Dcn. Harrison Garlick
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Dcn. Harrison Garlick serves as a Great Books Tutor for the Alcuin Institute, and is the Chancellor of the Diocese of Tulsa.

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On Christ’s Invitation to Chaos

Water is chaos. Water is death, disorder, ugliness, and confusion. As Holy Scripture teaches us, after God had made the heavens and the earth, the earth was, in its primal state, covered in water and “darkness was upon the face of the deep.” Yet, above these primordial depths fluttered the Spirit of God and by His Word He drew Creation from the waters.

The opening of Holy Scripture presents us with a pattern of God pulling order from disorder, life from death, and beauty from ugliness. As He pulled our world from the waters, so too will He pull salvation from chaos and death time and time again.

Remember the narrative of Noah’s Ark, and how God, in His anger, recalled the primordial waters of Creation to once again retake the face of the earth. Death, chaos, and destruction reigned. Yet, God again in His mercy drew forth salvation from the watery depths and humanity was made anew with Noah and his family.

Remember the narrative of the infant Moses laid upon the waters of the river Nile. As Noah had his Ark, so too did Moses have his basket—and what should have been his death became his salvation. For Pharaoh’s daughter drew him forth from the waters and named him Moses—meaning “to draw out.” His name, of course, is prophetic—because as he was drawn out from the Nile, so too will he draw Israel out of Egypt. Yet, once again water appears as death, as Israel becomes trapped on the banks of the Red Sea—but God turns what should have been death into life by allowing Israel to cross.

Note as well the fate of the Egyptians who were swallowed up in a watery death—a warning to us all of what happens if we attempt to navigate the chaos of this life without God.

We could also speak of how the waters of the Jordan River stood between Israel and the Promise Land or how Jonah, in his disobedience, was cast from his ship into waters and swallowed by a beast of the sea.

The entire pattern of God drawing forth salvation from the waters is perfected in the baptism of Jesus Christ. For here there is no ark or basket, but rather the very instrument of death itself—water—is made the tool of salvation. We are submerged in the baptismal waters to show our death with Christ, and, as God pulled forth Creation from the primordial waters of Genesis, so too are we drawn forth as new creatures in Jesus Christ. As St. Thomas Aquinas reminds us, Christ was not baptized to become holy, but to make the waters holy for us. God enters into death and the instrument of that death becomes the portal of our salvation.

This ancient symbolism of water representing chaos and death gives new insight into the ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ—we may recall His first miracle of turning water into wine or His later miracles of walking on water and rebuking the storm at sea. We may even start to understand why, when He cast the demons into the pigs, the demons drove the animals to be drowned in the waters. Time and time again, Holy Scripture uses water to demonstrate the authority of Jesus Christ over chaos and death.

Here, let us stop and ask: Why is any of this important to today’s Gospel? Well, have you ever wondered why Jesus chose fisherman for His first disciples? Why not choose carpenters like He and his earthly father? Why did He choose fisherman? To understand, we must apply the lessons learned since Genesis: that the waters represent a formless, primordial chaos.

For our Lord tells His first disciples, “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.”

He is not inviting His disciples to comfort or safety. For if one is going to be a fisherman, one must be upon the open waters. As God drew forth Creation from the formless depths of our primal earth, so too does He now invite His disciples to join Him in drawing forth a new Creation from the chaos of this world.

He calls them to be “fishers of men,” because as a man draws a fish out of the sea and into the boat, so too do the disciples of Christ draw souls out of the chaos of this world and into the Catholic Church. This is our calling. Our Lord asks us to endure the chaotic, stormy seas of this life for the sake of those souls who are still lost amongst its churning depths.

We must hear his call. We are to be “fishers of men,” and we will be in the chaos but not of it—we are called to draw souls out of the death of this life into the new life of Jesus Christ. We bring order to chaos, light to darkness, and hope to despair.

Our Lord has made the call—He has asked us to be fishers of men.

May we answer the call and “push out into the deep” to rescue souls from the watery chaos of this world.[1]

    [1] In the first reading from Isaiah (Is 8:23—9:3), the song of praise is from those souls drawn into the safety on the new Ark, the Catholic Church. It is not unremarkable that the road glorified is the “seaward” road. The second reading from St. Paul (1 Cor 1:10-13, 17) against divisions is a warning to not the chaos of the world enter the Church any more than a fisherman allows the waves of the sea into his boat. Finally, see Into the Deep: A Biblical Study on Chaos & Discipleship for a more in depth treatment of the allegory of water as chaos.

Into the Deep: A Biblical Study on Chaos & Discipleship

The world is in chaos. Modern man now holds himself as an autonomous moral universe in which every conceivable reality is malleable to his subjective will. Man has been “emancipated,” in the spirit of non serviam, from God, the Church, nature, history, reason, and now even his own body. Even the most basic realities of what it means to be human are eroding and with it the foundations of our civilization.

If we asked whether there was cause to hope amongst the chaos, most Catholics would, if even out of piety, answer yes—our hope is in Jesus Christ. Yet, what did Jesus Christ teach us about the relationship between chaos and hope? What is the biblical understanding of chaos? And what is the relation of chaos to vocation of a disciple of Jesus Christ?

The answer to these questions is water and what lies beneath the concept of the waters in the biblical text. Let us look at the opening of Holy Scripture:

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters (Genesis 1:1-2).

The primordial waters of Creation are formless, void, and dark. The Spirit of God flutters above the deep, and it is from these waters that God will draw Creation. The contrast in the opening of Holy Scripture grants us our template for understanding the biblical allegory of water: water represents chaos, disorder, darkness, and death; but, just as God drew Creation from the face of the deep, so too does God draw order, beauty, light, and life from that which is chaotic.

It is this interplay between the chaos of water and the order of God that we will use as our primary pattern, our thesis, to examine other examples in the biblical text.

A clear example resides in Noah’s Ark and the Great Flood (Gen 6-9). The primordial waters of Creation return to reclaim the earth for chaos. The Great Flood is another creation narrative, in which God must once again draw forth order and beauty from the chaotic deep.

The waters represent death and the Ark represents life. Many of our Early Church Fathers saw in this text an allegory of the Church and the world. The Church is the Ark, our salvation, and the world is the watery abyss, our death and damnation.

