Pope Benedict has written that false autonomy leads to slavery. This oxymoronic concept is indeed provocative: to strive for total independence is to achieve total imprisonment.
So many of us today are rootless and unguided by the wisdom of tradition and community. Voluntarily or otherwise, we lead lives ‘free’ of limits and ‘unconstrained’ by values. Relationship, if it exists at all, is a fabricated and transient convenience. We ignore or eschew the purposeful discipline and commitment full maturity requires and subsequently accept sterile stultification as our stunted norm.
Our popular education is unhelpful as it focuses on the utilitarian ‘how’ of creation while neglecting the soul-nourishing ‘why’. Our culture, if it can be so identified, is no longer effective in transmitting an awareness of the eternal verities. Seduced by the siren song of individualism we succumb to that ever ancient, ever new falsehood that claims we are creators rather than creatures of reality. Unsatisfied by the hollow fruit of this twisted mind-set, we continue our empty pursuit of vitiating allurements and our lives, rather than blossom with promise, whither with despair.
Free of the demands of exogenous reality we find ourselves shackled with self- imposed loneliness. How can we – so imprisoned in the denial of reality – recognize truth, appreciate justice, or embrace beauty?
The etymology of the term ‘liberal arts’ may be instructive here. Artes Liberales were the seven “attainments” (rhetoric, logic, grammar, music, astronomy, geometry and arithmetic) which our 14th century predecessors believed ‘liberated’ students from parochial self-absorption. To be ‘educated’ was to be ‘led out’ of oneself to an understanding of higher reality. It’s curious how the word ‘liberal’ today has assumed such a different connotation. Education itself has become apprenticeship. Unity of knowledge is a meaningless phrase.
Readers who relate to the dangers of false autonomy and seek fellowship in developing a deeper understanding should acquaint themselves with “The New York Encounter.” This entertaining and edifying annual public event in New York City features conferences, artistic performances, and opportunities for education, dialogue and friendship. Its website (www.newyorkencounter.org) states: “The Encounter aims to discover, affirm and offer to everyone truly human expressions of the desire for truth, beauty, and justice. The Encounter thus becomes a meeting point for people of different beliefs, traditions and cultures striving for reciprocal understanding, mutual building and true friendship.” It is an occasion for celebration, for learning and for joyful companionship.
The theme for the 2017 Encounter comes from the writings of Msgr. Luigi Giussani, founder of the Catholic movement Communion and Liberation, the organization responsible for this three day event. He wrote: Reality as it emerges in experience is so positive that it presents itself as inexorably appealing. Instead of appealing we might use another word … promising
As the Kingdom advances, let’s march together towards this promise, better yet – let’s dance!
Dana Robinson is chair of the board of trustees of the National Catholic Community Foundation.