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The Will to be Free

March 4, 2014 by  
Filed under Book Club, Vicki Burbach

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Interior Freedom (Week 2 of 5)

More often than not, we feel that our freedom is limited by our circumstances: the restrictions imposed on us by society, the obligations of all kinds that other people lay upon us, this or that physical or health limitation, and so on. To find our freedom, we imagine we have to get rid of those restrictions and limitations. When we feel stifled or trapped in some way by circumstances, we resent the institutions or the people that seem to be their cause. How many grievances we have toward everything in life that doesn’t go as we wish, and so prevents us from being as free as we would desire! – Interior Freedom, Chapter I:I, Outward Freedom or Interior Freedom, Paragraph II

The Will to be FREE

I must admit that I'm a sucker for all those “pull yourself up by your own bootstraps” kind of stories.  You know…like the one about the king who was ousted from his country, escaped to America penniless, scrimped and saved until he came up with the money for a dry-cleaning business, slept with his family for five years on the floor in the back of his shop, became a millionaire through his propensity to offer great service, lost everything in a fire, and started over, only to become a millionaire again a few years later?

I am so impressed by people who have overcome every obstacle to obtain their goals.  The idea of “overcoming” is exciting, inspirational and as American as apple pie!  I always have this figurative image of someone literally bursting out of the shackles that have burdened them for so long, free to pursue the desires of his heart, despite overwhelming odds.

Juxtapose that image with the notion of interior freedom.  Interior freedom is about overcoming, but not necessarily in a worldly way.  Rather than resulting from breaking out of shackles, it’s about overcoming exterior (or interior) obstacles, infringements, abuses, inconveniences, or situations with the interior joy that comes from knowing Christ, and trusting Him. Knowing that the King of the Universe is in your corner, regardless of how dire things look in the eyes of the “world.”  Rather than merely rejoicing at the external victory, interior freedom offers peace and joy in the midst of trial.

As much as I enjoy reading about people who have overcome great odds, it wasn’t until I read He Leadeth Me, by Walter Ciszek, that I learned the true meaning of freedom.  Captured by the Russian army during WWII, Ciszek was placed in prison for being a “Vatican Spy,” and spent 23 years in Soviet prisons and labor camps, during which time he developed a profound sense of interior freedom.  His story provides an intimate glimpse into his spiritual journey – from his initial capture as a Catholic priest, through his amazing interior transformation, as he learned to live in captivity as a “free” man; and finally, to his release from physical bondage, as a man of great faith and love.

Early in the narrative of his capture, Ciszek would readily admit that he lacked interior freedom. But as his story continues, you can literally see the wheels turning as you watch the peace come over him gradually, almost like a warm blanket.  At some point in the final third of the book, Ciszek shares a beautiful definition of Interior Freedom, wisdom garnered from 23 years of experience:

The body can be confined, but nothing can destroy the deepest freedom in man, the freedom of the soul, and the freedom of mind and will. These are the highest and noblest faculties in man, they are what make him the sort of man he is, and they cannot be constrained. Even in prison a man retains his free will, his freedom of choice. Even in prison, a man can choose to do good or evil, to fight for survival or to despair, to serve God and others or to turn inward and selfish…

…Ultimately, the only absolute freedom we have resides in a man’s free will. And that freedom was given us by our Creator, essentially, so that we might freely choose to love and serve Him. All other creatures serve Him out of exigency; by their very being and existence they witness to His power and His love, or reflect His glory or beauty in some way. Only to man and the angels has He given the power of freely choosing to love and serve Him. He has made us a little less than the angels, has given us intellect and free will – and that is the hallmark of man, at once his crowning glory, his most precious gift, his most terrifying responsibility. Only man can freely choose not to serve his Creator.

It is in choosing to serve God, to do His will, that man achieves his highest and fullest freedom (p. 156-158).

May we all gain the joy and peace that comes from living out God's call on our lives each and every day, regardless of what the day brings.

Reading Assignment:

Week 2: p. 35-60 (Ch. I – Read to end of #3: Accepting Suffering)

Discussion Questions:

1. In your daily life, do you think interior freedom is easier or more challenging to acquire than external freedom (external as in overcoming material obstacles)?  Why do you think that is?

2. Are there times when Interior Freedom comes more easily to you than it does at other times?  If so, when and why?

Feel free to comment on anything from our assignment this past week!

Read more: Previous Book Club Posts

For More Information on the Book Club:  http://spiritualdirection.com/csd-book-club

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About Vicki Burbach

Vicki Burbach is a wife and homeschooling mother of six children ages four to sixteen years who relishes the calm inspiration of spiritual reading amidst the roller coaster of life. A passionate convert to the Faith, Vicki is an avid reader who started the SpiritualDirection.com book club so she could embark with like-minded bibliophiles on a spiritual journey through some of the greatest Catholic books ever written. She is author of the new book How to Read Your Way to Heaven - A Spiritual Reading Program for the Worst of Sinners, the Greatest of Saints, and Everyone in Between. You can also find her at pelicansbreast.com

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  • Camila

    1. Internal freedom is much more difficult.
    2. Definitely! When I’m alone, minding my work and living in constant conversation with our Lord.

