Christian Freedom and Liberation
CHAPTER III Liberation and Christian Freedom Gospel, freedom and liberation 43. Human history, marked as it is by the experience of sin, would drive us to despair if God had abandoned His creation to itself. But the divine promises of liberation, and their victorious fulfillment in Christ's death and resurrection, are the basis of the joyful hope from which the Christian community draws the strength to act resolutely and effectively in the service of love, justice and peace. The Gospel is a message of freedom and a liberating force which fulfills the hope of Israel based upon the words of the prophets. This hope relied upon the action of Yahweh, who even before He intervened as the goel, liberator, Redeemer and Savior of His people had freely chosen that people in Abraham. I. Liberation in the Old Testament The Exodus and the liberating acts of Yahweh 44. In the Old Testament, the liberating action of Yahweh which serves as model and reference for all others is the Exodus from Egypt, the house of bondage. When God rescues His people from hard economic, political and cultural slavery, He does so in order to make them, through the Covenant on Sinai, a kingdom of priests and a holy nation (Ex. 19:6). God wishes to be adored by people who are free. All the subsequent liberations of the people of Israel help to lead them to this full liberty that they can find only in communion with their God. The major and fundamental event of the Exodus therefore has a meaning which is both religious and political. God sets His people free and gives them descendants, a land and a law, but within a Covenant and for a Covenant. One cannot therefore isolate the political aspect for its own sake; it has to be considered in the light of a plan of a religious nature within which it is integrated. The law of God 45. In His plan of salvation, God gave Israel its law. This contained, together with the universal moral precepts of the Decalogue, religious and civil norms which were to govern the life of the people chosen by God to be His witness among the nations. Of this collection of laws, love of God above all things and of neighbor as oneself already constitutes the center. But the justice which must govern relations between people, and the law which is its juridical expression, also belong to the sum and substance of the biblical law. The codes and the preaching of the prophets, as also the psalms, constantly refer to both of them, very often together. It is in this context that one should appreciate the biblical law's care for the poor, the needy, the widow and the orphan: they have a right to justice according to the juridical ordinances of the People of God. Thus there already exist the ideal and the outline of a society centered upon worship of the Lord and based upon justice and law inspired by love. The teaching of the prophets 46. Prophets constantly remind Israel of the demands made by the law of the Covenant. They condemn man's hardened heart as the source of repeated transgressions, and they foretell a New Covenant in which God will change hearts by writing on them the law of His Spirit. In proclaiming and preparing for this new age, the prophets vigorously condemn injustice done to the poor: they make themselves God's spokesmen for the poor. Yahweh is the supreme refuge of the little ones and the oppressed, and the Messiah will have the mission of taking up their defense. The situation of the poor is a situation of injustice contrary to the Covenant. This is why the law of the Covenant protects them by means of precepts which reflect the attitude of God Himself when He liberated Israel from the slavery of Egypt. Injustice to the little ones and the poor is a grave sin and one which destroys communion with God. The poor of Yahweh 47. Whatever the form of poverty, injustice and affliction they endure,the just and the poor of Yahweh offer up their supplications to Him in the psalms. In their hearts they suffer the servitude to which the stiff-necked people are reduced because of their sins. They endure persecution, martyrdom and death; but they live in hope of deliverance. Above all, they place their trust in Yahweh, to whom they commend their cause. The poor of Yahweh know that communion with Him is the most precious treasure and the one in which man finds his true freedom. For them, the most tragic misfortune is the loss of this communion. Hence their fight against injustice finds its deepest meaning and its effectiveness in their desire to be freed from the slavery of sin. On the threshold of the New Testament 48. On the threshold of the New Testament, the poor of Yahweh make up the first fruits of a humble and lowlywho live in hope of the liberation of Israel. Mary, personifying this hope, crosses the threshold from the Old Testament. She proclaims with joy the coming of the Messiah and praises the Lord who is preparing to set His people free. In her hymn of praise to the divine mercy, the humble Virgin, to whom the people of the poor turn spontaneously and so confidently, sings of the mystery of salvation and its power to transform. The sensus fidei, which is so vivid among the little ones, is able to grasp at once all the salvific and ethical treasures of the Magnificat. II. Christological Significance of the Old Testament In the light of Christ 49. The Exodus, the Covenant, the law, the voices of the prophets and the spirituality of the poor of Yahweh achieve their full significance only in Christ. The Church reads the Old Testament in the light of Christ who died and rose for us. She sees a prefiguring of herself in the People of God of the Old Covenant, made incarnate in the concrete body of a particular nation, politically and culturally constituted as such. This people was part of the fabric of history as Yahweh's witness before the nations until the fulfillment of the time of preparation and the prefigurement. In the fullness of