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Spiritual freedom in 21st century America

Liberty Bound? (My adaptation of an old poster for Liberty Bonds.) No one ca rob you of true freedom.
Liberty Bound? (My adaptation of an old poster for Liberty Bonds.) No one can rob you of true freedom.

What does it mean to be free in America today? Religious freedom faces many threats. What about spiritual freedom? Can we still be free, even if we should lose all our rights?

Western culture now interprets freedom as license. Freedom means being able to do whatever one wishes without anyone standing in one’s way. Verbal criticism is discrimination or hate speech. We cannot remain silent. We cannot respectfully excuse ourselves. We must celebrate immoral behavior, by force when necessary.

This is what Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI meant by “a dictatorship of relativism.” If I have a “right” to do whatever I want, then you have a duty to allow me, or even aid me, to do it. You cannot opt out. The freedom of the majority is quickly becoming tyranny over the minority.

In contrast to this understanding, Catholic philosopher Montague Brown defines freedom as “taking responsibility for our own life.” License for him is “the throwing off of all responsibility.” As you can see, the two terms have nearly opposite meanings in Catholic thought.

Cardinal Avery Dulles writes:

If my motives could never transcend my individual self-interest or the collective self-interest of my group, I could never be truly free. I could always be manipulated and compelled to act in specific ways by fear of punishment or hope of reward. Just as animals can be drawn by dangling a carrot or banana in front of their noses, so a child can be induced to behave in certain ways by the prospect of gratification or the fear of pain. Unable to escape from the determinism of instinct or appetite, we could be forced to act by threats and promises.” (John Paul II and the Truth about Freedom)

True freedom proceeds from love

True freedom does not come from government. It begins in the heart of God. It begins with love.

Love and freedom are both gifts. They must be received. They cannot be demanded. They cannot be seized.

Our real rights (as opposed to those created by the government) come from God.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” (Declaration of Independence)

Our freedom is part of our very nature as beings made in the image and likeness of God. Animals act merely by instinct or appetite. Man alone among earthly creatures is able to act by reason, and above all, by love. He alone is able to abstain from doing things he feels drawn towards doing. He alone is able to call an act good or evil, rather than just desirable.

So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate.” (Gen 3:6)

Eve’s act was not an act of love. She abused her freedom.

The greatest act of freedom

Jesus performed the greatest act of freedom when He went to the Cross. He freely chose what He first begged God to spare Him from. Rejection, scourging, crucifixion, and death did not appear desirable.

Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:3)

He could have turned away from suffering. He could have called on angels to protect Him. Instead, He gave everything He had for our sakes. He gave Himself.

And now it is our turn.

Jesus asks one thing of us. He asks of each of us the unique gift only we can give–the gift of ourselves. He doesn’t promise freedom from persecution, from pain, or from death. He promises us the true freedom of love.

Holiness, not political activism

What the world and the Church require of us today is not political activism, but holiness. We must pursue true freedom, the freedom of total surrender to God. This does not mean that we should abandon the world to its resources. But it does mean we must abandon the world’s standards for God’s. The problem in our nation is not at root a political problem. It is a spiritual problem. It is a problem we all contribute to, to greater or lesser extents.

So I ask you the same question I am asking myself: What are you holding back from God?

What vice have you refused to die to? What attachment do you cling to? What appetite or party platform or material possession or pastime continues to enslave you?

Are you ready to give your life for the Gospel if you must?

Look around you. God is not calling you to some future martyrdom. He is calling you to die to yourself now. Today. “If today you hear His voice, harden not your hearts” (Heb 3:15).

Die to yourself. Surrender to love. Be free.

Connie Rossini


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You’re more like St. Therese than you think

Think Again Pin copy


Do you think you have little in common with St. Therese? Think again.

If I’ve learned anything in writing Trusting God with St. Therese, it’s how much Therese’s struggles were like mine. Consider these points:

  • Therese was born weakened by Original Sin.
  • It took her years of grace and hard work to overcome family tragedy.
  • She had difficulties relating to other children at school.
  • She suffered from scruples.
  •  God repeatedly made her wait for things she believed were His will.
  • Her family members misunderstood her spirituality.
  • She felt natural aversion to people with difficult personalities.
  • She feared losing her remaining loved ones.
  • Spiritual darkness and dryness in prayer were her norm.
  • Great deeds for God were beyond her capability.
  • She suffered terrible pain.
  • She was tempted to despair.

