The Freedom to Be Bound
“I could never conceive or tolerate any Utopia which did not leave me the liberty which I chiefly care, the liberty to bind myself”
G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy, The Eternal Revolution
As a late evening of study rolled over into the hours when the midnight oil burns, and the peace of the night’s silence allows for the intellect and heart to broaden into the depths of great mystery, the above phrase from Chesterton crossed my path of imagination. I often find the darkness of night a most adequate time to indulge in the mysteries of God. However, this night brought on a frustrating, yet important thought to my attention. I chose to foolishly practice the virtue of temperance and go to bed, for it was truly becoming quite late. It is now the following day and I am here going to make an attempt at writing down the thoughts that kept me awake for sometime in bed.
In the above words of Chesterton lies a most important and well stated verse. It contradicts every popular ideology to date. And it does more than contradict such ideologies; it condemns them as well. A man must only turn on the television, tune in the radio, people watch in a mall, talk to nearly any given man, to realize that the most popular ideal, the most desirable end, is personal freedom. What is this personal freedom? Nine out of ten men will likely reply with an overly optimistic, but ultimately boring, statement, ‘it is the right for me to chose what I want to do with my life.’ It is the blind path where each man is supposedly at total liberty because he is under no binding authority. I say specifically no binding authority because each man is under some authority at any given time, even if that authority be his own insanity. His problem is the fact that he cannot choose what authority he is under, for he changes his obedience with each situation that presents itself as a challenge to him. When he is proved wrong in one area he simply adapts his insanity to please his seemly intelligent friend. And this cycle continues indefinitely, at least until he places himself under the service of a binding authority.
This past line may make me appear to a mere slave, but I am inclined to agree with Chesterton, and assert that I am only free when I am ‘at liberty to bind myself.’ To truly bind myself to a binding authority is to allow my mind to get lost in the playground of life that God has created for mankind. It is binding myself to Truth, found most completely only in His Church, that I am truly free. While being bound to such an authority I can enthusiastically say ‘yes’ and mean ‘yes’ and say ‘no’ and mean ‘no.’ How liberating to have such confidence in what I hold as true, to be true; not because I thought so, but because God made it so even before I was able to think about thinking so. The fact is, as Chesterton asserts earlier in his work, Orthodoxy, that we do not discover anything, but in actuality we find what had already been there.
With such liberty, as to be able to bind myself, I am offered the luxury of letting my imagination play in the vast playground (or in GKC’s work, Elfland) of what is and is not; in what God chooses to let happen and what He chooses to prevent from happening. With this liberty of being a servant who chooses to bind himself, I can experience the whole of life as a child; in complete wonder and awe of what God has set in place for us. In such a place the mind will never o mad, for it cannot learn how. The mind is too busy laughing with joy about the fruits of creation. This is not a new concept.
Even Socrates understood the meaning of binding himself to such an authority. It is not by mere coincidence that he found that there must by one God, and life after death. I will assert that Socrates chose to be quiet and listen. He heard the fairytale music of what we now know to call ‘actual grace,’ which passed through his intellect and heart like a subtle breeze. He could hardly feel it, and surely couldn’t see it, but he chose to bind himself to it…and it was there in the quiet hours of the night where the midnight oil burns, that he left the realm of insanity and exercised the ‘liberty to bind himself.’
Note: this is the unedited short essay I had published in Gilbert Magazine in 2004 (April I think) http://www.chesterton.org
Questions for further understanding
1. Do you need to slow down and quiet your mind more?
2. If so, how will you do this? If you know you have to then resolve to do it starting now!
One of my favorite passages in the Gospels is the account by Luke of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. Luke 24:13-35 tells of two men leaving Jerusalem after the brutal death of Jesus. The disciples do not know what to do next. While on their way they are greeted by a man who addresses them with the basic question of what t
hey doing. The two can’t believe he has not heard of the events that have just taken place.
The visitor, who at first addresses the two in a very pastoral manner, now presents catechetically what the events that have just taken place mean. He explains Sacred History recorded in the Scriptures, relating it all to himself, to the Paschal Mystery.
The two; however, did not understand what it was that he was speaking of, yet their hearts were burning from what he was saying. The visitor, applying the catechesis pastorally leaves them, giving them the chance to ask for more, which they do.
