The following is a transcript of an episode of the Raised Catholic podcast. To listen to the episode, click here.
Today is episode 48: You Are Free
Hello friends. This week the weather and the fall colors are giving me a kind of sense memory of the first time I ever felt free. I was in third grade, and it was the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. We had a half-day at school and for some reason I can’t remember now, I was walking home from school without the gaggle of sisters and neighborhood kids that I usually walked home with. I exited school from a different door than I had ever used before, felt the sun on my face, looked back at the painted construction paper hand-turkeys in the school windows, felt a crunch of frost and leaves under my feet, and this is so clear. I remember smiling to myself, in my very little kid, introverted way and I remember thinking, “life is good and I am free.” It was the first time I felt what I now know was autonomy, and that feeling was so rare in my childhood, so maybe that’s why it sticks in my mind, alongside another clear memory of an early-morning solo bike ride when I was around the same age. What these two memories have in common is that I was alone (again, this was so unbelievably rare) and yet I did not feel alone. It was very much like the sun or God or something I could not name was shining and smiling on me. And this was such a lovely feeling of peace and freedom and just feeling seen and known and safe and, I don’t know – I can’t really put words to it, even all these years later. There’s something about that rare feeling of me at age 8 that I find I’m still trying to return to somehow. And how about you? When in your life have you felt free? Well, today’s episode is about finding that reality within the context of our faith lives, even when many of the religious voices around us don’t always sound like freedom.
If you were born and raised Catholic, it just might be that the word ‘freedom’ kind of feels like the opposite of the word ‘faith’. After all, there were so many rules and obligations, so many things we had to do, places we had to be, and prayers that had to be said when we were kids growing up Catholic. None of that had that ‘walking outside in the sunshine’ feeling to it, I know. And these days, here in the US, putting together those two words – faith and freedom – well, it can sound like a certain fear-based political argument that we might hear a lot these days, like someone’s trying to take the practice of our faith or they’re trying to take our freedom and so this can put us in a mindset of scarcity and anxiety to the point that we don’t feel free at all.
For Christians, faith and freedom are linked for sure, but maybe not in the way we think.
Thank God, we do have the freedom to choose and practice our faith, and to discern ideas and experiences with our own God-given intellect, and we should. Last year, when churches were closed during the pandemic lockdowns, there was a lot of talk about having our freedom to worship taken from us, but I didn’t see it that way. I was still worshipping. It seemed to me that we had new freedoms then, freedom to care for the health of our sisters and brothers, freedom to creatively serve each other out of the wellspring of our gifts, freedom to attend mass or other church services virtually – often hearing homilies we would never have heard otherwise. And if you listen to this podcast, you’ll know that that’s when I started attending St. Cecilia’s in Boston online, which was a positive and formative faith experience for me, then and now. Back then, we also had the freedom to be creative and proactive about our own study and prayer routines, and to take on a new responsibility for our own spiritual growth. As we’ll talk about a bit later, you can’t have freedom without responsibility. Anyway, during the pandemic, I led two outdoor gatherings of people praying with Lectio Divina in a friend’s yard. It was so fun. We had Scripture and music and prayer and fellowship and we even had coffee and doughnuts, and these gatherings were so well-attended and so life-giving that I know the Holy Spirit was in it with us, moving us forward. We were free to make a space and invite the Holy Spirit to move in and among us, and friend, the Holy Spirit did. I wonder what faith practices your freedom led you to try during that time.
Certainly, the core of the unmerited, abundant freedom that is found in our faith comes from the gift of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. Because of Christ, we can be free from sin and judgment, thanks be to God. And because we live by His Spirit, we can experience freedom from the flesh, which refers not so much to our bodies, but to our lower natures. And in the Bible, we read that because of Christ, we have access to so much freedom: freedom from the religious law, freedom from fear, and even freedom from death. That’s the vibrant and generous vision of God for us, but as we see, freedom is a work that can be slow to manifest. As Americans, the current and historical struggle for freedom can and should cause us to examine the nature of freedom as a resource, and to consider the best ways for us to use it.
Jesus had ultimate freedom because He is God, so let’s look at what He chose to do with it. Jesus became a human person in order to teach, serve, heal, lead, and ultimately to die for us. He used His freedom not to defend institutions or traditions, but to break down walls, to speak truth, and to grow the Kingdom of God, making it accessible for everyone. It seems to me that our understanding of freedom as Christians should come directly from His example, because the posture of freedom is not clinging – to rights or practices or power or institutions. No. The posture of freedom is open: open doors, open minds, open hands. Freedom is something that’s more pursued than defended. And as we said earlier, with freedom comes responsibility. In a faith sense, this means to intentionally grow in relationship with God, and to care for the least of these.
In the Letter to the Galatians, Paul says, “For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.” And in his first Letter to the Corinthians, Paul says, “For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them.” We have freedom within our faith, friends, and it’s freedom for a purpose, to lend our hands to help grow the Kingdom of God. What a privilege.
I think back to that Wednesday afternoon when I was a kid, that sense of freedom I felt then, and how it really does mirror the freedom that I’m talking about here – the freedom of exploration and possibility amid the sense that we are not alone. In my eight-year-old life, that meant choosing a door I’d never chosen, feeling authentic gratitude for my school community, and walking a path home that I hadn’t walked before. It meant noticing the details of what was around me and it meant enjoying my own company, which was something I did not know that I had permission to do then. That did take a while, friend, to be honest, but I got there, eventually. Anyway, in the scheme of our faith lives, we can choose our paths and how to walk them out. We have the freedom to change our minds, to learn, to know and love ourselves, to explore this one life we’re given, and we have the freedom to not know what’s next while holding the Hand of God on our life’s path, and we have the freedom to feel the presence of the Son as we go. We have the freedom to feel and express gratitude and to build faith lives and actual lives that are not just about us and our rights but are about being part of a community that is the Body of Christ, because we belong to each other. Because of Christ, we are not shackled by our sins and mistakes, thanks be to God. We have the freedom to begin again with every day, really, with every breath until we go Home to the place that He is preparing for us. And that means that this day we’re given is free, a gift, and so are you. You are free and you are a gift.
So, freedom. How will you use it today?
Thanks so much for listening today. If you need me, you can find me on Instagram @kerrycampbellwrites or on my blog at mylittleepiphanies.com. As usual, I have lots of links in the show notes that will help you to explore this topic on your own in a deeper way, so do check those out. And thanks to those of you who are sharing, subscribing, rating, and reviewing this podcast, as all of that helps our community to grow and I really appreciate that, so thanks. Before we close today, let’s pray together.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, amen.
God, in the Psalms, we hear that You answer us and that You set us free. In the Book of John, You tell us “If you continue in My word, you are truly My disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
In the areas of our lives in which we are not yet free, Lord, we ask you: set us free indeed. Help us to see and acknowledge our freedom and to use it to advance Your kingdom, to use our freedom to help secure freedom for others. And help us to feel You shining on us today as we go. In Jesus’ name we pray, amen.
Thanks again for listening, friend, and I’ll see you next time.