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.
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 is 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.
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.
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.
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: Nazareth.
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