10 June, Year of Mercy: What is freedom and what does it mean?

It is God and his merciful justice that compels us to face these very real issues. The Church’s social teaching rests totally on the inalienable dignity and freedom of the human person. What is freedom and what does it mean? Certainly not individualistic free licence. Licence in fact makes itself dependent on the current moods, interests and emotions. Individual licence is also politically dangerous, making itself vulnerable to propaganda and advertising.

Freedom that is aware of its own dignity will always respect the freedom of others. It is freedom for others, not freedom from. Freedom becomes real when justice gives each his/her due. Freedom presupposes that others respect their own freedom and bring about a justice that is at the same time freedom regulated. So – what is justice, what is a just society? The ancient Greeks’ [Aristotle] is the midway between too much and too little. Law cannot legislate for all diverse situations, so justice is dependent on goodness as the higher value.


Natural Law is the foundation for justice – which persisted late into the modern era – which abandoned it, and yet a consensus is not yet apparent. Some see the concept of justice and talk about as dealing with empty formulas if not cliché suited to political propaganda to use and abuse for the sake of power games. Democracy without values soon descends into tyrannical governance. Democracy lives on presuppositions – that it cannot guarantee – but if we lose them or displace them as stating the obvious we end-up with relativism, which doesn’t accept absolutes but makes decisions according to market and/or power structures. If in the end there is no final truth, no absolute value then even the noblest expressions of democracy are without foundation; and tolerance gives way to its opposite against all disagreement.

As human being we are damaged goods, whilst having an inbuilt leaning towards good, we interpret good as what we see as goo: I did it my way. All our relating is infected with injustice which preceded us and which we inherited. This means our healthy survival makes pardon for the injustices we have given and received a sine qua non. We need to pardon past injustices and be reconciled again and again. Reconciliation is the only way out of the vicious circle of guilt and retribution.

Justice flourishes where there is forgiveness, reconciliation and mercy. Reconciliation and mercy do something seemingly impossible – it pardons what from the standpoint of justice is unpardonable. Forgiving the unpardonable violates a sense of justice that seeks retribution. It is by acting against the demand for retributive justice that forgiveness becomes the rock foundation of the new way of being human. I am the way…



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