As an aside, there is an image here that has always caught my imagination. Note that the waters burst forth before the door to the Ark is closed. You can only image what realizations set in on the people around Noah when the waters started to come forth—when they realized that the Ark was indeed their hope for salvation. And note that in the midst of this realization—who closes the door to the Ark? The Lord does—not Noah but the Lord (Gen 7:16). It is ultimately God’s Ark, as it is God’s Church, and He decides who is worthy to enter and be spared the waters of chaos and who is not.

Let us leave Noah for the narrative of Moses. The life of Moses is deeply intertwined with the allegory of water. First, recall that in order to save her child’s life, his mother sets her infant son in a basket upon the waters of the Nile (Ex 2:3). Like Noah in the Ark, we see the child’s life preserved upon the waters that would have otherwise been his death. He is then pulled forth from the waters by Pharaoh’s daughter, who names him Moses, meaning “to be drawn out” (Ex 2:10). Like Creation itself, Moses is drawn from the waters and his very name exemplifies the relationship between chaos and order, death and life, water and God.

The narrative of Moses’ salvation as an infant serves as a foreshadowing to the salvation of Israel. Moses is called by God to draw out Israel from its bondage in Egypt and, as he was delivered from the waters of the Nile, he must now be the hand of God in delivering Israel from the waters of the Red Sea (Ex 14:10-22).

What should have been their death, the Red Sea, God turned into the vehicle of their salvation. A pattern emerges, as seen in the stories of Creation, Noah, and Moses, that those who have hope in God often find their salvation amongst and through chaos.

Take note of the fate of the Egyptians (Ex 14:22-31). They too attempted to cross the Red Sea but, like those who did not trust in God during the Great Flood, they are swallowed by the waters and it becomes their death. The Egyptians serve as a fateful reminder for those who attempt to traverse this life—with all its chaos and disorder—without placing their hope in God.

Another considerable example is the crossing of the Jordan River (Jos 3:17). Here, God commands Joshua to have the Ark of the Covenant lead the people across the Jordan. Once again, like the Red Sea, there is water between Israel and the Promised Land. The Ark is carried into the waters and the waters cease and those carrying the Ark stand upon dry ground. The Ark remains in the middle of the dry riverbed until the entire host of Israel has safely crossed.

Here, like the Red Sea, we observe a clear visual of the necessity for us to place our hope in God when attempting to cross the waters of this life into the eternal Promise Land.

Let us turn to a somewhat different and more nuanced example of water as an archetype of chaos. In the book of Job, when Job laments his losses, he cries out for thick darkness and blackness to swallow up the day of his birth (Job 3:4-5). Notably, amongst the chaos he is suffering, he invokes the Leviathan—the great beast of the waters (Job 3:8).

It more notable that when God decides to chastise Job, God too invokes the Leviathan (Job 41:25). God presents a clear juxtaposition: to God, the Leviathan is a plaything, like a maiden tying a bird to a string; but to man, the Leviathan, this great beast of the sea, means certain death. It is only with God, by placing our hope in him, that man can be delivered from this great beast of the waters, this beast of chaos.

Another example, and arguably one of the best examples of the allegory of water, is the narrative of Jonah. As you will recall, Jonah attempts to run from the Lord and, while he is on a ship at sea, the Lord sends a storm. Jonah is subsequently tossed out of the ship and into the sea. It is intriguing that with Noah and Moses, the vessel upon the water was the instrument of God’s salvation, and here we have Jonah, who is contrary to the will of God, being tossed out of the vessel and into the sea. He is tossed out of what represents salvation and into what represents death and chaos—only to be swallowed by a great beast of the sea. And while there is some debate whether Jonah died within the belly of that creature, it is clear that our Lord Jesus Christ uses the story as a foreshadowing of his own death and resurrection—drawing yet another parallel between water and death.

Does this pattern of God using water, representing death and chaos, as a vehicle of salvation extend to the New Testament? Yes. In fact, almost our entire study up to this point could be a reflection on the Sacrament of Holy Baptism. Let us recall that St. Ambrose, in commenting on Luke 3:21, tells us Christ was baptized not to become holy, but to make the waters holy for us.[1] God enters death and the instrument of death becomes the portal of our salvation.

As the Spirit of God fluttered above the primordial waters and then drew forth Creation, so too does the Holy Spirit draw us from our baptismal waters as a new creation in Christ. The Church, into which we are baptized, is our salvation, as was the Ark to Noah or the basket to Moses. Moreover, we hope never to be contrary to the will of God and be tossed from the ship like Jonah. It is through these waters—like with the Red Sea or the Jordan—that we must pass to enter our Promised Land, our eternal happiness with God.

Even a casual survey of the ministry of Jesus Christ exhibits a continuation of this catechesis on water.

At the wedding of Cana, our Lord performs His first miracle—the turning of water into wine (John 2:1-11). This is, in many ways, a summary of the entire salvific mission of Jesus Christ. What represents chaos and death, water, becomes by the hand of Christ wine—which in turn foreshadows our true salvific drink, the Precious Blood. Like the wedding at Cana, we too are called to wed ourselves to Christ and become one flesh with Him: we leave behind the water and we take of the wine.

Recall also Christ calming the storm (Matt 8:23-27). Jesus and His disciples are in a boat on the sea. “Suddenly a violent storm came up on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by waves” (Matt 8:24). Notably, however, Christ is asleep. His disciples wake our Lord and, as Matthew records, “he got up, rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was great calm” (Matt 8:26). The narrative of Christ calming the sea recalls His relationship to the primordial waters of Creation. For Christ is the Eternal Word, the Logos, the ordering principle and account of all reality (John 1:1-14). It is in Him, through Him, and for Him all things were made (Col 1:15-17). Thus, when God the Father spoke the words of creation over the primordial waters it was the Eternal Word, the Logos, that gave Creation its form and substance—and continues, at present, to hold all things in being (Col 1:17). Christ can be the God who sleeps amongst the waves, because the chaos they represent holds no danger to Him. The Logos brought order to the primordial waters, and the Incarnate-God, Jesus Christ, calms the waters of the sea.

St. Matthew then pivots into the story of Christ’s healing of the demoniacs (Matt 8:28-34). As you may recall, Christ drives the demons out of the two men and into the herd of swine. We should take careful observance of the fact that when the demons are sent into the pigs, the demons drive the pigs into the sea where they die amongst the waters. St. Matthew is showing us that the sea, the water, is the realm of the demonic—that which is lifeless, void, and dark; yet, he couples this narrative with the calming of the storm to show us that this chaotic realm is subject to the authority of Jesus Christ. Here, it is most important to recall from the narrative before that when Christ calmed the storm, He actually rebuked it—He used the language of an exorcism. The two narratives are meant to be read as one.

