I’ve mentioned before what an inexhaustible treasure trove the Divine Office is–because, of course, it is a prayer of holy scripture. No matter how many times you pray it, no matter how many times you read a particular passage, there will always be something that speaks to you in a different way or at a louder volume than before. It is always new and fresh.
This morning, while praying the Canticle of Zechariah, which is part of every day’s Morning Prayer, I was especially struck by this stanza:
This was the oath He swore to our father Abraham:
to set us free from the hands of our enemies,
free to worship Him without fear,
holy and righteous in His sight all the days of our life.
It reminded me of the true meaning and nature of freedom. These days we confuse freedom for many things: license, self-rule, individualism. A right to do whatever we want and to decide for ourselves whether we are doing right or wrong, good or evil. Today, it sometimes seems that we hear more about freedom from religion than freedom of religion. Freedom from God–freedom to be our own masters.
What folly! We our own masters? That was the trap into which Satan seduced our first ancestors, and has that been some sort of smashing success? For Satan, sure. But we are still burdened and fragile creatures, and declaring independence from God and religion have never improved matters. Quite the opposite, in fact–you have only to glance back at the 20th century to realize that. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it till I’m dead: we don’t get to be our own masters. If we declare ourselves free of God, then we become Satan’s slaves. That is the default. There is no void in power that we can fill ourselves. There are too many more powerful things–either good or evil.
But, we can choose whom we will serve. That is the basis of all freedom. It is inalienable to human beings, an intrinsic part of who and what we are. That is how God made us. Satan can never give us freedom, much less can he weave it into our very persons. So, to reject God is ultimately to reject true freedom.
In our world, where religion has become so despised, and where being holy and being righteous are usually the unpopular, counter-cultural things to do, we must remember that we are still free. We are still free to worship, and still free to do what is holy and righteous. No slaves are we who serve the Lord! When we bow before Him, we are raised up. When we submit ourselves to Him, we are infused with full human dignity. When we obey His decrees, we are liberated.
It doesn’t matter whether we are despised or mocked. It doesn’t matter whether we are silenced or imprisoned. It doesn’t matter if we are tortured or killed. We are still free as long as we seek and worship God, and we cannot be enslaved by anyone. This is the truth to which all the martyrs have testified. This is the truth that causes Christianity to flourish the more when Christians are persecuted. This is the truth that sustains us through every kind of hardship.
In fact, this truth is much better realized and understood in places where human freedom is seemingly lacking most. I think of China, India, the Middle East. Here in the West, and particularly in the United States, where freedom is more or less taken for granted, we have lost sight of freedom’s significance and of its very meaning. And while there may be much less blood-martyrdom here, we are every bit as imperiled as those who are in prison and in danger of torture and death.
So the message is a universal one which must be proclaimed ever and everywhere: Dare to worship! Dare to strive for holiness! You are free!