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Issue 07 – Saint Rose 2021


Freedom and Religious Life

On the freedom of obedience.


Because the time I set aside for writing this article has unexpectedly been spent at the bedside of a dying sister, the original opening I had planned—eye-catching, articulate, and witty to a fault, as you can well imagine—rings a little hollow now. Put briefly, my thesis is that freedom, not love, is the foundational witness of consecrated religious life. I had assumed that when the time came to write down my thoughts in an ordered manner, I would do so on a laptop in the quiet and privacy of my cell. Instead, I found myself doing it on scrap paper beside a deathbed. Religious life, I have found, is a typically Catholic “both-and” of high ideals and unpoetic realities, and I have become used to reflecting on such weighty matters as the three evangelical counsels and conformity to Christ in and through the everyday cycle of floor-scrubbing, essay-writing and spreadsheet-adjusting. Thus it has been simply a welcome and fitting variation on a theme to reflect on freedom while unable to leave the bedside of a sister incapable of anything much at all.

For the most part, she is asleep. I must admit I am asleep some of the time as well. What I dream—as I believe is fairly common for religious—is lines from the Divine Office. In particular, I return to a line from a hymn we sing at Lauds: Father of Christ, of Him whose work was done. The religious life, as Saint John Paul II wrote in Vita Consecrata, is a life of “conforming one’s whole existence to Christ.” There are many ways to understand this and to live it out, for His depths are great, but what has struck me in the past few days is that the Christ to Whom we are conformed is the Christ who had a work: a work which was carried out in obedience to the Father and, crucially, in perfect freedom. “No one takes [my life] from me,” Jesus proclaims in John’s Gospel, “but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again.”

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