We could also contemplate Christ walking on the water and what it means for St. Peter, our first pope, to leave the boat and come to Christ standing atop the waves. Let us, however, turn to when Christ calls Peter to be a disciple and what water has to do with discipleship.

The Gospel records:

As [Jesus] walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon who is called Peter and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him (Matt 4:18-22).

It is not by accident that Christ called fishermen to be his first disciples. It is an intentional act that illuminates a pattern throughout all of Salvation History. It is a decision built upon the narratives of Creation, Noah, Moses, Jonah, and more. Walking by the sea, He calls them to be “fishers of men.” If one is to be a fisher of men, where must one be? As a man draws a fish out of the sea from his boat, so too do the disciples of Christ draw souls out of the chaos and into the Church.

Therefore, chaos is not a reason to give up hope. We are called to chaos. As disciples of Jesus Christ, we are called to be in the chaos but not of it—to draw souls out of the chaos and into the grace of God’s Church. We are called to be in disorder but not be disordered. We navigate the chaos for the salvation of our neighbor—fishing them out of darkness and death of the worldly waters and into the great Ark of our Salvation, the Catholic Church. We are agents of order to disorder, of light to darkness, of hope to despair, and of life to death.

Before we end, let us examine the end of Scripture. In the Book of Revelation, St. John writes:

And I saw a beast coming out of the sea. It had ten horns and seven heads, with ten crowns on its horns, and on each head a blasphemous name… The whole world was filled with wonder and followed the beast. People worshiped the dragon because he had given authority to the beast, and they also worshiped the beast and asked, “Who is like the beast? Who can wage war against it?” (Rev 13:1-4)

Here, we see the return of the great sea beast, the Leviathan, who serves as a type of antichrist in the Apocalypse. He represents disorder, death, chaos, and is contrary to God in all ways. The people, echoing a corruption of St. Michael’s name, praise the sea beast saying, “Who is like the beast? Who can wage war against it?” The irony of their praise is found in recalling what God said about the Leviathan in Job–it can bring swift death to us, but to God it is nothing, a plaything to be led on a string. As demonstrated by Christ throughout the New Testament, God has absolute authority over the waters, the chaos, and all that dwell therein.

But we, placing our hope in Christ, know that the great sea beast is defeated and a new earth and a new heaven are created. Our biblical examination of water concludes as St. John writes toward the end of his Apocalypse:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more (Rev 21:1).

There is no sea in the new earth. Chaos has been brought to order, darkness to light, death to life, and the Leviathan, the sea beast, is defeated by the Lamb. The allegory of water provides an architectonic template to understanding the entire narrative of Salvation History, and it is a divine story given to us to provide hope amongst the death and darkness of daily life.

In the Gospel of Luke, Christ is with His disciples and tells them to “push out into the deep,” into the “deep water” (Lk 5:4). So too is Christ calling us to push out into the deep and draw out the souls who need Him the most. May we always be willing to take the hope of God into the depths of chaos.

This article is an adaptation of the talk entitled “On Water, Chaos & Catholic Leadership” given at the 2021 USCCB national Child & Youth Protection Conference in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and similarly a talk entitled “On Hope & Chaos: A Biblical Study on Water” at the 2021 Idea of a Village Conference in Locust Grove, Oklahoma.

ON FAITH & FORTITUDE: THE SHIELD OF SIR GAWAIN

On New Year’s Eve, King Arthur was with his knights and other guests at the round table. As was his custom, King Arthur would not begin to eat until he had heard some story of wonder and renown. Suddenly, a man on horseback came riding into his hall. He was a giant clothed completely in the color green bearing a huge, ornate axe. In fact, to the amazement of the guests, the half-giant knight had skin and hair colored green—even his horse was green. Known aptly as the “Green Knight,” he issued a challenge to those brave heroes in Arthur’s hall: one of them would be permitted to strike the Green Knight once with his own axe, and then the Green Knight would strike him once in return.

The hall was silent before the massive, green man. Eventually, Sir Gawain stood before the Green Knight and brokered terms of the holiday game. Sir Gawain would strike the Green Knight and then, a year later, Sir Gawain would have to journey to the chapel of the Green Knight to stand and receive his strike.

Sir Gawain lifted the axe and swung with all his might—the head of the Green Knight went rolling across the floor. The game had apparently come to its predictable end. Yet, to the amazement of King Arthur’s court, the headless knight walked over, picked up his head, and galloped away, reminding Sir Gawain he would see him one year hence.

In this 14th century anonymous poem, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, our hero must find the fortitude to journey and face his green foe. While his overall pilgrimage is certainly worth reading (please do not watch the 2021 movie), what is most apt for us is how Sir Gawain found the fortitude he needed to start his journey. The author spends a great amount of time telling us about Sir Gawain’s armor, but most notable for us is his shield. On the inside of his shield, Sir Gawain has painted a picture of the Blessed Virgin Mary. In this manner, when he lifts his shield in battle, her eyes will meet his – and he will be encouraged. In the maternal eyes of Mary, he will find the fortitude necessary to do what is asked of him.

Sir Gawain invites us to understand that fortitude is necessary for a virtuous life. It does not matter if you are smart enough to understand what is right if you are too afraid to do it. How many of us know what the Gospel demands of us but buckle under the pressure of our culture?

Though our faith makes demands upon our fortitude, it also helps it. Faith perfects or strengthens our fortitude. This interplay between faith and fortitude is reflected in today’s Scripture readings.

In the first reading, the author praises the Jews whose faith in God allowed them to have the bravery to endure hardships and await justice (Wis 18:6-9). The author states, “Your people awaited the salvation of the just and the destruction of their foes”—their faith allowed their fortitude to hold.

In the second reading, we see how the faith of Abraham gave him the courage to leave his homeland and endure hardships for the sake of the vocation to which God had called him (Heb 11:1-2, 8-19). The greatest test of which was God’s call for Abraham to sacrifice his only son—Isaac. Abraham’s fortitude, perfected by his faith, allowed for a narrative that would foreshadow God the Father sending His own Son to be sacrificed.

Third, in today’s Gospel, Christ tells us to “[g]ird your loins and light your lamps”—to be brave and to have faith (Lk 12:32-48). For to us, His “little flock,” He has given the Kingdom, if we can endure the hardships of the world for the sake of the Cross.

