Friday, 18 April 2008


Being a Scot, 'Freedom' is a cry I hear continually when I'm home. Mel Gibsons dramatic account of the life of William Wallace in his blockbuster film 'Braveheart' was a film I encountered as a child and it's one I enjoy today (even though I know the historical content isn't entirely accurate) and something which I know many people love especially in the North.
When William Wallace was talking about Freedom, he was talking about the Scottish people being free from English rule. It is true, that English rule was often barbaric and indeed exploitative and that bred, to this day, contempt For England and English people. I must admit, if England get beat, be it football, rugby, cricket, or whatever, I'm generally a happier than I would be if Scotland were to actually win or being a little closer to reality, to qualify for anything. As a friend of mines put it recently 'I don't care we were second last in the Six Nations, all that matters is that we beat England'. I couldn't help agreeing.
It's not that I hate English people... Far from it! I have a lot of English family and friends whom I deeply love and care about. I also like England for it's regional diversity which I suppose I didn't appreciate until recently. I even live in England!!! But there is something there because of my Scottish identity, which makes it hard to let go of the notion of 'Freedom' that Wallace was talking about.
In the same sense, our notion of freedom today is one often colored by the past. In France the degree to which secularism influenced the society after the French revolution was frightening because of the total collapse of the monarchy and because of the persecution of the highly influential Church. The revolutionaries wanted to be free of that system, yet the revolution itself lead to persecution, hatred, slaughter of priests, and harsh treatment if you were to disagree. In many ways, Freedom, when understood in the context of hate and born out of bitterness, is destructive in all it's forms.
Yet in Poland, where freedom was a result peace and a willingness by the people to go through the hard times, and to understand that even though they found life difficult and hard, the evil in their country would eventually consume itself. Their freedom, born out of prayer and suffering resulted in a democratic society, not without it's difficulties, but peaceful nonetheless.
Pope John Paul the great was often criticised for his opposition to liberation theology, but when he wrote memory and identity (his last book) he talked about evil consuming itself, but also (and this was probably influenced a lot by our present Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI) that the Kingdom isn't so much creation healed as Hans Kung would have said, but the Kingdom is with God in Heaven. Hence why we have to be a people of hope, and that means a life lived in the passion, death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. It's all roses, and that means with thorns as well as beauty.
In our country at the moment and indeed the western world, secularism is almost following a similar route to that of the historical bitterness described above because of a bad experience of religion or in many cases a result of the genuine abuse of religion used for personal gain and immoral deeds. The Freedom from religion as understood today is no different to that of the French Revolution, or the bitterness a Scottish person holds even in a minor level. It's not true freedom, it's hate.
Pope Benedict in his speech to Catholic teachers in the USA talked about freedom in this way:
"Freedom is not an opting out. It is an opting in -- a participation in Being itself. Hence authentic freedom can never be attained by turning away from God. Such a choice would ultimately disregard the very truth we need in order to understand ourselves."
If we are to be truly free then, we must turn to God, and not away from Him. Some of you reading this might be thinking that if you come back to the Church or you seriously dedicate your life to God, that you might loose something of yourself. That you give up being you... But in reality, the opposite is true. It's only in God that I can truly be 'me'. Only with God's grace can I reach my potential, not necessarily seen in the eyes of the world or by human standards, but by fulfilling our nature, that is to say we become what we are actually meant to be. Not what the world wants us to be.
If you are searching, then open yourself to the possibility of God, as you can never really turn away from God, as He is always there, everywhere, in all times. What you can do is close the door to God, and that is your choice, it's the freedom he gives. But if your notion is freedom is one of hate, bad experience, anger.... Then you will only harm, rather than truly liberate.
Maybe the notion of freedom as Wallace understood it was born out of a desire to get justice, but it was his justice and not necessarily true justice, and that resulted in death of thousands of innocent people and not in the true liberation of our homeland. Yes, it's a brave, romantic story; but it doesn't make it right. If we then can truly understand freedom, we might be well on the way to understanding what it means to truly live a life of faith, hope and love.

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