Now tell me that none of those sound like you.

Think you can’t become a saint? Think again.

Therese believed in the same God you do. He was her strength and her righteousness. He can be yours as well.

Connie Rossini

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Spiritual support for Catholic dads

File:Guido Reni - St Joseph - WGA19305.jpg
St. Joseph by Reni (Wikimedia Commons).

Are you still looking for a present for Father’s Day? A couple of months ago Randy Hain sent me a copy of his new book, Journey to Heaven: a Road Map for Catholic Men.  I am still reading it, so I am not ready to write an in-depth review before Father’s Day. But I can say that like all Randy’s books it is solid and inspiring. If your husband or father is just starting to get serious about his spiritual life, I think he will get a lot out of it.  It may be a little too basic for those more advanced in the spiritual life.

 Fr. Jacques Philippe’s books are rarely matched for their combination of traditional Catholic spirituality and twenty-first century appeal. I love Time for God, which tells why and how to pray daily. My husband has read Searching for and Maintaining Peace so many times in a row that I’ve never been able to get my hands on it. The Way of Trust and Love was the book that woke me up to my perennial problem with trust.

If you are a dad, here’s a post from earlier this year on 10 ways dads can help their children grow in holiness. We can’t overemphasize the importance of a father’s role in his child’s spiritual growth.

Happy Father’s Day to all dads. May you reach the lofty goal God has created you for!

Connie Rossini

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Why I don’t let my boys be crude

Christ in St. Joseph’s Workshop by Pagano (Wikimedia Commons). Who wants to bet that no crude talk went on there?


Adults seem to take for granted that being crude is part of the nature of boys. “Let boys be boys,” they say. Let them make jokes about body functions and use crass language. We can’t expect them to be careful in their speech. Well, here’s news for all of you: I am raising four masculine boys and I don’t allow them to speak or act crudely. And they don’t!

The other day, D (nearing 12), brought up the subject of crude talk. Some of his friends have always been looser in their talk than we allow here. As he gets older, the tongues of many of his friends are getting worse. Was I being too strict? He wanted to know.

Here are some of the reasons I gave him for our rules against being crude:

1. We are not beasts

Unlike lower animals, humans have reason. We can regulate our behavior. We are not subject to impulses. We should be raising our eyes to Heaven, not lowering them to earth. We should speak about the higher things in life.

2. The saints are not crude

If we’re raising our kids to be saints, why would we allow them to form habits that will hinder them later? If they will later have to overcome bad habits of speech, why not make their way smoother by helping them resist forming such habits in the first place?

3. Controlling our tongues keeps us from sin

A person with a crude tongue as a kid is going to have a hard time not slipping into obscenity and profanity as he grows older. Learning to bite our tongues before we say something crude forces us to think before we speak. That habit can help us avoid gossip, suggestive talk, lies, and backtalk.

Is it a sin to talk crudely? Most of the time it isn’t. But if we want to be holy, we also have to avoid the near occasions of sin. We have to work on our attachments and imperfections as well. Crude talk is certainly an imperfection. So we do our best to avoid it in our house.

For more on a related subject, read my post on Raising boys to be men–not beasts.

Connie Rossini

Share with us: What rules does your family have about things that are not strictly sinful? How have they helped you raise your children in godliness?

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The Transfiguration teaches us detachment

The Transfiguration by Gherardi (Wikimedia Commons). What must you let go of to grow closer to Christ?


Last week’s Gospel was about the Transfiguration of Jesus. As you recall, Jesus took Peter, James, and John up Mt. Tabor. Moses and Elijah appeared and spoke with Him about His coming Passion. Hearing the Gospel, I was struck by what it teaches us about detachment in the spiritual life.

Moses represents the Law. Elijah represents the Prophets. The Law and the Prophets together form the basis of the Old Testament.

From the good to the perfect

When Peter saw Moses and Elijah, he said, “Lord, it is good for us to be here.” He suggested building booths or tents in which the three religious figures could stay. No doubt he wanted to speak with Moses and Elijah and hear their wisdom in person.

But this was not God’s plan. God the Father spoke to the Apostles from the cloud. Then they looked up and saw Jesus standing before them alone.