After linking the virtues of faith and fortitude, our Gospel today ends with a warning. Alluding to the end times, Christ tells us that when the Master comes, He will throw the wicked servant amongst the “unfaithful” for punishment. A clear analogue to hell. Yet, He says of the servant who knew the will of his Master but did not do it—that servant will be saved but punished severely. A clear analogue to purgatory.

Christ’s warning is clear: We will be disciplined—either by our own will in this life or by the Divine Will in the life to come. Knowing the will of God is not enough. We must have the fortitude to live the Gospel—to be mocked, to be alienated, to endure hardship all for the sake of Jesus Christ.

May we, like Sir Gawain, find encouragement in Mother Mary to live the life expected of us—a life of faith and fortitude.

On the Poem the Pearl & Seeking the Higher Good

We come upon a man who has lost something. A spotless pearl has slipped through his fingers and is now lost in the earth. He grieves and cries. His heart hurts with a cruel pain and a torment churns within his chest (Pearl, no. 2). He lays on the mound in the garden still seeking his pearl—but his pearl will never be found. For the pearl that slipped through his fingers into the earth was his infant daughter, now buried beneath him. He lies on her grave crying out for his perfect pearl, and he drifts into sleep. Providence provides the father with a vision. The man is transported to a celestial garden with crystal cliffs and jeweled forests (nos. 7-9). He walks until he comes to a river with waves like glass illuminated by light, shining like the stars. On the other side of the river, he observes great heavenly cliffs, and at their base, walking by the river, he sees a beautiful young woman (no.14). She is arrayed like a heavenly queen, a bride of Christ, with glistening robes all adorned with pearls. The longer the man looks, the more his heart knows that this young woman is somehow his daughter. She is his spotless pearl. Overcome with bliss, his heart expands just to contain the joy. The father cries out to his lost daughter. Yet, the heavenly maiden turns her grey eyes upon her father with a cool and collected spirit. She is reserved and, with a surreal solemnity, gently reproaches her father for what she calls “madness” (no. 23). The anticipated reunion of father and daughter gives way to daughter, now a heavenly saint, expressing her concerns for him. Why does he grieve for her when she is safe in heaven—but he is still in the struggles of life? Why does he seek her in heaven and not God? The jarring nature of their reunion is, at its heart, a clash of earthly expectations against divine ones. What follows is a beautiful dialogue between father and daughter about the nature of true happiness and what her father must do to secure it. In a preliminary manner, the jarring character of the father’s reunion with the daughter is reflected in the meeting of Jesus, Mary, and Martha. Mary, the sister of Lazarus, lies at the feet of Jesus listening to Him, while Martha flitters around the house serving her guests. When Martha asks our Lord for Martha to help, it is somewhat contrary to our expectations to hear Christ decline and side with Mary. Is it not good for Martha to serve her guests? Often, we reduce the moral life to avoiding evil and choosing the good. And while this is arguably the most basic moral precept, much of life is actually choosing between different goods. It was good that the father loved his daughter, just as it was good Martha wanted to serve her guests. In both cases, however, the father and Martha had to learn to choose a higher good over a lesser good. It was good the father loved his daughter, but it was better for him to love God. It was good Martha wanted to serve others, but it was better for her to be at the feet of Jesus. A key insight here, however, is that seeking the higher good does not exclude the lower. In fact, the higher will always perfect the lower. If the father loves God first, then he will love his daughter with a more perfect love. If Martha chooses to sit at the feet of Jesus, then it will ultimately perfect her service to others. At the end of the Pearl, an anonymous 1300s poem, the daughter, that queenly, heavenly virgin, a true spotless pearl, shows her father that true happiness is in God. He then sees the Lamb, standing victorious yet slain, and the father is so overcome with zeal to be with God that he attempts to cross the river. He awakes from his dream on the grave of his daughter. He still must live his earthly pilgrimage. He must seek the true Pearl, Jesus Christ, and order all other goods to this end.

Solzhenitsyn and True Freedom

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn stood before 20,000 people at the 1978 Harvard graduation ceremony. Aleksandr, a Russian, had spent ten years of hard labor in the Soviet gulags on trumped up charges before fleeing to the United States. He had risen to fame in the West by shining a light on Soviet atrocities through his writings, such as The Gulag Archipelago, a true accounting of those who endured the inhumanity of the Soviet labor camps. Thus, as he stood before Harvard University, he was expected to lambaste the Soviets and praise the West, especially the United States, in which he had found refuge. Yet, Aleksandr took an unexpected turn. While he certainly lamented the suffering of his homeland under the Soviets, he took up the question of whether he would recommend the West as a model for his home country—he answered “no.” Shocking his audience, he further explained that under the West men and women had become fractured, atomized, and subject to a false freedom. He observed that this false sense of freedom had taught mankind that there was no “higher force” above him—that man was an autonomous moral universe. It was a freedom that would end in ruin. The disease Aleksandr diagnosed in the late 1970s has only metastasized and increased in severity. For us, as moderns and Americans, the concept of freedom means a lack of restraint and a plurality of options for our own self-creation. The more choices we have, the more freedom we believe we have. Thus, our modern age tells us that we are the most freewhen we have the most choices to pursue what we desire. Most notably, this modern notion of freedom is almost entirely removed from considerations of what is good or bad. Freedom is just about choice—what is good or bad is relative to each individual. This notion of freedom would have been incomprehensible to the ancient Greeks and Romans and our own Early Church Fathers. The ancient notion of freedom was not about maximizing choice but was rather about self-discipline. Freedom, for the ancients, meant cultivating a self-governance that freed you from our inclination toward evil and disorder. True freedom was cultivated in a person by practicing virtue. In fact, the original meaning of the liberal arts was an education that freed you to pursue the good, the beautiful, and the true. Freedom meant you were free to choose what was good and you had that interior freedom by the virtue of self-governance and self-control. You were the master of your passions and desires—not the other way around. If freedom truly is the ability to choose what is good and beautiful in this life, then to choose what is evil cannot be an act of authentic freedom. Here, we see the ancient understanding of freedom at work in the New Testament. As St. Paul tells us, to sin is not an expression of our freedom but rather of slavery. He who sins is not free. If we use our freedom to choose gossip, to amass material goods, to consume pornography, to lie, and to pursue what we deem good over what is truly good, God—then we are not free persons but slaves. We are, in fact, the most free when we pursue what is the most good—God. We are the most free when we are detached from sin and choose what is good, beautiful, and true. Let us not fall prey to the false freedom of our age. What the world praises as freedom is slavery. Let us truly be free in Jesus Christ by exercising self-governance by disciplining our desires and cultivating virtues.  

