It is always good to have alternatives at hand for situations that seem to be getting out of control.
Alternatives are a compatible companion to freedom. While freedom can manage, or at least survive, without alternatives, having alternatives available is always helpful for enjoying one’s freedom.
There’s little we can do about our freedom, in so far as it is a gift of God to us. We are born free as a native endowment, and cannot boast about its presence in our lives. However, our exercise of this endowment is subject to forces sometimes out of our control. We may live in a politically oppressive society where our freedom is notably curtailed, whether we like it or not. Or we may find ourselves in another kind of situation for which we are more or less responsible, to the detriment of our freedom. This would be a jail sentence, for instance, that we bring upon ourselves. Or, less graphically, it may be an employment situation that notably reduces our freedom to manage our own time, even though we more or less freely chose the job we have. Or, it may entail a home condition with responsibilities toward a large number of children, or toward aged occupants (our parents), some of which constrains us, even though we freely assumed them.
But a wonderful help in these various scenarios involving freedom is the availability of alternatives. Some alternatives are present without our having to generate them. Other alternatives are available, thanks to the care we took to provide them. An alternative can provide a way of preserving a measure of freedom that may be in danger of curtailment. If I am jailed, for example, good behavior on my part may win for me certain privileges that diminish the burden of lost freedom. Or, I am tied down with domestic chores day in and day out, good relationships with a neighbor or two may generate an alternative that ameliorates the loss of freedom oppressing me day in and day out. Or, if I suffer ill health which more or less confines my ability to freely move about, following doctor’s orders by properly medicating myself is an alternative alleviating this condition.
God also accommodates Himself to the predicaments in which we find ourselves. He is, after all, the source of our freedom, a cherished gift of His. There are many other gifts He bestows upon us, though few match the quality of freedom. And He notes how we use our freedom, whether for good or for bad. In addition, He involves Himself in our exercise of freedom, doing so in a variety of ways, one of which is by providing alternatives. This is helpful to note since only too often do we complain about the curtailments that He imposes on us.
But, we should note the alternatives He held out to the Israelite people centuries ago—people who were so devoted to the prominence of the temple in their midst, with its intricate rules and regulations, provided by God Himself, on how to approach Him in prayer and worship, entailing details about the priests who conducted temple worship, and their tribal pedigree, and their observance of holy days, and their sacrifice of various kinds of animals, etc., we may make the judgment that they were a rigidly controlled group having little freedom to worship as they liked. Unless, of course, we note how God provides the people, and their priests, a considerable number of alternatives for worshipping him, such as keeping the law (considered an acceptable sacrifice or oblation), or doing works of charity (equivalent to a flour offering ), or giving alms (equal to a sacrifice of praise), or avoiding injustice (as valuable as an atonement) (Sir. 35.1-3).
We can make the same judgment about our Church today, representing God in our life, with its rules and regulations, for example, about going to confession before receiving communion (if we have a serious sin burdening our conscience) or its admonition about receiving communion frequently. There are alternatives available to us in these matters, such as the freedom to approach communion in a state of sin, if we are truly sorry for this, and if there is a special reason for doing so (such as the wedding mass of a family member or the funeral mass of a relative) but no opportunity to go to confession beforehand, and we are determined to go to confession at the first possible time following our reception of the eucharist, or the practice of a “spiritual” communion (within the privacy of our mind and heart), in place of sacramental communion, should access to the eucharist in the usual way be impossible for us.
These are alternatives available to us when our freedom, for one reason or another, is curtailed or restricted. This happens at multiple levels of our lives. Sometimes we don’t realize this, or, If we do, we don’t take advantage of it. It is helpful to look at all the alternatives available to us before we make a complaint about the curtailments on our freedom.
We are a community of laymen and laywomen who, with vowed Passionists, seek to share in the charism of St. Paul of the Cross through prayer, ongoing spiritual formation, and proclamation of the message of Christ Crucified.