Pope Francis said on Wednesday that something is missing from the modern idea of freedom.
Speaking at the general audience in the Vatican’s Paul VI Hall on Oct. 20, the pope said that the coronavirus pandemic had exposed a flaw in the dominant notion of liberty.
He said: “We know … that one of the most widespread modern conceptions of freedom is this: ‘My freedom ends where yours begins.’ But here the relationship is missing! It is an individualistic vision.
“On the other hand, those who have received the gift of freedom brought about by Jesus cannot think that freedom consists in keeping away from others, as if they were a nuisance; the human being cannot be regarded as cooped up alone, but always part of a community. The social dimension is fundamental for Christians, and it enables them to look to the common good and not to private interest.”
He went on: “Especially in this historic moment, we need to rediscover the communitarian, not individualistic, dimension of freedom. The pandemic has taught us that we need each other, but it is not enough to know this; we need to choose it in a tangible way, to decide on that path, every day.”
“Let us say and believe that others are not an obstacle to my freedom, but rather they are the possibility to fully realize it. Because our freedom is born from God’s love and grows in charity.”
At the beginning of the audience, clergy read out Galatians 5:13-14 in various languages, a passage in which the Apostle urges Christians not to abuse their freedom but instead to “become slaves to one another” through love.
As the verses were read in German, a boy wearing a black tracksuit, spectacles, and a face mask approached Pope Francis, who smiled and clasped his hand. Msgr. Leonardo Sapienza, the regent of the Prefecture of the Papal Household, who sits to the pope’s right at general audiences, rose and gave his seat to the boy.
The child sat briefly, then stood and pointed at the pope’s zucchetto. He led the priest giving the Portuguese reading over to the pope to show him the white papal skullcap. Eventually, the boy walked back down from the platform proudly wearing his own zucchetto.
The pope began his address by reflecting on the boy’s actions.
“In these days we are talking about the freedom of faith, listening to the Letter to the Galatians,” he said. “But I was reminded of what Jesus was saying about the spontaneity and freedom of children, when this child had the freedom to approach and move as if he were at home… And Jesus tells us: ‘You too, if you do not behave like children, you will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven.’”
“The courage to approach the Lord, to be open to the Lord, not to be afraid of the Lord: I thank this child for the lesson he has given us all. And may the Lord help him in his limitation, in his growth because he has given this testimony that came from his heart. Children do not have an automatic translator from the heart to life: the heart takes the lead.”
In his catechesis, Pope Francis explained that in his letter, St. Paul reveals “the great novelty of faith.”
“It is truly a great novelty, because it does not merely renew a few aspects of life, but rather it leads us into that ‘new life’ that we have received with baptism,” he said.
“There the greatest gift, that of being children of God, has been poured out upon us. Reborn in Christ, we have passed from a religiosity made up of precepts — we have moved on from a religiosity made up of precepts — to a living faith, which has its center in communion with God and with our brothers and sisters, that is, in love. We have passed from the slavery of fear and sin to the freedom of God’s children.”
He noted that Paul defined freedom as an opportunity to serve others, rather than to follow selfish impulses.
“Yet again, we find ourselves faced with the paradox of the Gospel: we are freed by serving, not in doing whatever we want. We are free in serving, and freedom comes from there; we find ourselves fully to the extent to which we give ourselves,” he said, describing this insight as “pure Gospel.”
He contrasted Paul’s vision with the idea of liberty as “doing what you want and what you like.”
“This type of freedom, without a goal and without points of reference, would be an empty freedom, a freedom of the circus: it is not good,” he said.
“And indeed, it leaves emptiness within: how often, after following instinct alone, do we realize that we are left with a great emptiness inside and that we have used badly the treasure of our freedom, the beauty of being able to choose true goodness for ourselves and for others?”
He observed that St. Paul always connected freedom with seeking the good of our neighbor, describing this as a “rule for unmasking any type of selfish freedom.”
“Freedom guided by love is the only one that sets others and ourselves free, that knows how to listen without imposing, that knows how to love without coercing, that builds and does not destroy, that does not exploit others for its own convenience and does good without seeking its own benefit,” he said.
“In short, if freedom is not at the service — this is the test — if freedom is not in the service of good, it runs the risk of being barren and not bearing fruit. If freedom is not in the service of good, it does not bear fruit.”
“On the other hand, freedom inspired by love leads towards the poor, recognizing the face of Christ in their faces.”