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On Christ’s Invitation to Chaos

Water is chaos. Water is death, disorder, ugliness, and confusion. As Holy Scripture teaches us, after God had made the heavens and the earth, the earth was, in its primal state, covered in water and “darkness was upon the face of the deep.” Yet, above these primordial depths fluttered the Spirit of God and by His Word He drew Creation from the waters.

The opening of Holy Scripture presents us with a pattern of God pulling order from disorder, life from death, and beauty from ugliness. As He pulled our world from the waters, so too will He pull salvation from chaos and death time and time again.

Remember the narrative of Noah’s Ark, and how God, in His anger, recalled the primordial waters of Creation to once again retake the face of the earth. Death, chaos, and destruction reigned. Yet, God again in His mercy drew forth salvation from the watery depths and humanity was made anew with Noah and his family.

Remember the narrative of the infant Moses laid upon the waters of the river Nile. As Noah had his Ark, so too did Moses have his basket—and what should have been his death became his salvation. For Pharaoh’s daughter drew him forth from the waters and named him Moses—meaning “to draw out.” His name, of course, is prophetic—because as he was drawn out from the Nile, so too will he draw Israel out of Egypt. Yet, once again water appears as death, as Israel becomes trapped on the banks of the Red Sea—but God turns what should have been death into life by allowing Israel to cross.

Note as well the fate of the Egyptians who were swallowed up in a watery death—a warning to us all of what happens if we attempt to navigate the chaos of this life without God.

We could also speak of how the waters of the Jordan River stood between Israel and the Promise Land or how Jonah, in his disobedience, was cast from his ship into waters and swallowed by a beast of the sea.

The entire pattern of God drawing forth salvation from the waters is perfected in the baptism of Jesus Christ. For here there is no ark or basket, but rather the very instrument of death itself—water—is made the tool of salvation. We are submerged in the baptismal waters to show our death with Christ, and, as God pulled forth Creation from the primordial waters of Genesis, so too are we drawn forth as new creatures in Jesus Christ. As St. Thomas Aquinas reminds us, Christ was not baptized to become holy, but to make the waters holy for us. God enters into death and the instrument of that death becomes the portal of our salvation.

This ancient symbolism of water representing chaos and death gives new insight into the ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ—we may recall His first miracle of turning water into wine or His later miracles of walking on water and rebuking the storm at sea. We may even start to understand why, when He cast the demons into the pigs, the demons drove the animals to be drowned in the waters. Time and time again, Holy Scripture uses water to demonstrate the authority of Jesus Christ over chaos and death.

Here, let us stop and ask: Why is any of this important to today’s Gospel? Well, have you ever wondered why Jesus chose fisherman for His first disciples? Why not choose carpenters like He and his earthly father? Why did He choose fisherman? To understand, we must apply the lessons learned since Genesis: that the waters represent a formless, primordial chaos.

For our Lord tells His first disciples, “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.”

He is not inviting His disciples to comfort or safety. For if one is going to be a fisherman, one must be upon the open waters. As God drew forth Creation from the formless depths of our primal earth, so too does He now invite His disciples to join Him in drawing forth a new Creation from the chaos of this world.

He calls them to be “fishers of men,” because as a man draws a fish out of the sea and into the boat, so too do the disciples of Christ draw souls out of the chaos of this world and into the Catholic Church. This is our calling. Our Lord asks us to endure the chaotic, stormy seas of this life for the sake of those souls who are still lost amongst its churning depths.

We must hear his call. We are to be “fishers of men,” and we will be in the chaos but not of it—we are called to draw souls out of the death of this life into the new life of Jesus Christ. We bring order to chaos, light to darkness, and hope to despair.

Our Lord has made the call—He has asked us to be fishers of men.

May we answer the call and “push out into the deep” to rescue souls from the watery chaos of this world.[1]

    [1] In the first reading from Isaiah (Is 8:23—9:3), the song of praise is from those souls drawn into the safety on the new Ark, the Catholic Church. It is not unremarkable that the road glorified is the “seaward” road. The second reading from St. Paul (1 Cor 1:10-13, 17) against divisions is a warning to not the chaos of the world enter the Church any more than a fisherman allows the waves of the sea into his boat. Finally, see Into the Deep: A Biblical Study on Chaos & Discipleship for a more in depth treatment of the allegory of water as chaos.

Into the Deep: A Biblical Study on Chaos & Discipleship

The world is in chaos. Modern man now holds himself as an autonomous moral universe in which every conceivable reality is malleable to his subjective will. Man has been “emancipated,” in the spirit of non serviam, from God, the Church, nature, history, reason, and now even his own body. Even the most basic realities of what it means to be human are eroding and with it the foundations of our civilization.

If we asked whether there was cause to hope amongst the chaos, most Catholics would, if even out of piety, answer yes—our hope is in Jesus Christ. Yet, what did Jesus Christ teach us about the relationship between chaos and hope? What is the biblical understanding of chaos? And what is the relation of chaos to vocation of a disciple of Jesus Christ?

The answer to these questions is water and what lies beneath the concept of the waters in the biblical text. Let us look at the opening of Holy Scripture:

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters (Genesis 1:1-2).

The primordial waters of Creation are formless, void, and dark. The Spirit of God flutters above the deep, and it is from these waters that God will draw Creation. The contrast in the opening of Holy Scripture grants us our template for understanding the biblical allegory of water: water represents chaos, disorder, darkness, and death; but, just as God drew Creation from the face of the deep, so too does God draw order, beauty, light, and life from that which is chaotic.

It is this interplay between the chaos of water and the order of God that we will use as our primary pattern, our thesis, to examine other examples in the biblical text.

A clear example resides in Noah’s Ark and the Great Flood (Gen 6-9). The primordial waters of Creation return to reclaim the earth for chaos. The Great Flood is another creation narrative, in which God must once again draw forth order and beauty from the chaotic deep.

The waters represent death and the Ark represents life. Many of our Early Church Fathers saw in this text an allegory of the Church and the world. The Church is the Ark, our salvation, and the world is the watery abyss, our death and damnation.

As an aside, there is an image here that has always caught my imagination. Note that the waters burst forth before the door to the Ark is closed. You can only image what realizations set in on the people around Noah when the waters started to come forth—when they realized that the Ark was indeed their hope for salvation. And note that in the midst of this realization—who closes the door to the Ark? The Lord does—not Noah but the Lord (Gen 7:16). It is ultimately God’s Ark, as it is God’s Church, and He decides who is worthy to enter and be spared the waters of chaos and who is not.

