As I am away for a wedding, here is another installment of the Familiaris Consortio (On the Role of the Christian Family) letters couples in marriage prep receive from me:
In his exhortation on family life, Pope Saint John Paul II wrote the following:
At the root of these negative phenomena [divorce, selfishness, disordered relationship between parents and children, etc.] there frequently lies a corruption of the idea and the experience of freedom, conceived not as a capacity for realizing the truth of God’s plan for marriage and the family, but as an autonomous power of self-affirmation, often against others, for one’s own selfish well-being” (Familiaris Consortio 6).
Imagine somebody in the middle of the ocean jumping off the boat with the thought, “Now I will be free to swim around and live in the water permanently. I have never been happy having to live out of the water.” Unknowingly the captain leaves the person there in the middle of the ocean. The person used the word “free” inaccurately. The person in fact is not “free”. The person is actually trapped. He used the concept of “freedom” to mean “doing anything, anytime, anywhere”. But doing anything, anytime, anywhere is not actually freedom – as we can see in this hypothetical incident. Living in the middle of the ocean with no boat or craft for longer than one’s strength holds out is contrary to freedom. This is because such a lifestyle is contrary to one’s nature. Human beings were not made to swim forever in the middle of the ocean.
So freedom must have something to do with one’s nature. And being trapped has to do with going against one’s nature. The Pope writes in the quote above that often at the root of problems in marriage and family life is an inaccurate idea of freedom. People think that in life they ought to be able to do anything, anytime, anywhere. But in fact doing anything, anytime, anywhere often gets them trapped. They run into difficulties out of which they cannot escape.
I would suggest that the great thing about their nature that couples do not realize is the design to love with self-sacrificing love. It is a fact that individuals were made for this type of self-gift. It is certainly true of couples, therefore, that they were made to give to one another. A husband and wife were joined to give to each other in love. One could say that once a married person stops thinking of marriage in terms of self-giving, then the person begins to get trapped. He or she begins to lack freedom. Marriage was made for self-gift; so thinking and acting about marriage in a self-“gimme” attitude is to begin swimming out in the middle of the ocean, i.e., is to go against the very nature of marriage.
This understanding of freedom gets very concrete in marriage and family life. A man might say he must be free to go to the bar every night with the guys. He considers it a huge burden when his wife asks that he come straight home to be with his family. In fact his wife is calling him to freedom. His mission as a father (and simply as a human being, even if he were not married) is to love. Love as a father usually means being there for the family. The nature of his fatherhood requires the gift of himself to his family. It is actually a lessening of freedom for the father to get into the habit of avoiding his family after work. It is against his nature as a father.
Consider true freedom in the light of the contraceptive mentality that we encounter today. People think they ought to be free to share the marital embrace anytime, anywhere, anyhow. But in fact the marital embrace appropriately fits -- by its very nature expressing a total gift of self -- within the marriage covenant. So the marital act outside of marriage begins to hinder a person’s freedom. It is fundamentally untrue to the nature of the marital act to engage in it outside of marriage. It's untrue to human nature. And even within marriage couples want freedom to use contraception, engage in the marital act on-demand, and totally dominate their fertility. In truth there is a very real break in the nature of the self-gift within marriage when couples opt for this “freedom”. It is not a true freedom, and the marriage relationship and family will experience concrete disunity.
Whenever somebody claims that they ought to have the “freedom” to do something, ask yourself how what they want to do relates to their being fully human in Jesus Christ. This helps determine whether what they are claiming as a “freedom” is really something that will make them free. “... if the Son makes you free, then you will be free indeed” (John 8:36).
Have a blessed week!
In cordibus Iesu, Mariae et Iosephus,