Saturday, 24 May 2014

The Truth Will Set You Free… From What?

We often hear these words from John 8:32 - "The truth will set you free", or Veritas liberabit vos in Latin. Usually it is associated with the academia, together with another verse from Proverbs 9:10 - "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge." However, both verses actually talk about a higher truth, a truth of God. It talks about THE truth, not "your truth or my truth"; it is rather an objective truth outside of us and our subjectivity, a truth that is in harmony with goodness, love, and beauty. This is the fullness of the Christian truth, as revealed and deposited in the Catholic Faith.

Okay, clearly the truth will first set us free from unknowing and ignorance, but then what? Where does the gaining of this truth lead us to, and what do we become because of it?

Actually Jesus has answered the question in the following passage: "Truly, truly, I say to you, every one who commits sin is a slave to sin." (John 8:34) But that's still vague, isn't it? Sin is an abstract idea; what of it that prisons us and makes us into slaves?

I did some contemplation on this, and I came up with twelve "prisons of the soul" from which we are liberated by truth. All these prisons exist because of sin. Feel free to discuss, elaborate, and add your own.

1. Fear
By fear, I do not mean the holy fear of God, which is one of the seven virtues. What I mean is excessive worries due to the lack of faith. Fear of the future, fear of other people's opinions, and fear of death come to mind. Well-placed anxiety is fine and useful, and perhaps even a must, but too much of it may stem from one's own pride and distrust in the divine providence. This fear is a torture for the peace of the soul, because we are not free to venture out and proclaim the Gospel according to our maximum potentials.
"If you follow the will of God, you know that in spite of all the terrible things that happen to you, you will never lose a final refuge. You know that the foundation of the world is love, so that even when no human being can or will help you, you may go on, trusting in the One that loves you."

— Pope Benedict XVI; 'Jesus of Nazareth'

2. False dichotomies
Which one to save: the mother or the unborn child? Which is important: the heart or the bodily expressions? Prayer or study? Sacred Scripture or Sacred Tradition? Is it better to kill one man and save the entire society, or save one man but harm the society? God's love or the existence of Hell?

A false dichotomy is when one argues that there are only two possible and mutually exclusive alternatives, when in fact there are other alternatives, or the categories are not in fact mutually exclusive. According to Archbishop of Washington +Charles Pope: "Orthodoxy quite often says 'both' whereas heresy chooses one apparently exclusive truth over and against the the other in order to resolve the tension between them."

Historically, heresy always adopts either one of the two seemingly contradictory options, or goes straight into nihilism altogether. Take for instance Gnosticism, which believes only the soul is good and holy, and the body is totally evil; Pelagianism, which values work over grace; Protestanism, which holds the Sacred Scripture as the only inspired Word of God; and last but not least relativism, which dismisses objective values entirely. The full truth of the faith will free us from these extremisms and false dilemmas.
"I will keep your law continually, for ever and ever; and I shall walk at liberty, for I have sought your precepts."

— Psalm 119:44-45

3. Worldly bondage
Do I own material things, or do material things own me? In the age of consumerism, it is easy to fall into the bondage of worldliness, to become an unknowing slave of our own possessions. The truth is, we are made for another world; the pleasures of this world are only a dim reflection of the full and glorified pleasures of Heaven. Knowing this truth will liberate us from the urge to seek and be dependent on earthly riches, because we know now that there is far greater wealth awaiting in the Kingdom of God.
"The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it."

— Matthew 13:45

4. Loneliness
The sense of loneliness arises from the failure to acknowledge the Sacred Presence and the communion of saints. Granted, even the best and the most religious folks may experience this loneliness once in a while. But that is because we — all of us — are nearsighted and therefore it is at times very difficult to appreciate the supernatural realm.

Yet we know that the Catholic Church is not a lonely Church. She is the universal Church that encompasses not only people of all nations and tongues, but also people from all ages and souls in Heaven and Purgatory. All of us live in the Presence of the Holy One with varying states of exposure. The truth is that we are never alone.
"Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God."