Let us leave Noah for the narrative of Moses. The life of Moses is deeply intertwined with the allegory of water. First, recall that in order to save her child’s life, his mother sets her infant son in a basket upon the waters of the Nile (Ex 2:3). Like Noah in the Ark, we see the child’s life preserved upon the waters that would have otherwise been his death. He is then pulled forth from the waters by Pharaoh’s daughter, who names him Moses, meaning “to be drawn out” (Ex 2:10). Like Creation itself, Moses is drawn from the waters and his very name exemplifies the relationship between chaos and order, death and life, water and God.

The narrative of Moses’ salvation as an infant serves as a foreshadowing to the salvation of Israel. Moses is called by God to draw out Israel from its bondage in Egypt and, as he was delivered from the waters of the Nile, he must now be the hand of God in delivering Israel from the waters of the Red Sea (Ex 14:10-22).

What should have been their death, the Red Sea, God turned into the vehicle of their salvation. A pattern emerges, as seen in the stories of Creation, Noah, and Moses, that those who have hope in God often find their salvation amongst and through chaos.

Take note of the fate of the Egyptians (Ex 14:22-31). They too attempted to cross the Red Sea but, like those who did not trust in God during the Great Flood, they are swallowed by the waters and it becomes their death. The Egyptians serve as a fateful reminder for those who attempt to traverse this life—with all its chaos and disorder—without placing their hope in God.

Another considerable example is the crossing of the Jordan River (Jos 3:17). Here, God commands Joshua to have the Ark of the Covenant lead the people across the Jordan. Once again, like the Red Sea, there is water between Israel and the Promised Land. The Ark is carried into the waters and the waters cease and those carrying the Ark stand upon dry ground. The Ark remains in the middle of the dry riverbed until the entire host of Israel has safely crossed.

Here, like the Red Sea, we observe a clear visual of the necessity for us to place our hope in God when attempting to cross the waters of this life into the eternal Promise Land.

Let us turn to a somewhat different and more nuanced example of water as an archetype of chaos. In the book of Job, when Job laments his losses, he cries out for thick darkness and blackness to swallow up the day of his birth (Job 3:4-5). Notably, amongst the chaos he is suffering, he invokes the Leviathan—the great beast of the waters (Job 3:8).

It more notable that when God decides to chastise Job, God too invokes the Leviathan (Job 41:25). God presents a clear juxtaposition: to God, the Leviathan is a plaything, like a maiden tying a bird to a string; but to man, the Leviathan, this great beast of the sea, means certain death. It is only with God, by placing our hope in him, that man can be delivered from this great beast of the waters, this beast of chaos.

Another example, and arguably one of the best examples of the allegory of water, is the narrative of Jonah. As you will recall, Jonah attempts to run from the Lord and, while he is on a ship at sea, the Lord sends a storm. Jonah is subsequently tossed out of the ship and into the sea. It is intriguing that with Noah and Moses, the vessel upon the water was the instrument of God’s salvation, and here we have Jonah, who is contrary to the will of God, being tossed out of the vessel and into the sea. He is tossed out of what represents salvation and into what represents death and chaos—only to be swallowed by a great beast of the sea. And while there is some debate whether Jonah died within the belly of that creature, it is clear that our Lord Jesus Christ uses the story as a foreshadowing of his own death and resurrection—drawing yet another parallel between water and death.

Does this pattern of God using water, representing death and chaos, as a vehicle of salvation extend to the New Testament? Yes. In fact, almost our entire study up to this point could be a reflection on the Sacrament of Holy Baptism. Let us recall that St. Ambrose, in commenting on Luke 3:21, tells us Christ was baptized not to become holy, but to make the waters holy for us.[1] God enters death and the instrument of death becomes the portal of our salvation.

As the Spirit of God fluttered above the primordial waters and then drew forth Creation, so too does the Holy Spirit draw us from our baptismal waters as a new creation in Christ. The Church, into which we are baptized, is our salvation, as was the Ark to Noah or the basket to Moses. Moreover, we hope never to be contrary to the will of God and be tossed from the ship like Jonah. It is through these waters—like with the Red Sea or the Jordan—that we must pass to enter our Promised Land, our eternal happiness with God.

Even a casual survey of the ministry of Jesus Christ exhibits a continuation of this catechesis on water.

At the wedding of Cana, our Lord performs His first miracle—the turning of water into wine (John 2:1-11). This is, in many ways, a summary of the entire salvific mission of Jesus Christ. What represents chaos and death, water, becomes by the hand of Christ wine—which in turn foreshadows our true salvific drink, the Precious Blood. Like the wedding at Cana, we too are called to wed ourselves to Christ and become one flesh with Him: we leave behind the water and we take of the wine.

Recall also Christ calming the storm (Matt 8:23-27). Jesus and His disciples are in a boat on the sea. “Suddenly a violent storm came up on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by waves” (Matt 8:24). Notably, however, Christ is asleep. His disciples wake our Lord and, as Matthew records, “he got up, rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was great calm” (Matt 8:26). The narrative of Christ calming the sea recalls His relationship to the primordial waters of Creation. For Christ is the Eternal Word, the Logos, the ordering principle and account of all reality (John 1:1-14). It is in Him, through Him, and for Him all things were made (Col 1:15-17). Thus, when God the Father spoke the words of creation over the primordial waters it was the Eternal Word, the Logos, that gave Creation its form and substance—and continues, at present, to hold all things in being (Col 1:17). Christ can be the God who sleeps amongst the waves, because the chaos they represent holds no danger to Him. The Logos brought order to the primordial waters, and the Incarnate-God, Jesus Christ, calms the waters of the sea.

St. Matthew then pivots into the story of Christ’s healing of the demoniacs (Matt 8:28-34). As you may recall, Christ drives the demons out of the two men and into the herd of swine. We should take careful observance of the fact that when the demons are sent into the pigs, the demons drive the pigs into the sea where they die amongst the waters. St. Matthew is showing us that the sea, the water, is the realm of the demonic—that which is lifeless, void, and dark; yet, he couples this narrative with the calming of the storm to show us that this chaotic realm is subject to the authority of Jesus Christ. Here, it is most important to recall from the narrative before that when Christ calmed the storm, He actually rebuked it—He used the language of an exorcism. The two narratives are meant to be read as one.