The visitor, first having met them where they were at pastorally, instructing them with the Scriptures catechetically, now will bring them to the fullness of the Truth liturgically. The visitor breaks the bread and the disciples enter into Sacramental communion with our Lord in the Eucharist. With this, after being met by our Lord and being instructed from the Scriptures, have their eyes opened to them. They now recognize the visitor for who he is, Jesus Christ, whom they just witnessed being crucified in the past days.
The two disciples instead of going their own way go back to Jerusalem, where the Apostles are, along with other followers of Jesus.
This passage from Luke is a special event for us because so often we are tempted to wander our own way due to lack of understanding of what God is doing in our life. Jesus meets us in so many ways; perhaps in vocal, mental or meditative prayer, in a conversation we have with another person, praying the Scriptures, or in spiritual reading. Here we are encouraged by Jesus’ example in the Gospels; as well as the Saints in the Church, to listen, to be met by the Spirit where we are. Are we willing to be called ‘foolish’ as were the two disciples on the road to Emmaus? I am not always to willing to hear this, even from our Lord. In our daily life, and especially at Mass we are moved from confronting our sinfulness to hearing the Word of God. I pray at each Mass that my heart may burn for deeper communion with Jesus when hearing Him in Scripture. We are then lead to the Lord’s Table and invited to receive Him sacramentally.
I find this passage to of great impact to me as someone who lived for nearly 18 years with the written Word of God only. Upon being received into the Church my eyes have surely been opened to the depth of two thousand years of the Holy Spirit living and breathing in the Church, where the Scriptures have been constantly contemplated, like Mary keeping the words in her heart.
And last month, my oldest daughter received the Eucharist for the first time. On Pentecost, Mike’s Son, also his oldest, will be receiving our Lord in the Eucharist for the first time. May they, and all our children, learn from us faithfulness to our Lord and his Church. May they learn see in us the example to run to the Lord in the Eucharist. May they learn from us that is needed that the Lord call us foolish; and that we run to Confession. May we as parents, as catechists, pray fervently for our children and catechize them with Truth.
Vatican City, Apr 22, 2013 / 10:58 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis warned that some people, even in the Church, are “social climbers” that try to promote themselves, instead of seeking to glorify Christ.
“These social climbers exist even in the Christian communities, no? Those people who are looking out for themselves … and consciously or unconsciously pretend to enter but are thieves and robbers,” he said at an April 22 Mass for Vatican press office and Vatican Radio employees.
“Why? Why steal the glory from Jesus? They want glory for themselves and this is what (Jesus) said to the Pharisees: ‘You seek for each other’s approval,’” the Pope responded.
The result of this approach is that the faith becomes “something of a ‘commercial’ religion,” he reflected.
“I give glory to you and you give glory to me. But these people did not enter through the true gate. The (true) gate is Jesus and those who do not enter by this gate are mistaken.”
Christians can know which way or gate is Jesus’ by looking for the marks of the Beatitudes, he said.
There are many paths that we can follow, he explained, some perhaps more advantageous than others in getting ahead, but they are “misleading, they are not real; they are false. The only path is Jesus. ”
“Some of you may say, ‘Father, you’re a fundamentalist!’” Pope Francis recalled.
“No, simply put, this is what Jesus said: ‘I am the gate,’ ‘I am the path.’ … It is a beautiful gate, a gate of love, it is a gate that does not deceive, it is not false. It always tells the truth, but with tenderness and love.”
But, he noted, “we still have … the source of original sin within us, is not it so? We still desire to possess the key to interpreting everything, the key and the power to find our own path, whatever it is, to find our own gate, whatever it is.”
“And this is the temptation to look for other gates or other windows to enter the Kingdom of God.
We can only enter by the gate whose name is Jesus,” he emphasized, reminding the congregation that any other path of entering is for ‘thieves and robbers.’
“He is simple, the Lord. His words are not complex. He is simple.”
Pope Francis concluded by encouraging every to ask for “the grace to always knock on that gate.”
“Sometimes it’s closed: we are sad, we feel desolation, we have problems with knocking, with knocking at that gate. Do not go looking for other gates that seem easier, more comfortable, more at hand. Always the same one: Jesus. Jesus never disappoints, Jesus does not deceive, Jesus is not a thief, not a robber. He gave his life for me. Each of us must say this: ‘And you who gave your life for me, please, open, that I may enter.’”
CF’s comments in bold-blue
Below a Vatican Radio translation of the full text of Pope Francis’ discourse to the Pontifical Biblical Commission, April 12, 2013.