time which came with Christ, the children of Abraham were invited to enter, together with all the nations, into the Church of Christ in order to form with them one People of God, spiritual and universal. III. Christian Liberation The Good News proclaimed to the poor 50. Jesus proclaims the Good News of the kingdom of God and calls people to conversion. The poor have the good news preached to them (Mt. 11:5).By quoting the expression of the prophet, Jesus manifests His messianic action in favor of those who await God's salvation. Even more than this, the Son of God who has made Himself poor for love of us wishes to be recognized in the poor, in those who suffer or are persecuted: As you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me. The paschal mystery 51. But it is above all by the power of His paschal mystery that Christ has set us free. Through His perfect obedience on the cross and through the glory of His resurrection, the Lamb of God has taken away the sin of the world and opened for us the way to definitive liberation. By means of our service and love, but also by the offering up of our trials and sufferings, we share in the one redeeming sacrifice of Christ, completing in ourselves what is lacking in Christ's affliction for the sake of his body, that is, the church (Cor. 1:24), as we look forward to the resurrection of the dead. Grace, reconciliation and freedom 52. The heart of the Christian experience of freedom is in justification by the grace received through faith and the Church's sacraments. This grace frees us from sin and places us in communion with God. Through Christ's death and resurrection we are offered forgiveness. The experience of our reconciliation with the Father is the fruit of the Holy Spirit. God reveals Himself to us as the Father of mercy, before whom we can come with total confidence. Having been reconciled with Him, and receiving this peace of Christ which the world cannot give, we are called to be peacemakers among all men. In Christ, we can conquer sin, and death no longer separates us from God; death will finally be destroyed at our resurrection, which will be like that of Jesus. The cosmos itself, of which man is the center and summit, waits to be set free from its bondage to decay and to share in the glorious freedom of the children of God (Rom. 8:21). Even now Satan has been checked; he who has the power of death has been reduced to impotence by the death of Christ. Signs are given which are a foretaste of the glory to come. Struggle against the slavery of sin 53. The freedom brought by Christ in the Holy Spirit has restored to us the capacity, which sin had taken away from us, to love God above all things and remain in communion with Him. We are set free from disordered self-love, which is the source of contempt of neighbor and of human relationships based on domination. Nevertheless, until the risen One returns in glory, the mystery of iniquity is still at work in the world. St. Paul warns of us this: For freedom Christ has set us free (Gal. 5:1). We must therefore persevere and fight in order not to fail once more under the yoke of slavery. Our existence is a spiritual struggle to live according to the Gospel and it is waged with the weapons of God. But we have received the power and the certainty of our victory over evil, the victory of the love of Christ whom nothing can resist. The Spirit and the law 54. St. Paul proclaims the gift of the New Law of the Spirit in opposition to the law of the flesh or of covetousness which draws man towards evil and makes him powerless to choose what is good. This lack of harmony and this inner weakness do not abolish man's freedom and responsibility, but they do have a negative effect on their exercise for the sake of what is good. This is what causes the Apostle to say: I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do (Rom.7:19). Thus he rightly speaks of the bondage of sin and the slavery of the law, for to sinful man the law, which he cannot make part of himself, seems oppressive. However, St. Paul recognizes that the law still has value for man and for the Christian, because it is holy and what it commands is sacred, just and good (Rom. 7:12). He reaffirms the Decalogue, while putting it into relationship with that charity which is its true fullness. Furthermore, he knows well that a juridical order is necessary for the development of life in society. But the new thing he proclaims is God's giving us His Son so that the Law's just demands might be satisfied in us (Rom. 8:1). The Lord Jesus Himself spelled out the precepts of the New Law in the Sermon on the Mount; by the sacrifice He offered on the cross and by His glorious resurrection He conquered the power of sin and gained for us the grace of the Holy Spirit which makes possible the perfect observance of God's law and access to forgiveness if we fall again into sin. The Spirit who dwells in our hearts is the source of true freedom. Through Christ's sacrifice, the cultic regulations of the Old Testament have been rendered obsolete. As for the juridical norms governing the social and political life of Israel and the Apostolic Church, inasmuch as it marked the beginning of the reign of God on earth, was aware that it was no longer held to the observance. This enabled the Christian community to understand the laws and authoritative acts of various peoples. Although lawful and worthy of being obeyed, they could never, inasmuch as they have their origin in such authorities, claim to have a sacred character. In the light of the Gospel, many laws and structures seem to bear the mark of sin and prolong its oppressive influence on society. IV. The New Commandment Love, the gift of the Spirit 55. God's love, poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit, involves love of neighbor. Recalling the first commandment, Jesus immediately adds: And the second is like it, you shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets(Mt. 