We could also contemplate Christ walking on the water and what it means for St. Peter, our first pope, to leave the boat and come to Christ standing atop the waves. Let us, however, turn to when Christ calls Peter to be a disciple and what water has to do with discipleship.

The Gospel records:

As [Jesus] walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon who is called Peter and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him (Matt 4:18-22).

It is not by accident that Christ called fishermen to be his first disciples. It is an intentional act that illuminates a pattern throughout all of Salvation History. It is a decision built upon the narratives of Creation, Noah, Moses, Jonah, and more. Walking by the sea, He calls them to be “fishers of men.” If one is to be a fisher of men, where must one be? As a man draws a fish out of the sea from his boat, so too do the disciples of Christ draw souls out of the chaos and into the Church.

Therefore, chaos is not a reason to give up hope. We are called to chaos. As disciples of Jesus Christ, we are called to be in the chaos but not of it—to draw souls out of the chaos and into the grace of God’s Church. We are called to be in disorder but not be disordered. We navigate the chaos for the salvation of our neighbor—fishing them out of darkness and death of the worldly waters and into the great Ark of our Salvation, the Catholic Church. We are agents of order to disorder, of light to darkness, of hope to despair, and of life to death.

Before we end, let us examine the end of Scripture. In the Book of Revelation, St. John writes:

And I saw a beast coming out of the sea. It had ten horns and seven heads, with ten crowns on its horns, and on each head a blasphemous name… The whole world was filled with wonder and followed the beast. People worshiped the dragon because he had given authority to the beast, and they also worshiped the beast and asked, “Who is like the beast? Who can wage war against it?” (Rev 13:1-4)

Here, we see the return of the great sea beast, the Leviathan, who serves as a type of antichrist in the Apocalypse. He represents disorder, death, chaos, and is contrary to God in all ways. The people, echoing a corruption of St. Michael’s name, praise the sea beast saying, “Who is like the beast? Who can wage war against it?” The irony of their praise is found in recalling what God said about the Leviathan in Job–it can bring swift death to us, but to God it is nothing, a plaything to be led on a string. As demonstrated by Christ throughout the New Testament, God has absolute authority over the waters, the chaos, and all that dwell therein.

But we, placing our hope in Christ, know that the great sea beast is defeated and a new earth and a new heaven are created. Our biblical examination of water concludes as St. John writes toward the end of his Apocalypse:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more (Rev 21:1).

There is no sea in the new earth. Chaos has been brought to order, darkness to light, death to life, and the Leviathan, the sea beast, is defeated by the Lamb. The allegory of water provides an architectonic template to understanding the entire narrative of Salvation History, and it is a divine story given to us to provide hope amongst the death and darkness of daily life.

In the Gospel of Luke, Christ is with His disciples and tells them to “push out into the deep,” into the “deep water” (Lk 5:4). So too is Christ calling us to push out into the deep and draw out the souls who need Him the most. May we always be willing to take the hope of God into the depths of chaos.

This article is an adaptation of the talk entitled “On Water, Chaos & Catholic Leadership” given at the 2021 USCCB national Child & Youth Protection Conference in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and similarly a talk entitled “On Hope & Chaos: A Biblical Study on Water” at the 2021 Idea of a Village Conference in Locust Grove, Oklahoma.

ON FAITH & FORTITUDE: THE SHIELD OF SIR GAWAIN

On New Year’s Eve, King Arthur was with his knights and other guests at the round table. As was his custom, King Arthur would not begin to eat until he had heard some story of wonder and renown. Suddenly, a man on horseback came riding into his hall. He was a giant clothed completely in the color green bearing a huge, ornate axe. In fact, to the amazement of the guests, the half-giant knight had skin and hair colored green—even his horse was green. Known aptly as the “Green Knight,” he issued a challenge to those brave heroes in Arthur’s hall: one of them would be permitted to strike the Green Knight once with his own axe, and then the Green Knight would strike him once in return.

The hall was silent before the massive, green man. Eventually, Sir Gawain stood before the Green Knight and brokered terms of the holiday game. Sir Gawain would strike the Green Knight and then, a year later, Sir Gawain would have to journey to the chapel of the Green Knight to stand and receive his strike.

Sir Gawain lifted the axe and swung with all his might—the head of the Green Knight went rolling across the floor. The game had apparently come to its predictable end. Yet, to the amazement of King Arthur’s court, the headless knight walked over, picked up his head, and galloped away, reminding Sir Gawain he would see him one year hence.

In this 14th century anonymous poem, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, our hero must find the fortitude to journey and face his green foe. While his overall pilgrimage is certainly worth reading (please do not watch the 2021 movie), what is most apt for us is how Sir Gawain found the fortitude he needed to start his journey. The author spends a great amount of time telling us about Sir Gawain’s armor, but most notable for us is his shield. On the inside of his shield, Sir Gawain has painted a picture of the Blessed Virgin Mary. In this manner, when he lifts his shield in battle, her eyes will meet his – and he will be encouraged. In the maternal eyes of Mary, he will find the fortitude necessary to do what is asked of him.

Sir Gawain invites us to understand that fortitude is necessary for a virtuous life. It does not matter if you are smart enough to understand what is right if you are too afraid to do it. How many of us know what the Gospel demands of us but buckle under the pressure of our culture?

Though our faith makes demands upon our fortitude, it also helps it. Faith perfects or strengthens our fortitude. This interplay between faith and fortitude is reflected in today’s Scripture readings.

In the first reading, the author praises the Jews whose faith in God allowed them to have the bravery to endure hardships and await justice (Wis 18:6-9). The author states, “Your people awaited the salvation of the just and the destruction of their foes”—their faith allowed their fortitude to hold.

In the second reading, we see how the faith of Abraham gave him the courage to leave his homeland and endure hardships for the sake of the vocation to which God had called him (Heb 11:1-2, 8-19). The greatest test of which was God’s call for Abraham to sacrifice his only son—Isaac. Abraham’s fortitude, perfected by his faith, allowed for a narrative that would foreshadow God the Father sending His own Son to be sacrificed.

Third, in today’s Gospel, Christ tells us to “[g]ird your loins and light your lamps”—to be brave and to have faith (Lk 12:32-48). For to us, His “little flock,” He has given the Kingdom, if we can endure the hardships of the world for the sake of the Cross.

After linking the virtues of faith and fortitude, our Gospel today ends with a warning. Alluding to the end times, Christ tells us that when the Master comes, He will throw the wicked servant amongst the “unfaithful” for punishment. A clear analogue to hell. Yet, He says of the servant who knew the will of his Master but did not do it—that servant will be saved but punished severely. A clear analogue to purgatory.

