restricted access 9. Freedom Is the Most Precious Gift Heaven Gave to Humanity
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116 C H A P T E R 9 Freedom Is the Most Precious Gift Heaven Gave to Humanity “Freedom, Sancho, is one of the most precious gifts heaven gave to men; the treasures under the earth and beneath the sea cannot compare to it; for freedom, as well as for honor, one can and should risk one’s life.”1 Joseph Ratzinger has highlighted the fact that freedom is as valued today as it was when Cervantes wrote these words. “In the consciousness of mankind today, freedom is largely regarded as the greatest good there is, after which all other good things have to take their place.”2 The similarity between the two statements, however, should not cause us to miss the differences between then and now, which concern the way we think about and live freedom. If for Cervantes freedom was so precious that “one can and should risk one’s life,” today it is difficult to find people who venture down the path of freedom. It is a value that is just as scarce as it is popular. How many truly free people do we know? We are faced with an enormous desire for freedom, but also the inability to be truly free, that is, be ourselves, within reality. It is as if, in fact, everyone is constantly conforming to what is expected of them. You put on one face at work, another with friends, yet another at home, and so on. Where are we truly ourselves? How many times do we feel stifled in everyday life, without the slightest idea of how to break free, just waiting to change the circumstances or for them to change on their own! In the end, you find yourself stuck, longing for a freedom that never comes. At a time when people are talking a lot about freedom, we witness the paradox of its absence. And what is even worse, we have settled for living without it. Kafka pointed out, “Men are afraid of freedom and responsibility. So they prefer to hide behind the prison bars they build around themselves.”3 “The history of recent centuries could be summarized as a progressive reduction of the person to a depersonalized individual or to a formal freedom, pushing real freedom to the margins.”4 Let us try to understand why. The Modern Reduction: Freedom as Absence of Bonds Jesus’ genius has given us a memorable lesson in the well-known parable of the prodigal son, one that is helpful for understanding the journey of modernity that led freedom to this level of formalism .5 We all know the story well (Lk 15:11–32): “There was a man who had two sons; and the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that falls to me.’ And he divided his living between them. Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took his journey into a far country.” The parable describes a normal home in Palestine during Jesus’ time: a father with two sons. There is no indication of any conflict in the family relationships. The fact that they have wealth to divide amongst themselves means that it is a family with a certain level of prosperity. The text gives further confirmation through other details: Freedom Is the Most Precious Gift Heaven Gave to Humanity 117 they have servants, the father wears a ring, they have access to beautiful clothes and sandals and a fattened calf. All signs of the kind of family the prodigal son belonged to. That was his home, the place where he was a son and, therefore, where he was loved. Home is the place where one is truly oneself, because one does not need to prove anything to anyone. The prodigal son was loved for the very fact of being a son. Home was the place where everything was his, and reality was friendly, where he could hear his father say, “All that is mine is yours.” Everything was ordered to the satisfaction of his needs in the familiarity with his father. Despite all this, he does not seem satisfied and asks his father for the share of property that belongs to him in order to leave home. The lure of autonomy overcomes his heart. His desire for freedom pushes him to break his most meaningful bonds. He does not seem to care much about having to leave his father and his home, his place of belonging...