Dear Members of the Pontifical Biblical Commission,
I am pleased to welcome you at the end of your annual Plenary Assembly. I thank the President, Archbishop Gerhard Ludwig Müller, for his greeting and summary of the topic that has been the subject of careful consideration in the course of your work. You have gathered again to study a very important topic: the inspiration and truth of the Bible. It is a matter that affects not only the individual believer, but the whole Church, for the life and mission of the Church is founded on the Word of God, which is the soul of theology and the inspiration of all Christian life .
As we know, the Holy Scriptures are the testimony in written form of God’s Word, the canonical memorial that attests to the event of Revelation. The Word of God, therefore, precedes and exceeds the Bible. It is for this reason that the center of our faith is not only a book, but a history of salvation and especially a Person, Jesus Christ, the Word of God made flesh. Precisely because the Word of God embraces and extends beyond Scripture, to understand it properly we need the constant presence of the Holy Spirit who “guides [us] to all truth” (Jn 16:13). It should be inserted within the current of the great Tradition which, through the assistance of the Holy Spirit and the guidance of the Magisterium, recognized the canonical writings as the Word addressed by God to His people who have never ceased to meditate and discover its inexhaustible riches. The Second Vatican Council has reiterated this with great clarity in the Dogmatic Constitution Dei Verbum: “For all of what has been said about the way of interpreting Scripture is subject finally to the judgment of the Church, which carries out the divine commission and ministry of guarding and interpreting the word of God” (n. 12). (This is the necessary starting point in so many discussions with Protestants. We can debate numerous areas of doctrine, but this discussion is an absolute need for honest discussion. This is also the context in which we must catechize. Our catechesis, by being Scriptural, must then be Liturgical and draw from Early Church Fathers.)
As the aforementioned conciliar Constitution reminds us, there is an unbreakable unity between Scripture and Tradition, as both come from the same source: “There exists a close connection and communication between sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture. For both of them, flowing from the same divine wellspring, in a certain way merge into a unity and tend toward the same end. For Sacred Scripture is the word of God inasmuch as it is consigned to writing under the inspiration of the divine Spirit, while sacred Tradition takes the word of God
entrusted by Christ the Lord and the Holy Spirit to the Apostles, and hands it on to their successors in its full purity, so that led by the light of the Spirit of truth, they may in proclaiming it preserve this
word of God faithfully, explain it, and make it more widely known. Consequently it is not from Sacred Scripture alone that the Church draws her certainty about everything which has been revealed. Therefore both sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture are to be accepted and venerated with the same sense of loyalty and reverence” (ibid., 9). (The catechist would do well to study the words of the liturgical life of the Church. The Liturgy is the first and primary interpretation of what is contained in Scripture)
It follows, therefore, that the exegete must be careful to perceive the Word of God present in the biblical texts by placing them within the faith of the Church. The interpretation of the Holy Scriptures cannot be only an individual scientific effort, but must always confront itself with, be inserted within and authenticated by the living tradition of the Church. This norm is essential to specify the correct relationship between exegesis and the Magisterium of the Church. The texts inspired by God were entrusted to the Community of believers, the Church of Christ, to nourish the faith and guide the life of charity. Respect for this profound nature of Scripture conditions the very validity and effectiveness of biblical hermeneutics. This results in the insufficiency of any interpretation that is either subjective or simply limited to an analysis incapable of embracing the global meaning that has constituted the Tradition of the entire People of God over the centuries, which “in credendo falli nequit” [cannot be mistaken in belief – ed](Conc. Ecum. Vatican II Dogmatic Cost. Lumen Gentium, 12).
Dear Brothers, I wish to conclude my talk by expressing my thanks to all of you and encouraging you in your important work. May the Lord Jesus Christ, the incarnate Word of God, the Divine Teacher who opened the minds and hearts of his disciples to understand the Scriptures (cf. Lk 24:45), guide and support you always in your endeavors. May the Virgin Mary, model of docility and obedience to the Word of God, teach you to accept fully the inexhaustible riches of Sacred Scripture not only through intellectual pursuits, but in prayer and throughout your life of believers, especially in this Year of the Faith, so that your work will help to shine the light of Sacred Scripture in the hearts of the faithful. Wishing you a fruitful continuation of your activities, I invoke the light of the Holy Spirit and impart my Apostolic Blessing upon you all.