we are called to freedom, he explains the meaning of being “at the service of others,” “with charity,” because the whole law “is fulfilled in one statement, namely, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”
We are free – this is the paradox of love – when out of love we begin to serve others, when, going beyond our egoistical tendencies, we forget about ourselves and we focus on the needs of others around us.
The late Bishop Francesco Saverio Nguyen Van Thuan, imprisoned because of his faith, remained behind bars for 13 years. Even then, he felt free because he was still able to love at least the prison guards.
“When I was put in isolation,” he once recounted, “I was patrolled by five guards: two of them were always with me on different shifts. The administrators had told them: ‘We will alternate you every two weeks with another group, so that you will not be contaminated by this dangerous bishop.’ Then they decided: ‘We will not change you anymore, otherwise this bishop will contaminate all the guards.’
“At the beginning the guards did not speak with me. They only answered ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ It was really a sad situation… They avoided talking with me.
“One night, a thought came to me: ‘Francesco, you are still very rich. You have Christ’s love in your heart; love them as Jesus loved you.’
“The next day I began to love them even more, to love Jesus in them, by smiling, or exchanging a kind word with them. I began to tell them stories about my trips out of the country… They then desired to learn some foreign languages: French, English… my guards became my students!”