There is a difference between the freedom of indifference, doing what we want when we want, how and whenever we want and the freedom for excellence which gives us the freedom to excel at some particular endeavor. I have a guitar in my closet that I have had since I was seven. I cannot play it like George Harrison, Eric Clapton, or Jimmy Page. I do not have the freedom to play it because I have only picked it up in spurts over the years.
I do have the freedom to be sharing these words with you as a deacon because I have invested daily the time and energy, required disciplines and sacrifices to be ordained and to continue my practices as a disciple of Jesus beyond ordination.
If we seek the freedom of excellence to be proficient in anything, playing a sport, an instrument, singing, dancing, acting, writing, drawing, pursuing a career, having healthy relationships, being married and a parent, we are required to make a commitment of time, discipline, and sacrifice. We will also be required to take risks, make mistakes, and to embrace the reality that we can continue to grow.
In any of the above examples and any you may think of, consistent time is needed each day. The most challenging part of any endeavor is to begin. Once we actually start, the next challenge is the discipline to stick to the system we have put in place to move toward our goal, no matter the distractions and temptations that may dissuade us. Attaining the freedom of excellence also takes sacrifice because to do anything means we are not able to do something else. During each step of the process, we risk making mistakes, not doing it right, looking foolish. We experience frustration and impatience as we see ahead of us what we seek to accomplish, but the freedom to do just that seems so far out of reach.
Yet, with persistence and consistent effort, we will begin to have brief experiences, breakthroughs in our area of pursuit. We will at times lose ourselves in the moment where we are not only able to play a series of chords, hit that note, make a move, nail a precision shot, or are involved in the joyful experience of engaged communication of mutual understanding, we become one with those actions. From this context from our personal experience of life, we might have a better understanding of the demands of discipleship.
Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. What profit would there be for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life” (Mt 16:24-26)?
Those of us who seek to be disciples of Jesus will need to invest our time daily, be willing to be disciplined and to sacrifice. This is the same as any other endeavor we seek to be free to pursue. Developing our relationship with Jesus is to be our first priority. All else flows from our losing our life in Jesus, mind, body, and soul. We can have all the power, prestige, fame, material gain, pleasure at the tips of our fingers, we may have gained the whole world, but if our fundamental option is our self and our own pride, we will have in actuality forfeited our life. God is our fulfillment; nothing else can satisfy the deep yearning for communion with him that we experience in the depths of our soul, whether we are consciously aware of that truth or not.
Finding our life, being true to who we are, free of that which is imposed on us from without and within, is what Jesus means by taking up our cross. We are to let go of our identity, our masks of who we pretend to be if we are to be free to live a life of integrity and authenticity. Jesus refused the identity of the messiah that others projected upon him. He was not to be a leader of power in the worldly sense, not a warrior king, but a suffering servant, a king of peace.
Jesus would go to the cross and take upon himself the pain, suffering, and sin of the world, and face death head-on, and conquer all even death itself. He did so that we might have life and have it to the full. As St Irenaeus is believed to have written, “The glory of God is the human being fully alive.” What God wants for us is what we want for ourselves deep down. We just need to have the ears to hear, the eyes to see, and the will to risk embracing the wonderful depth of God’s love and put that gift of love into practice in our everyday lives by dying to ourselves and living for others. By doing so we will experience the freedom for excellence to be who we are called to be and experience the joy and fulfillment of being fully alive!
Photo: Crucifix in the sanctuary at St Peter Catholic Church, Jupiter, FL