22:39-40). And St. Paul says that love is the fulfillment of the law. Love of neighbor knows no limits and includes enemies and persecutors.The perfection which is the image of the Father's perfection and for which the discipline must strive is found in mercy. The parable of the Good Samaritan shows that compassionate love, which puts itself at the service of neighbor, destroys the prejudices which set ethnic or social groups against one another. All of the New testament witnesses to the inexhaustible richness of the sentiments which are included in Christian love of neighbor. Love of neighbor 56. Christian love, which seeks no reward and includes everyone, receives its nature from the love of Christ who gave His life for us: Even as I have loved you...you also love one another (Jn. 13:34-35). This is thenew commandmenthe disciples. In the light of this commandment, St. James severely reminds the rich of their duty, and St. John says that a person who possesses the riches of this world but who shuts his heart to his brother in need cannot have the love of God dwelling in him. Fraternal love is the touchstone of the love of God: He who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen (1 Jn. 4:20). St. Paul strongly emphasizes the link between sharing in the sacrament of the body and blood of Christ and sharing with one's neighbor who is in need. Justice and charity 57. Evangelical love, and the vocation to be children of God to which all are called, have as a consequence the direct and imperative requirement of respect for all human beings in their rights to life and to dignity. There is no gap between love of neighbor and desire for justice. To contrast the two is to distort both love and justice. Indeed, the meaning of mercy completes the meaning of justice by preventing justice from shutting itself up within the circle of revenge. The evil inequities and oppression of every kind which afflict millions of men and women today openly contradict Christ's Gospel and cannot leave the conscience of any Christian indifferent. The Church, in her docility to the Spirit, goes forward faithfully along the paths to authentic liberation. Her members are aware of their failings and their delays in this quest. But a vast number of Christians, from the time of the Apostles onwards, have committed their powers and their lives to liberation from every form of oppression and to the promotion of human dignity. The experience of the saints and the example of so many works of service to one's neighbor are an incentive and a beacon for the liberating undertakings that are needed today. V. The Church, People of God of the New Covenant Towards the fullness of freedom 58. The people of God of the New Covenant is the Church of Christ. Her law is the commandment of love. In the hearts of her members the Spirit dwells as in a temple. She is the seed and the beginning of the kingdom of God here below, which will receive its completion at the end of time with the resurrection of the dead and the renewal of the whole of creation. Thus possessing the pledge of the Spirit, the People of God is led towards the fullness of freedom. The new Jerusalem which we fervently await is rightly called the city of freedom in the highest sense. Then, God will wipe away every tear from their eyes and death shall be no more, neither shall their be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away (Rv. 21:4). Hope is the certain expectation of new heavens and of a new earth where justice will dwell (2 Pt. 3:13). The final meeting with Christ 59. The transfiguration by the risen Christ of the Church at the end of her pilgrimage in no way cancels out the personal destiny of each individual at the end of his or her life. All those found worthy before Christ's tribunal for having, by the grace of God, made good use of their free will are to receive the reward of happiness. They will be made like to God, for they will see Him as He is. The divine gift of eternal happiness is the exaltation of the greatest freedom which can be imagined. Eschatological hope and the commitment for temporal liberation 60. This hope does not weaken commitment to the progress of the earthly city, but rather gives it meaning and strength. It is of course important to make a careful distinction between earthly progress and the growth of the kingdom, which do not belong to the same order. Nonetheless, this distinction is not a separation; for man's vocation to eternal life does not suppress but confirms his task of using the energies and means which he has received from the Creator for developing his temporal life. Enlightened by the Lord's Spirit, Christ's Church can discern which signs of the times advance liberation and those that are deceptive and illusory. She calls man and societies to overcome situations of sin and injustice and to establish the conditions for true freedom. She knows that we shall rediscover all these good things--human dignity, fraternal union and freedom--which are the result of efforts in harmony with God's will,washed clean of all stain, illuminated and transfigured when Christ will hand over to the Father the eternal and universal kingdom, which is a kingdom of freedom. The vigilant and active expectation of the coming of the kingdom is also the expectation of a finally perfect justice for the living and the dead,for people of all times and places, a justice which Jesus Christ, installed as supreme Judge, will establish. This promise, which surpasses all human possibilities, directly concerns our life in this world. For true justice must include everyone; it must bring the answer to the immense load of suffering borne by all generations. In fact, without the resurrection of the dead and the Lord's judgment, there is no justice in the full sense of the term. The promise of the resurrection is freely made to meet the desire for true justice dwelling in the human heart.