— Hebrews 12:1-2

5. Envy
The Catechism defines envy as "sadness at the sight of another's goods and the immoderate desire to acquire them for oneself, even unjustly" (CCC #2359).

St. Thomas Aquinas names envy as one of the four sorrows, alongside anxiety, torpor (physical inactivity caused by the sorrowful mind), and pity. Envy is also a disordered hate. We are supposed to hate what God hates: the bad, the filthy, the wrong, the perverted, the evil. Yet with envy, we hate the goodness in others because we take it to lessen our own excellence. We do not want the other man's goodness, we want to destroy it. This is what distinguishes envy from jealousy: a jealous man wants to be like the king, while an envious man does not want a king at all. Envy takes our freedom of rejoicing with others.

The part of truth that liberates us from envy is the fact that God distributes goodness according to His will. Nothing is accidental in God's awesome grand plan. Truth leads us into the contemplation of goodness in ourselves and others that at the end give glory back to God; this makes us humble, and when we find ourselves able to rejoice with others, we realise that we are a better "co-worker in God's service" (1 Cor 3:9).
"But you—who do you think you, a human being, are, to answer back to God? Something that was made, can it say to its maker: why did you make me this shape? A potter surely has the right over his clay to make out of the same lump either a pot for special use or one for ordinary use."

— Romans 9:20-22

6. Purposelessness
Here I am thinking specifically of divine truth as related to the Sacred Liturgy. Many people perceive obedience to the Missale as "blind obedience" not unlike zombies; this could be true, at least at first, but further study of the theology of the liturgy and the supernatural realm it represents, will reveal to us the beautiful meanings behind every word and gesture; it will grant us a sense of purpose, and therefore a renewed obedience rooted in love that shines out of truth.
"Only in truth does charity shine forth, only in truth can charity be authentically lived. Truth is the light that gives meaning and value to charity. That light is both the light of reason and the light of faith, through which the intellect attains to the natural and supernatural truth of charity: it grasps its meaning as gift, acceptance, and communion. Without truth, charity degenerates into sentimentality. Love becomes an empty shell, to be filled in an arbitrary way. In a culture without truth, this is the fatal risk facing love. It falls prey to contingent subjective emotions and opinions, the word “love” is abused and distorted, to the point where it comes to mean the opposite. Truth frees charity from the constraints of an emotionalism that deprives it of relational and social content, and of a fideism that deprives it of human and universal breathing-space."

— Pope Benedict XVI, 'Caritas in Veritate'

7. Irrationality
Everyone has his own irrational ideas that may come from his psychological defenses. Dr. Albert Ellis, in his work concerning the Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT), lists ten types of irrational ideas. Irrationality can be destructive and could drag us into self-hating and the loss of healthy confidence. Irrational ideas, in turn, will promote irrational behaviours which include—but not limited to—anger, despair, and self-harm.

The truth about God's plan banishes irrationality. Without undermining the benefit of professional psychological care, seeking God's will is a tremendous fount of holy wisdom. Knowing what God is all about helps us feel more secure with our lives and our identities.
"For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."

— Jeremiah 29:11

8. Superstition
Man is a religious creature, and it is inherent in his tendency to seek, to know, and to be involved in the spiritual. Man has been searching for "the Higher One" since the primitive age, using primitive forms of worship and rudimentary knowledge of an invisible power at work. This knowledge fumbles in the dark; it yields superstitious beliefs based on fear rather than love.

Truth liberates us from superstition. Man would never come to know the true God if He hadn't revealed Himself to mankind. We would forever be dependent on random signs, vague prophecies, and dangerous magic, which prison the sharp intellect and scare the tender heart.

Truth does not negate cultures; rather, it weeds out and purifies cultures, because all cultures are actually looking for God. True faith is not afraid of reason either, because both faith and reason serve the one and same truth.
"Faith and Reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth."

— Pope St. John Paul II
"Human salvation demands the divine disclosure of truths surpassing reason."

