“I want to break free”. These words from a Queen’s song express something ingrained very deeply into the modern psyche. We all feel tied down from time to time, so the idea of “breaking free” resonates with us. It can be a relationship, a job, or some other situation. Achieving freedoms calls to us. Achieving freedom is attractive to each oppressed group, but also present for many individuals.
One of the great examples of breaking free is the ability of men and women to break free from the pull of gravity and enter space. This is a “breaking free” that involves a lot of work and effort. A rocket must accelerate to a high speed to break the pull of the earth’s gravity and enter into orbit. Even harder is to break free altogether and travel to another celestial body, as was done by the astronauts who traveled to the moon. If a young child wants to break free from gravity by jumping up into the air, its hopes will be dashed quickly. It takes the power of a rocket to break free. Breaking free the wrong way leads to heartache. There is much to learn here about freedom. In a world so fascinated by freedom, it is surprising how little we know about freedom. “Freedom is something magnificent, yet it can also be dissipated and lost” (Pope Francis, Amoris Laetitia, 267).
The right ideas
How is freedom dissipated and lost? Perhaps, its loss in our society explains our difficulty in perceiving it. Freedom is dissipated when it is hidden and dissolved by other ideologies. Freedom is dissipated and lost when it devolves into debauchery – the senseless look for pleasure. Freedom is a precious gift and should be protected and fostered. This is at the heart of moral education. “Moral education has to do with cultivating freedom through ideas” (Pope Francis, Amoris Laetitia, 267) Cultivating freedom through ideas is done by reading, reflecting on, and expressing newfound beliefs. Cultivating the right sort of ideas builds the foundation for the right sort of freedom.
The right ideas should provide the material for our self-talk. We all carry out conversations within our own mind, whether we are conscious of this or not. It is good to take a moment and see what type of conversation we are having. Am I realistic? Am I negative? Am I positive and encouraging? It is important to establish a good, encouraging conversation to promote a good sense of personal freedom. If we are going to be free, a realistic outlook is essential for success. Just as the child jumping into the air will never break free from the pull of earth’s gravity, we will not escape our tendencies towards evil by merely averting our gaze. We must put in a greater effort to overcome ourselves. By replacing our broken beliefs, we give ourselves the chance to achieve freedom.
These beliefs help to make sure that there are true convictions, since “all these can help develop those stable interior principles that lead us spontaneously to do good” (Pope Francis, Amoris Laetitia, 267). These stable interior principles are convictions. These are firmly held beliefs that help guide us to do good. The stability comes from the fact that they are true.
We all have the tendency to waver when things get difficult. We prefer the easier way most of the time. Stable interior principles help put us on a good autopilot. All of a sudden, we make good moral choices without having to mull it over too much.
Wanting to do good is one condition of doing good spontaneously. It is to do good without overthinking it. We have to learn to “catch ourselves doing good”. Maybe we act rightly without thinking about it. This is a sign that we are becoming virtuous people.
We all know people that seem naturally good. You can be sure they will be doing the right thing. They have stable interior principles that are guiding them at each moment. We want to make sure we have the same.
“Virtue is a conviction that becomes a steadfast inner principle of operation. The virtuous life thus builds, strengthens and shapes freedom, lest we become slaves of dehumanizing and antisocial inclinations” (Pope Francis, Amoris Laetitia, 267). The convictions we are forming come from beliefs. They turn into a steadfast inner principle of operation. Virtue is basically a good habit. It is a habit that is formed because we do right behavior repeatedly. Virtue begets virtue. The more virtuous we are the more virtuous we will be. Virtue comes from a Latin word that means “strength”. What the world needs is a little more strength: moral strength. This is known as virtue. We need moral strength to guide freedom, lest it devolve into debauchery.
The primal desire of man for freedom is expressed by Queen and explained by Pope Francis. We want to break free and in a way that responds to our truest human desires. We want to be free in virtue. We want to be free to do good. Achieving freedom is possible only in virtue.
Questions for reflection
1. What are my main virtues?
2. What do I think about freedom? Does freedom have limits?
3. Do I spontaneously seek to do good?