Friday, December 9, 2016

The Freedom to be Good

Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception

The word utilitarianism itself is a mouthful, but it represents a belief and moral system that has been around since the 19th century, one that has both driven as well as has been driven by the Great Industrial Revolution. The basic idea is that you can determine whether an action is right or wrong, solely based on the outcome that it will produce. The utilitarian idea of freedom also seeks to create greater autonomy. Thus, the very principle has led to the automation of industry resulting in the wide-spread retrenchment of human labour. The problem that arises when utilitarianism is applied to persons is that a person’s value is reduced to his utility, his usefulness. Man becomes a mere cog in the entire machinery that sustains society. Likewise, the same may be said of religion and its teachings. Relevance has become modern man’s new benchmark for all and sundry. Whether it be a person, or a religion, or a particular doctrine, it only serves to have value and significance when it seems relevant in our estimation. The Dogma of the Immaculate Conception strongly refutes this position in holding that life has value from the very moment of conception and is not dependent on one’s usefulness to society or to others.

Through the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception, the Church teaches that “the most Blessed Virgin Mary was, from the first moment of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege of almighty God and by virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ, Saviour of the human race, preserved immune from all stain of original sin.” For many people, including Catholics, this dogma seems far removed from our daily lives and the many challenges we have to face. A former parishioner once suggested to me that I should tone down on Church doctrines and pay more attention to family and relational issues in my homilies. I truly understand his good intentions and the premise of his suggestion. He was approaching this from an utilitarian point of view. He saw a disconnect between the Church’s doctrinal teachings and the practical challenges of daily living. Little did he realise, that the answer to our daily problems are necessarily found in the Church’s perennial teachings on faith and morals. The Dogma of the Immaculate Conception is a case in point.

If we were to speak of the Immaculate Conception, a singular privilege that was accorded to Mary alone, we must first speak of Original Sin, a condition that affect all of us, the whole of humanity, with the exception of Jesus and his Blessed Mother. In fact the root of all problems, jealousy, envy, strife, unforgiveness, selfishness, etc is to be found here. As a result of original sin, man continues to live in the suspicion that God’s love creates a dependence, curtails his freedom and that the only way in which he can regain his freedom is by casting off the shackles of dependency on God. Just like an adolescent, he understands freedom as freedom from all restrictions. In brief, he lives under the delusion that he will truly be free, that he will be fully human only when he has cast God aside. Man is constantly tempted to obtain from the tree of knowledge the power to shape the world, to make himself a god, raising himself to God's level, and to overcome death and darkness with his own efforts. Rather than on love, he sets his sights on power, with which he desires to take his own life autonomously in hand. And in doing so, he trust in deceit rather than in truth and thereby sinks with his life into emptiness, into death. Being blinded by deceit he often mistakes evil for good.

Man fails to realise that love is not dependence but a gift that makes us live. The freedom of a human being is not a freedom from restrictions but a freedom to be somebody – it is the freedom to be good. And the only way he can freely choose to be good is when he unites himself to the will of God. For God's will is not a law for the human being imposed from the outside and that constrains him, but the intrinsic measure of his nature, a measure that is engraved within him and makes him the image of God, hence a free creature.

Therefore, the crucial lesson we must learn and be reminded today in the person of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Immaculate Conception, is that a person who abandons himself or herself totally in God's hands does not become God's puppet, he does not lose his freedom.  Only the person who entrusts himself totally to God finds true freedom, the great, creative immensity of the freedom of good.  Mary is that person and model which the Church holds up for our contemplation.  In Mary we learn that the person who turns to God does not become smaller but greater, for through God and with God he becomes great, he becomes divine, he becomes truly himself. The person who puts himself in God's hands does not distance himself from others, withdrawing into his private salvation; on the contrary, it is only then that his heart truly awakens and he becomes a sensitive and generous person.

The closer a person is to God, the closer he is to people. We see this in Mary. The fact that she is totally with God is the reason why she is so close to human beings. For this reason she can be the Mother of every consolation and every help, a Mother whom anyone can dare to address in any kind of need in weakness and in sin. Mary thus stands before us as a sign of comfort, encouragement and hope. She turns to us, saying: "Have the courage to dare with God! Try it! Do not be afraid of him! Have the courage to risk with faith! Have the courage to risk with goodness! Have the courage to risk with a pure heart! Have the courage to be truly free, not free from God, but free to become the very best person that God had intended you to become! Commit yourselves to God, then you will see that it is precisely by doing so that your life will become broad and light, not boring but filled with infinite surprises, for God's infinite goodness is never depleted!"

On this Feast Day, let us thank the Lord for the great sign of his goodness which he has given us in Mary, his Mother and the Mother of the Church. Let us pray to him to put Mary on our path like a light that helps us to be truly free -  to be good, indeed to be blameless and holy, to be beautiful in His sight.

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