The Law and the Prophets prepared the way for Jesus. But now that Jesus had come, they had to give way. They were good, but the Gospel is better. Moses and Elijah served their purpose in pointing towards Jesus. As St. Paul said, “When the perfect comes, the imperfect passes away” (1 Corinthians 13:10).

Letting go of the merely good in our lives

Like the Apostles, we need to leave behind all that is “merely good’ in order to be perfectly conformed to Christ. We cannot cling to anything or anyone but Him.

Children–and beginners in the spiritual life–have different needs than adults. Infants need milk. Adults need solid food. God weans us from the practices that nourished us in the beginning so that we can be spiritually mature.

Moving beyond the Law

As we grow, we need to let go of these things that metaphorically relate to the Law:

  • counting our merits
  • comparing ourselves with others
  • knowledge
  • meditation on Sacred Scripture

Now, obviously, we cannot give up knowledge in the sense of becoming ignorant again. We can’t start ignoring Church teaching. But we can come to recognize that God is immeasurably greater than all human knowledge. We can stop nitpicking, stop judging. We can move from a spirituality based on knowledge to one based on love.

And so with the other items in the list. We give up meditation for contemplation. We give up comparisons that in the beginning may have inspired us toward holiness, but now foster pride. We stop weighing our sins against our merits, realizing that the scale will never be balanced.

Moving beyond the Prophets

We need to let go of these things that metaphorically recall the Prophets:

  • visions, dreams, and prophesies
  • miraculous signs
  • spiritual consolations
  • ecstasies and raptures

As good as these things are in the proper place and time, they are not the goal. There are merely means to the end, which is union with Jesus. We cannot take any of these things to Heaven. If we cling to them, God will have to pry them from us in Purgatory.

St. Paul says, “Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith” (Galatians 3:24). Adults should not need a disciplinarian! Instead of mere teachers, we have a Bridegroom. We must “throw off everything that hinders us” from marriage to Him (Hebrews 12:1).

Let this Lent be a time for letting go!

Connie Rossini

Share with us: What are you most struggling to let go of? How can you begin to let go?

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Pizza and disordered attachments

File:Mmm...Pizza!! (5457397858).jpg
Can’t pizza lead you towards God? (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons).


On Sunday I made pizza for supper. Herbed crust, thick, garlicky sauce, uncured pepperoni, black olives, and two cheeses. Is your mouth watering yet? Is pizza among your disordered attachments?

As you may know, I’m focusing on being more truly detached from everything except God this year. Before you read the rest of this post, you may want to read or review these:

I can’t work on every possible type of spiritual detachment at once. I have to slice it into small pieces. Here is an easy way I’m trying to start. Every time I experience pleasure or enjoyment, I am immediately turning my thoughts towards God.

As I’ve said before, we are not Puritans. We don’t reject the goodness in God’s creation. The world was damaged by Adam’s fall, but not destroyed.

Enjoying pizza, a good movie, splashing in the rain, or time with your spouse is not sinful. But when we dwell on these pleasures we take them out of their proper context.

Holy pizza, Batman!

Why did God make pizza? (Okay, I know there’s no pizzeria in the sky, as much as some of my in-laws would like to believe that God is Italian.) Obviously, God made food to nourish us. But that’s not all. If it were, He would not have made it taste so good.

Everything in creation, whether food or drink or natural beauty or the companionship of animals has another purpose. That purpose is to lead us back to God.

We need to see every good thing in the world as God’s gift to us. This leads our thoughts to Him.

Pizza can make us holy!

No longer a distraction

So, next time you visit the ocean, say, “Lord, you are more glorious than the surging of the sea!” When you taste an awesome dessert, thank God for His goodness, which goes way beyond the goodness of tiramisu.  When you spend time with your spouse, ask God to draw you into the most intimate union with Himself.

I am hoping that by acting in this way, I’ll form new habits. Earthly pleasures will lead me to God, instead of distracting me from Him. I look forward to the day when my prayer time goes something like this:

“God, help me to open my heart to your grace. Boy, that pizza was good this evening! Thank you, Lord, for your heavenly care, which you show me through the food you have created. Grant me patience with my kids. I really love pepperoni and black olives. May I learn to savor your sweetness, O Lord…” You get the idea.

Connie Rossini

Share with us: Have you ever tried this method of working on detachment? How can you put it into practice?