— St. Thomas Aquinas

9. "Freedom"
This may seem counterintuitive, but the understanding of the truth will actually free us from "freedom" — in quotation marks — that is, inordinate freedom. In his book 'The World's First Love', Ven. Fulton J. Sheen writes as such:
"There are three definitions of freedom: two of them are false, and one is true. The first false definition is, 'Freedom is the right to do whatever I please.' This is the liberal doctrine of freedom, which reduces freedom to a physical, rather than to a moral, power. Of course we are free to do whatever we please; for example, we can turn a machine gun on our neighbour's chickens, or drive an automobile on the sidewalk, or stuff a neighbour's mattress with used razor blades — but ought we do these things? This kind of freedom, in which everyone is allowed to seek his own benefit, produces confusion. There is no liberals of this particular kind without a world of conflicting egotisms, where no one is willing to submerge himself for the common good. In order to overcome this confusion of everyone's doing whatever he pleases, there arose the second false definition of freedom, namely, 'Freedom is the right to do whatever you must.' This is totalitarian freedom, which was developed in order to destroy individual freedom for the sake of society. Engels, who with Marx wrote the Philosophy of Communism, said: 'A stone is free to fall because it must obey the law of gravitation.' So man is free in Communist society because he must obey the law of the dictator.

The true concept of freedom is, 'Freedom is the right to do whatever we ought,' and ought implies goal, purpose, morality, and the law of God. True freedom is within the law, not outside it. I am free to draw a triangle, if I give it three sides, but not, in a stroke of broad-mindedness, fifty-seven sides. I am free to fly on condition that I obey the law of aeronautics. In the spiritual realm, I am also most free when I obey the law of God."

—Ven. Fulton J. Sheen, 'The World's First Love'
True freedom is one that is responsible, and in order to be responsible, we must first seek to know God's Law. This truth of the Law will set us free from false freedom that is in fact enslaving.

10. Boredom
Boredom may be a sign of a hyper-stimulated mind that cannot bear silence and is impatient of God's timing. We become restless at the idea of waiting and persevering, we want an instant spiritual fulfilment, we want a readily packaged God suitable for the busy life.

Silence, contemplation, and the attainment of truth are closely linked to each other. Truth, inexhaustible truth, will then prompt us to delve deeper into the contemplative stillness. A contemplative soul is rarely bored or frustrated; he appreciates time and silence, and truth enables him to see God's face in every little or big thing. Truth frees him of the boredom of the spiritually impoverished soul.
"In silence and quiet the devout soul advances in virtue and learns the hidden truths of Scripture."

— Thomas a Kempis; 'Imitation of Christ'
"Be still, and know that I am God."

— Psalm 46:10

11. Lust
The vice of lust is a unique prison on its own due to the lucid images and feelings with which it often leaves one. Lust comes from our corrupt perception of human sexuality and human love; it appears when love is replaced by use. Thus, it is a prison because it hinders us from truly, sincerely, responsibly, sacrificially loving another human being.

In these perverted times, lust—with all its manifestations—is considered "normal" and "healthy", whereas purity is "unnatural" and "impossible". The truth about the dignity and holiness of human sexuality has been so obscured that it is probably the most difficult to unearth. But thanks to the utterly awesome Theology of the Body, that ancient truth that Adam already comprehended when he first saw the naked Eve, is once again available to us as the key to unlock the prison of lust.
"God has assigned as a duty to every man the dignity of every woman."

— Pope St. John Paul II

12. Pride
Pride is defined as the excessive love of one's own excellence. Pride is that ancient sin which brought forth other sins; it aims to withdraw man from subjection to the Almighty God. Pride is the result of man's failure to acknowledge the superior quality of God above everything. It is a prison because we are not free to do what Love demands.

Pride is tricky: it is the most dangerous sin because it can creep in to any virtues. The only thing that can defeat pride is carefully contemplated truth, which gives birth to wisdom. Gaining superficial, uncontemplated truth may lead us to spiritual pride, but truth manifested in wisdom makes us humble.
"It was pride that changed angels into devils; it is humility that makes men as angels."

— Saint Augustine


Image: "The Winged Man", Odilon Redon, 1880

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