Thoughts on Being ‘Trapped’
Yesterday evening, my wife and I had the pleasure of attending the monthly gathering of our Diocese’s young adult ministry called Truth Poured Out (similar to Theology on Tap). The topic that Fr. Jeff selected is one that, in recent years, has been gaining traction among various faith groups; the topic of human trafficking. Leading up to last night, my only familiarity with this issue stemmed from a documentary I viewed a few years back and having witnessed a few of my friends participate in awareness marches, locally. I knew there was a major problem, especially here in the US but I never really gave it much thought. Even though this problem had, in a major way, become a domestic problem I always felt that it wouldn’t be happening here, in a nearby big city perhaps, not here though.
Discussing the topic last night with a good group of people brought to mind the little knowledge I did have on the issue of human trafficking. I remember hearing once that most of those who have been trafficked from a young age would actually return to that lifestyle after having been ‘rescued’ simply because that life had become normal to them. I wondered then and began, again, to wonder last night how such a wretched lifestyle could become the norm for someone? I understand that many victims of human trafficking definitely would not have chosen that life for themselves but they have, in a way, become modern-day slaves and have thereby adopted a deeply-rooted slave mentality. To be trapped in what might either be or just seem like an inescapable reality, to me, would not be a life worth living. It would be, however, a life worth saving.
What is Freedom?
The question that weighed heavily on my heart was the question of true freedom. What does it mean for us to be truly free? I think we all know too well that sin robs us of our freedom. We ought to consider, however, the fact that sin entered into our world voluntarily. Adam and Eve chose to sin and we feel the effects of their choice today in the form of original sin (i.e. the innate sinfulness that we are all born with). Simply verbalizing the fact that we can be slaves to sin might seem cliché at this point if we have never given any real thought as to what freedom is. We can only know that sin enslaves us if we know what it is taking from us.
Freedom is the power, rooted in reason and will, to act or not to act, to do this or that, and so to perform deliberate actions on one’s own responsibility. By free will one shapes one’s own life. Human freedom is a force for growth and maturity in truth and goodness; it attains its perfection when directed toward God, our beatitude. – CCC 1731
That last line of the above Catechism reference might trip some of us up; it did so for me when I first came across it. For the longest time, my idea of true freedom was the ability to do whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted, without any real consequences. The idea that freedom finds “its perfection when directed toward God” seemed kind of like a rule, at first. In a sense, it seemed as though the Church taught that “you can be free as long as you do the right thing and nothing else!” From a very human perspective that doesn’t appear to be freedom at all. In fact, it sounds like just another rule being imposed on us. If I’m not the only one who might have felt this way after reading that for the first time then a general perception of the Church and God in general might be that there is no freedom in Christ, just rules. If such were the case, not many of us would stick around with this whole “Christian” thing. The reason being is that we all desire to be free.
Sin & Salvation
I think before we jump the gun on this one we need to consider a few things. To begin, we need to refer back to the point that sin entered the world through man’s free choice. No one was forced. The first sin was the result of Adam and Eve wanting to be like God, to gain a greater sense of perspective on things because in their mind, God was keeping something from them. The forbidden tree might have seemed like a rule to them. Sound familiar? This is an idea that we can understand perfectly because, so often, Church and Christianity seem to get in the way of the real fun. All the “legalistic rules” are just hindrances on our full human experience. We all are very aware that our culture sells us on the idea that we have to go out and sin in order to “really live.”
The exercise of freedom does not imply a right to say or do everything. It is false to maintain that man, “the subject of this freedom,” is “an individual who is fully self-sufficient and whose finality is the satisfaction of his own interests in the enjoyment of earthly goods.” Moreover, the economic, social, political, and cultural conditions that are needed for a just exercise of freedom are too often disregarded or violated. Such situations of blindness and injustice injure the moral life and involve the strong as well as the weak in the temptation to sin against charity. By deviating from the moral law man violates his own freedom, becomes imprisoned within himself, disrupts neighborly fellowship, and rebels against divine truth. – CCC 1740
Once we choose sin, we either directly or indirectly reject God. To reiterate, it is impossible to choose God and sin. (cf. Matthew 6:24) If we think, for a moment, on why we were created we will come to realize that sin is, in fact, opposed to true freedom. We were made by God and for God and it is within the realm of that perfect unity with God that we are truly free. It is through perfect union with God that we come to realize our true purpose. (cf. John 8:32) Sinfulness is the occurrence wherein we choose ourselves; our own desires and neglect the sanctity of our relationship with God. Sin, unlike the virtue we are encouraged to grow and mature in, is immediately gratifying and can become addicting. Being addicted to doing what we want to do is a form of slavery. Weird, huh? As we head into lent, a period of prayer and self denial, let us deny our own desires in pursuit of true freedom. I think you’ll find that sacrificing certain comforts in your life in order to grow in love for the Lord will be the most liberating thing you’ve done in your life.