“You were called for freedom” (Gal 5:13).
A few days ago I posted a reflection on the corruption of the true religion into pharisaical superstition. As we leave the epistle to the Galatians behind as matins readings, here is my conclusion to those thoughts.
Our election, our being called into the Church, is “for freedom.” To transpose into a Johannine register: we are born from below, but are meant to be reborn from above—in the Spirit we are to find our life as proceeding, at every instant, from the Father in Jesus, the Son. We are meant to live our nature freely, and to live everything that inflects our nature (history, biography, tradition) freely, which means simply living in the Spirit of God, Who in the infinity of wisdom and love is sovereign over all things.
Again, this appears to those still looking from below, from the measure of earth, as simple madness. We just KNOW how things work: this goes for the worldly wise who are without religion as well as for the worldly wise with religion. We are quite sure what constitutes success in life, what constitutes sensible behavior. We have no doubt that our judgments do not need modification by, say, a pope (and this, again, joins together the worldly wise whether inside or outside the visible precincts of the Church).
We all have habitual ways of propping up our social position and indeed our own self-estimation, ways that often involve running some Other down. We all do. We tend to make everything serve our ego. Saint Paul calls this tendency “the flesh (sarx).” The flesh is the will to power.
Egoism is terribly tenacious in us all. Not one of us, not a single one of us, can look beyond the event horizon of our selfishness unless an outside force invade our darkness. That invasion is called the dark night: the only balm for our self-flattering blindness is the dark ray of love. This is a love too infinite to comprehend, with an infinity free to abase itself below the surveillance of our prideful gaze.
“Only do not use freedom as a pretext for the flesh, but through love, serve one another as slaves” (v. 13).
The only antidote to the self-bondage that is the will to power is the slavery of love, which is simply life in the Spirit of Jesus.
The truth of nature, the truth of law, the truth of history is to be found from above—in the infinity of love: “For the entire law has been fulfilled in one word (logos): ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ But if you bite and devour one another, see that you are not consumed by one another” (vv. 14-15).
The truth of freedom is love; the truth of egoism is civil war and a kind of cannibalism.
So, there we have it, the great apocalyptic confrontation within each human heart: the Spirit against “the flesh,” love against egoism, freedom against the will to power.
This confrontation certainly occurs in the Christian heart. We must choose whether we will finally leave the world behind completely, all that is old in us, all that we are comfortable with, all our habitual ways of soothing ourselves against the shocks our egos undergo. The old man in us only brings forth the works of death.
We must choose whether we will let the Holy Spirit destroy by the dark night everything that keeps us from rising into the infinity of love. Only in such abandonment to divine providence can we gain the freedom of heart necessary for the only action that matters: that which brings forth the fruits of love.
“But I say, walk by the Spirit, so that you cannot bring to fulfillment the desire of the flesh. For the flesh desires against the Spirit, and the Spirit [desires] against the flesh, for these things oppose each other, so that whatever you want to make, you cannot” (vv. 15-17).
The only personal agency that matters, the only true freedom, is performing the works of the Spirit of love. But so long as we keep turning back to the world, hankering for the Egypt in our hearts, we are unable to be free. We are split, tergiversating, playing both sides.
This certainly happens when we use sensuality as a tool for our egoistic will to power rather than as a channel of love. But it is even more powerfully the case when we backbite and run anybody else down (as, say, in a pharisaical judgmentalism). Saint Paul is very clear on the anti-hierarchy of sins:
“Now the works of the flesh are manifest: prostitution, impurity, wantonness, idolatry, sorcery, hostilities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, divisions, factions, envyings, drunkenness, debauched partying, and things like these…” (vv. 19-20).
Notice the progression from sensual sins into the sins of wrath and partisanship, merging into the sins that destroy community. These are all incompatible with the Kingdom of love.
Our personal freedom was never meant for any of that: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faith, meekness, self-control. Against such things there is no law” (vv. 22-23). No worldly calculation, no egoistic claim, can hinder the fruits of infinite love.
By our fruits will we be known. Jesus in us bears only these fruits of the Spirit. Jesus pursues us in the night, so He may free us to love. As the darkness of the will to power loses its grip on our souls, we wake to a world lit by heavenly light, and we see faces that excite in us a limitless love.