Christ’s warning is clear: We will be disciplined—either by our own will in this life or by the Divine Will in the life to come. Knowing the will of God is not enough. We must have the fortitude to live the Gospel—to be mocked, to be alienated, to endure hardship all for the sake of Jesus Christ.

May we, like Sir Gawain, find encouragement in Mother Mary to live the life expected of us—a life of faith and fortitude.

On the Poem the Pearl & Seeking the Higher Good

We come upon a man who has lost something. A spotless pearl has slipped through his fingers and is now lost in the earth. He grieves and cries. His heart hurts with a cruel pain and a torment churns within his chest (Pearl, no. 2). He lays on the mound in the garden still seeking his pearl—but his pearl will never be found. For the pearl that slipped through his fingers into the earth was his infant daughter, now buried beneath him. He lies on her grave crying out for his perfect pearl, and he drifts into sleep. Providence provides the father with a vision. The man is transported to a celestial garden with crystal cliffs and jeweled forests (nos. 7-9). He walks until he comes to a river with waves like glass illuminated by light, shining like the stars. On the other side of the river, he observes great heavenly cliffs, and at their base, walking by the river, he sees a beautiful young woman (no.14). She is arrayed like a heavenly queen, a bride of Christ, with glistening robes all adorned with pearls. The longer the man looks, the more his heart knows that this young woman is somehow his daughter. She is his spotless pearl. Overcome with bliss, his heart expands just to contain the joy. The father cries out to his lost daughter. Yet, the heavenly maiden turns her grey eyes upon her father with a cool and collected spirit. She is reserved and, with a surreal solemnity, gently reproaches her father for what she calls “madness” (no. 23). The anticipated reunion of father and daughter gives way to daughter, now a heavenly saint, expressing her concerns for him. Why does he grieve for her when she is safe in heaven—but he is still in the struggles of life? Why does he seek her in heaven and not God? The jarring nature of their reunion is, at its heart, a clash of earthly expectations against divine ones. What follows is a beautiful dialogue between father and daughter about the nature of true happiness and what her father must do to secure it. In a preliminary manner, the jarring character of the father’s reunion with the daughter is reflected in the meeting of Jesus, Mary, and Martha. Mary, the sister of Lazarus, lies at the feet of Jesus listening to Him, while Martha flitters around the house serving her guests. When Martha asks our Lord for Martha to help, it is somewhat contrary to our expectations to hear Christ decline and side with Mary. Is it not good for Martha to serve her guests? Often, we reduce the moral life to avoiding evil and choosing the good. And while this is arguably the most basic moral precept, much of life is actually choosing between different goods. It was good that the father loved his daughter, just as it was good Martha wanted to serve her guests. In both cases, however, the father and Martha had to learn to choose a higher good over a lesser good. It was good the father loved his daughter, but it was better for him to love God. It was good Martha wanted to serve others, but it was better for her to be at the feet of Jesus. A key insight here, however, is that seeking the higher good does not exclude the lower. In fact, the higher will always perfect the lower. If the father loves God first, then he will love his daughter with a more perfect love. If Martha chooses to sit at the feet of Jesus, then it will ultimately perfect her service to others. At the end of the Pearl, an anonymous 1300s poem, the daughter, that queenly, heavenly virgin, a true spotless pearl, shows her father that true happiness is in God. He then sees the Lamb, standing victorious yet slain, and the father is so overcome with zeal to be with God that he attempts to cross the river. He awakes from his dream on the grave of his daughter. He still must live his earthly pilgrimage. He must seek the true Pearl, Jesus Christ, and order all other goods to this end.

Solzhenitsyn and True Freedom

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn stood before 20,000 people at the 1978 Harvard graduation ceremony. Aleksandr, a Russian, had spent ten years of hard labor in the Soviet gulags on trumped up charges before fleeing to the United States. He had risen to fame in the West by shining a light on Soviet atrocities through his writings, such as The Gulag Archipelago, a true accounting of those who endured the inhumanity of the Soviet labor camps. Thus, as he stood before Harvard University, he was expected to lambaste the Soviets and praise the West, especially the United States, in which he had found refuge. Yet, Aleksandr took an unexpected turn. While he certainly lamented the suffering of his homeland under the Soviets, he took up the question of whether he would recommend the West as a model for his home country—he answered “no.” Shocking his audience, he further explained that under the West men and women had become fractured, atomized, and subject to a false freedom. He observed that this false sense of freedom had taught mankind that there was no “higher force” above him—that man was an autonomous moral universe. It was a freedom that would end in ruin. The disease Aleksandr diagnosed in the late 1970s has only metastasized and increased in severity. For us, as moderns and Americans, the concept of freedom means a lack of restraint and a plurality of options for our own self-creation. The more choices we have, the more freedom we believe we have. Thus, our modern age tells us that we are the most freewhen we have the most choices to pursue what we desire. Most notably, this modern notion of freedom is almost entirely removed from considerations of what is good or bad. Freedom is just about choice—what is good or bad is relative to each individual. This notion of freedom would have been incomprehensible to the ancient Greeks and Romans and our own Early Church Fathers. The ancient notion of freedom was not about maximizing choice but was rather about self-discipline. Freedom, for the ancients, meant cultivating a self-governance that freed you from our inclination toward evil and disorder. True freedom was cultivated in a person by practicing virtue. In fact, the original meaning of the liberal arts was an education that freed you to pursue the good, the beautiful, and the true. Freedom meant you were free to choose what was good and you had that interior freedom by the virtue of self-governance and self-control. You were the master of your passions and desires—not the other way around. If freedom truly is the ability to choose what is good and beautiful in this life, then to choose what is evil cannot be an act of authentic freedom. Here, we see the ancient understanding of freedom at work in the New Testament. As St. Paul tells us, to sin is not an expression of our freedom but rather of slavery. He who sins is not free. If we use our freedom to choose gossip, to amass material goods, to consume pornography, to lie, and to pursue what we deem good over what is truly good, God—then we are not free persons but slaves. We are, in fact, the most free when we pursue what is the most good—God. We are the most free when we are detached from sin and choose what is good, beautiful, and true. Let us not fall prey to the false freedom of our age. What the world praises as freedom is slavery. Let us truly be free in Jesus Christ by exercising self-governance by disciplining our desires and cultivating virtues.