If you remain in my word, you will truly be my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.
John 8: 31-2
What is the source of freedom? In today’s gospel Jesus says that it is living in the truth, a truth we know by remaining in his word, by making his word our home. This is an affront to at least some of those around him, for they believe they are free by birthright and bloodline. They claim to be free as children of Abraham, but Jesus contests with them. He says that one is not a child of Abraham by accident of birth but rather by living the life and doing the works of Abraham, by dwelling in the word of Abraham and Moses and the prophets.
We cannot be a disciple, let alone a child, of God by right of birth or of affiliation, but only by remaining in God’s word, by making our home and by abiding within it. No one can do this for us; no one can pass this on to us. It is, in fact, our inheritance, but it is one that we personally and individually must claim by freely choosing to commit our entire lives to Jesus’ word. As the Xaverian Fundamental Principles state:
You have freely chosen
to respond to the call of God
to live a life of love
in faith and trust,
as a disciple of God’s Son, Jesus Christ . . . .
Jesus makes clear that freedom is not an object that can be given to us. In the course of our lives we are always subject to slavery. We become slaves to sin, passion, habit, ideology, institutional worship, laziness, prejudice, arrogance, greed, and on and on. We tend to believe that our freedom is relative to and constituted by the unfreedom of others. “We are descendants of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How can you say, ‘You will become free?’” (John 8: 33) Jesus points out, however, that in their very resistance to and hatred of him they are presently enslaved and that to become free is their responsibility.
Freedom comes only in the transformation that abiding in the word offers us. It is only as our lives grow increasingly conformed to the life of Christ within us that we become more free. For Jesus, knowing the truth requires of us the living out of the truth of our unique call and responsibility to and for the world, both of which we learn by abiding in the word. As we conform our lives, our words and deeds, to the truth which dwelling in the word reveals to us, we become increasingly free. It is the falseness of our lives which enslaves us and the truth of our union with God which frees us.
In this manner earnestly maintain the noble perfection of your invaluable and perfect soul. But consider the meaning of this. Remain undivided and withhold yourself from all meddling with good or bad, high or low,; let everything be, and keep yourself free to devote yourself to your Beloved and to content him whom you love in Love. This is your real debt, which, according to the truth of your nature you owe to God and to those with whom you live in him—thus to love God in simplicity and seek after nothing but this single Love who has chosen us for herself alone.
Now understand the deepest essence of your soul, what “soul” is. Soul is a being that can be beheld by God and by which, again, God can be beheld. Soul is also a being that wishes to content God; it maintains a worthy state of being as long as it has not fallen beneath anything that is alien to it and less than the soul’s own dignity. If it maintains this worthy state, the soul is a bottomless abyss in which God suffices to himself; and his own self-sufficiency ever finds fruition to the full in this soul, as the soul, for its part, ever does in him. Soul is a way for the passage of God from his depths into his liberty; and God is a way for the passage of the soul into its liberty, that is, into his inmost depths, which cannot be touched except by the soul’s abyss. And as long as God does not belong to the soul in his totality, he does not truly satisfy it.
Hadewijch, Letter 18, 51, 63