Monday, September 17, 2012

Jesus shows us how to live in freedom

When St Augustine preached his 7th Homily on 1 John, he famously said, “love (God) and do what you please”.  This quote is, as in many other things in life, often misunderstood and even misused.  Taken in the wrong context and with the wrong meaning, it can be mistakenly read as a sanctioned carte blanche for misdemeanors and transgressions, and perhaps even peccadilloes.  It becomes even easier to misquote this Doctor of the Church when the word “God” is not part of the quote.  In fact, it was not part of the quote, causing the misconceptions.

Moral theologians will readily agree (and I am not referring to agnostic Ethicists who often view the ethical life purely through the secular lens) that it is when God is the raison d’être of our every thought, word and action, it is going to be very difficult to sin in the technical sense of the word.  After all, sin happens when God is further and further away from the centre of our very lives.  When we have displaced God and his will and his love for us and instead, replaced that vacant spot with our own desires and designs, sin easily results.  St Thomas would later make it clear that our ordered end as people created in the image and likeness of God is to be fully with God at the end of our lives.  This, taken in the light of St Augustine’s quote, it will help us understand what the Bishop of Hippo truly meant to say.

It is only when we know that our whole lives should be concerned with God’s pleasure that we will know what we should do, and not do what we should not.  Of course, having said that, loving God is not an obvious and simple thing.  Loving God requires of us to be aware of the many ways that we are distracted from our ‘ordered end’, and where the ways of the world pull us away from our love for God, and God’s love for us.

The Christian life has often been seen as a very clear way to know that God wants us to live freely.  Christ, the Son of God, is the visible love of God become man, and his whole life and quest was to make this clear to us – he spent his entire life to tell and show us how much the Father longs for our response in love, and that he wants us to live no longer under fear, but in a freedom that had not been hitherto seen.  It is often said that our God is never a needy God, and is in himself complete and lacking nothing.  Yet, this God is constantly waiting for our response to his constant overtures of love.  I think in many ways, we share this with God.  Aren’t there so many areas in our lives where we long for some kind of response to our various ways of outreach?  Think of the parent who thrills at the delight of communication with the child, or the teacher who feels fulfilled when what is taught is received and understood by the student, or perhaps even the lone blogger in cyberspace who experiences a sense of connection when readers bother to comment and respond to his efforts at communication and outreach.  Yet, we have to also say that God is free in the sense that our response to Him does not add to his fullness and completion. 

Indeed, God is free, and he wants us to be free as well.    Many Christians may be baptized, and yet, are living not in freedom but fear.  Many examples of fear exist in our daily lives, and the average Christian is quite often surrounded by fears of all sorts.  I was having a conversation with a couple who is currently expecting a child, and I was told how the mother’s family members had all sorts of advice to give on what the expectant mother should not do, so that the child can develop and grow “perfect and normal”.   Some of these ‘safety measures’ may have some common sense reasoning, but quite often, they are plain superstitious acts and beliefs that have been handed on from a former pre-Christian age.  And what is “perfect and normal”?   As far as I know, only God is perfect. 

One of the reasons that superstition needs to be identified and cast aside when we are dedicated disciples of the Lord, is because when we listen to superstitious beliefs more than we do to God and when we let fears rule our lives rather than letting God rule over our lives with his love, we are in small and hidden ways, idol worshipping and not being faithful to God.  We have a hidden fear that our God is not as powerful and omnipotent as the forces of evil and oppression.  That is at the bottom of our superstitions, if we really think about it.  But to arrive at that realization means that we have to first sift through the reasons for our actions and beliefs, which is something that many people do not like doing, or have not been taught to.  Doing this as a daily exercise takes the 'auto-pilot' out of Christian daily living.  

Do our relations have our best intentions at heart?  That goes without saying.  But intentions alone are insufficient.  Being aware of what drives our intentions is far more crucial.  Otherwise, we may be wearing a Christian label, whilst the core remains pagan or worse, atheist.  Sometimes, our label of "Catholic" hangs only on our Sunday Church activities and have very little evidence outside of the Church compound, where it becomes easy for us to become pagan in our ways, and it shows us just how much we are actually living in fear.

The reason I began with St Augustine’s quote is because when we are not aware of our love for God and God’s love for us constantly, we will end up doing ‘what we want’ in very un-Godly ways, without even thinking.  ‘What we want’ is often linked with or unspoken fears.

Indeed, being a true and dedicated Christian disciple is not an easy thing.  It requires of us to be on our toes all the time, and to develop a keen sense to sniff out what it is that is not godly that is in front of us at each moment.  Indeed, the true Christian life is not for the fainthearted.  But when we make it a life-quest to constantly want to hone and sharpen our Christian ‘skills’, we can depend on God’s grace to attain our common end in God.  This is the promise that we have from God, and on this, we can richly depend.


  1. ‘’...........when we are not aware of our love for God and God’s love for us constantly, we will end up doing ‘what we want’ in very un-Godly ways, without even thinking. ‘What we want’ is often linked with or unspoken fears...........’’

    This happens when much of the time what passes for love is merely projection..... we project a part of ourselves upon the other person and does not really see that other person ......this indeed is part of our ‘blindness’....and it keeps us from really knowing the other person as he really is! Unlike us, God’s love or real love is an accepting love (so commonly called unconditional love today ! )............... but most times we cannot accept that- because to be so genuinely accepted is very trying, frightening and even painful and so we go into what you said about fear is very true. If we accept..............then our defences are naught and we have to face a deepening honesty which means that we have to face growth and it is never easy to grow in His likeness though we are made in His image.

    However, we know that we have to go about shaping our life so as to manifest this accepting love and our comfort is that such love is not created by our own effort. It is His gift of grace and happens when we allow this love we have discovered inwardly ( through prayer and contemplation) to be poured out and shared through life in action. We can only bask in His prodigal, spendthrift love !

    God bless you, fr

  2. Hi Fr. Luke,

    This has to be one of your most thought-provoking posts, especially that part about superstitious practices.

    I once had a best friend. Thick as thieves we were. There was practically nothing I wouldn't do for him: he was like a brother to me. Then one day he started doing things - weird things, that absolutely horrified me. I couldn't stand for this sort of nonsense and told him, in no uncertain terms that he was dead wrong. “You're a baptised Catholic: how could you do these things?” I questioned him. I distinctly remember that that's when our relationship started to deteriorate. I guess he felt that I had no business interfering in his personal life or private decisions.

    I've since come to realize that there are more than just a few Catholics who do “stuff” that is well, nauseating. Some of it comes from what has been handed down through the generations (old-wives tales): and yet other practices/rituals are of the more insidious kind. And I have, from time to time, pointed out that's it's something so wrong. But old habits die hard, as they say, and my pleas always fell on dear ears. This really saddens me, as I believe that superstitious nonsense is something we should have nothing to do with. After all, exactly WHO is it that we truly worship?
    God Bless,