The Need for Freedom

Freedom does not ordinarily mean doing whatever we happen to want. I may want to make some money, but I do not think myself free to exploit other people’s financial ignorance by cheating them out of thousands of dollars. The reason is that I exercise my freedom in a world of other persons whose interests need to be safeguarded along with my own. Since freedom is social from the start it has limits, fairness being one of them.

Those who take a religious vow of obedience take such limits to a level most of us find unacceptable. They voluntarily surrender their liberty to a social entity small or large—their religious superior, for example, their religious order, an entire church, or all three of these.  They do this for two main reasons. First, they understand the person or agency to which they submit as by and large representing the will of God for them. Second, they want to remind us that we are free only in relation to someone else, God included. Our freedom remains social therefore, not individual.

But there is nothing like a vow of obedience such as I took when I was a Jesuit to demonstrate how precious our freedom is. I have insisted in both of my previous posts on the religious vows (“The Need to Own” and “The Nearly Unbearable Challenge of Celibacy”) that they have value only in so far as they require a person to sacrifice something that also has value: ownership in the case of poverty, marriage in the case of chastity, and freedom in the case of obedience. On the day I bought my first home, I danced on the front lawn. On all 52 of my wedding anniversaries I rejoiced in my good fortune in finding the spouse right for me. And when I exercised my freedom to pursue a fellowship for graduate study in English—a risky move my Jesuit superior could not support financially—I was delighted when it eventually became clear how inwardly satisfied that decision made me. When you take a vow of obedience, these are the kinds of pleasures you may have to forgo unless they are consistent with your self-surrender to some religious authority.  If these pleasures were valueless, they wouldn’t be worth giving up.

The photo is of me in the seminary at 18 with my father and mother on either side.  My father died of cancer at 46, shortly before I took my vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. That was a few months after my 19th birthday.

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Basilica of the Annunciation: Nazareth

Although there are several mosques in Nazareth and also several churches of different Christian denominations, this modern Church of the Annunciation, completed in 1969, is a special pleasure to visit, at least for a Roman Catholic. It is imposing by comparison with the nearby Church of Saint Joseph,  but that would hardly be an isssue for Joseph himself, whose signature characteristic was being unsung.

The first photo here Israel 452Israel 439Israel 450is of the Basilica itself and the second of the Grotto of the Annunciation. According to Roman Catholic tradition the Grotto sits on the site of Mary’s house in Nazareth, where she accepted the call to be the mother of Jesus, the Son of God (the Annunciation). The Grotto is where Masses are said.

Above the Grotto and in a large outside space within the Church are images of Mary from many, many countries of the world that reflect those countries’ diverse artistic styles.  See photo 3 for one of them.

Nazareth in 2009

According to most accounts Nazareth was a small Jewish settlement in Jesus’s time. It was apparently held in some contempt, an idea reinforced by the uncomplimentary labelling of Jesus as “Jesus of Nazareth” and of early Christians as “Nazarenes.” Nazareth was designated by the Christian testament as the hometown of Joseph and Mary, the place where Mary accepted the call of an angel (the annunciation) to become the mother of Jesus, the town to which Mary and Joseph returned after the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem and the family’s flight into Egypt, and finally the place where Jesus grew up.

My first photo is of the restaurant Mary and I confronted as soon as we stepped off our bus and the second of a Nazareth market. The third is of a highly unwelcoming sign asserting the Muslim faith as one true one.

Nazareth is a now a town of Israeli citizens consisting of Muslims and Christians, some of the latter Palestinian Christians.  The Christian-Muslin tensions are obvious, and Nazareth, especially Lower Nazareth, is by no means thriving. Anti-Israeli and pro-Palestinian sentiments run high. The Sea of Galilee is not far away.Israel 426Israel 431Israel 429

On Being A Writer

Goodreads asks its authors to answer some questions about being a writer. Here are my answers which, though not all that clever or witty, are at least honest. The gist of them is this: the better you know who you are, the better writer you’ll make.

Ask the Author: Ronald C. Wendling

“Ask me a question.” Ronald C. Wendling
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Ronald C. Wendling I am at the beginning of my resolve to read the Complete Works of Henry James, with the possible exception of those I have already read. I am now just about to finish Roderick Hudson.
Ronald C. Wendling What could have happened to me in my early life to make me think that spending nine years in a Jesuit seminary represented the man I really was when it is so obvious fifty years later that marriage, children, family life and a career teaching literature was what I was cut out for. How did it happen that I made, without really knowing it, the right decision.
Ronald C. Wendling Elizabeth Bennet and Mr Darcy in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. As their relationship grows they bring out the best in each other.
Ronald C. Wendling I was a teacher for my whole career and wrote mainly for other scholars in my field. As I neared the end of that career and started thinking about the years I had left I felt a need to try to sum things up. My 2015 memoir, Unsuitable Treasure: An Ex-Jesuit Makes Peace with the Past, was an effort in that direction. It kept me centered on what in my past truly belonged to my present self, who I really am, and at what points in my past I got off the track.
Ronald C. Wendling Life is full of distractions, so much so that we sometimes become distracted from the person we actually are. Being a writer keeps me centered. I still have all sorts of distractions, of course. But thinking about what to write and sitting down to write it keeps me centered on what’s important to me and what is not.
Ronald C. Wendling I walk almost every morning, weather permitting. I try to walk mindfully–that is, focusing on the sights and sounds that are there because they will never return in just that form again. So I try to absorb myself in the moment, except that the thoughts that inevitably come while I’m trying to do that are often about what I am writing or planning to write soon. Those thoughts hardly ever come out on the page in the form they took in my mind, but it’s in those thoughts that my writing almost always begins.
Ronald C. Wendling I’m doing a lot of blogging, mostly in the form of book reviews that try to connect the book I’m reviewing with the memoir I published last year: Unsuitable Treasure: An Ex-Jesuit Makes Peace with the Past. I’m essentially waiting to see if I have another book in me and, if so, trying to let the main idea of it come to me easily and naturally–not in some Eureka! moment. I don’t generally have such moments. All I really want is to make my writing–next book or not–do some good in the world.
Ronald C. Wendling Think of yourself as a writer, take pride in that thought, and think it with confidence. Don’t waste time worrying about getting an agent or a publisher–all that may come with time. People admire writers-they would like to be you. So stand comfortably in the spotlight when it hits you.
Ronald C. Wendling I’ve rarely experienced it. For me writing is less a matter of inspiration than almost daily hard work. Sometimes the going gets rough, meaning the time I’m spending writing is not that productive, but something usually comes of it, even if it’s only revising a paragraph or so that I’ve already written.


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Northern Israel: Haifa

Haifa is on the road north from Tel Aviv through Caesarea to the Israeli-Lebanon border.  The first photo here is of the Port of Haifa and the second of the Louis Promenade (King Louis of France was one of the medieval Crusaders who led expeditions designed, at least ostensibly, to retrieve the Holy Land from Islam). The view from the promenade is breathtaking. Northern Israel is also the site of Mount Carmel, associated with Elijah in the Jewish testament, and Haifa University.

The 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah, an Islamist militant group based in Lebanon, resulted in countless casualties, and in a sense that war continues now with the tunnels built by Hezbollah and the Israeli efforts to wall them up.

The last photo is of our tour bus. Next stop in these blog posts:Israel 413Israel 417Israel 418 Nazareth.