  • I was really struck by this section, too, Vicki, and I’m a sucker for the underdog and up-by-the-bootstraps stuff too.

    I think that the interior and external freedoms are linked in my life. When I’m at a good place with one, I’m able to work on the other. But if one is off balance, the other will be affected.

    So when I’m controlling my approach to things, when I’m frequenting Confession and the sacraments, when I’m following the “rules” in an external way, I’m free to examine and pursue my interior freedom, to be conscious of it.

    And I think, when that’s the case, that interior freedom is more easily dealt with and approached.

    When I’m in conversation with God (which means I’m listening and not just blathering on and on and on), that also aids things. But isn’t that part of frequenting the sacraments, too? It is for me.

    • Vicki

      Question for discussion – how would that work if you were unable to participate in the sacraments? As in, what if we lived in WWII Russia where there was not a Mass to be found?

    • danhorse

      Hello All,

      So many good comments! It’s going to be a great Lent because God has given us such great gifts to start it with, like THIS book club, reading THIS book, at THIS time.

      Remember, no one is here by chance.

      For me inner freedom is an ebb and flow; sometimes I got it, sometimes I ain’t. During those struggling times when I feel like I can’t even pray I just say to myself, keep going; just carry on. I tell myself, be faithful, even if that means going on auto-pilot for a while. Do it for the love of God. So make your efforts daily and don’t fret about what you don’t have or feel at this moment because it’s our faithfulness that God desires, even when we are flying blind so to speak. In fact it’s our faithfulness, when we have intense dryness, that God finds most pleasing.

      For me, when I am feeling spiritually dry, if I keep a certain amount of discipline each day like daily rosary, spiritual reading, etc. then when I come out of that dark period, God has so many presents waiting for me and that understanding of interior freedom is one of them! It’s our faithfulness that God loves.

      Sometimes God sends us off into the desert to teach us what He wants us to learn about Him. Some deserts are wider than others (and drier too!) but God is giving us these obstacles for a reason and even if we fail at times, He’s not looking at our failures, but our successes (no matter how small, He still rejoices!) and He is building our understanding of what true freedom is.

      I came into the book club just today so have some catching up to do. I downloaded the book on my Kindle and then had to go to the barn to wait for my vet to come to work on one of my horse’s teeth (of all
      things). My vet never made it, he had an emergency and had to pull a calf from a mom cow who was having a hard time. So I was sitting on the hay stack reading the first chapters of this book and I was so touched by the greatness of God and how He is giving me just what I need.

      Looking forward to more comments. Thanks and God bless.

  • Charisse

    1. I find interior conversion much harder, as changing spiritual aspects of ourselves tends to be out of our control. Not only does it require grace, which God can only provide, but it requires our cooperation with grace, a desire to change for the better, for such conversion, and usually our pride gets in the way of that too easily.

    2. When one is in consolation, I find it easier to have such interior freedom as I would usually be at peace with God and His requests. When met with a task (of God’s Will for example) that one does not want to do, it is hard to believe (sometimes) that God allows such things (pain, suffering, etc) for a greater good and also to justify to ourselves sometimes that it is not only for our good but for others as well.

  • Diana Marie Winkler

    ” I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.” Michaelangelo. For many years I piled ” things” up on me so eventually I couldn’t see who I was, I was like a chunk of marble that was just sitting there. Thankfully, the Lord looked at me, like Michaelangelo looked at a chunk of marble, and started carving away! He set me free to be ME! Achieving internal freedom can be difficult at times. But, for me, it’s easier if I take baby steps and allow the Lord to do His work in me. It takes discipline and passion to want it badly enough. For me, I make a decision, a choice, to spend a certain amount of time with the Lord, His Blessed Mother and the Saints on a daily basis. I call it my ” cloister” time, no interruptions….To some, it may seem I am ” chaining” myself to this regimen but I look at it as releasing the shackles that once held me. Thank You, Lord!

  • Robert Kraus

    Can we put He Leadeth Me on the future Book Club list? I’ve heard many good things about this one and am looking for an excuse to finally pick it up. 🙂

    I think interior freedom is much harder to acquire. Even in the midst of great external freedom and maybe license, you’re still a prisoner unless you’re free inside. Yet it’s not easy. So often I’m tempted to abide by how the world views success, wisdom, and freedom. That nagging doubt exists at the back of your mind, asking yourself if all this effort is just a waste and to just give in to the world’s easy talk of external freedom and success. Yet something even deeper tells me that the interior freedom lies at the heart of my identity. I just can’t give up the struggle.

    • Vicki

      Robert, I’ll definitely put it on the list! I read it two years ago for Lent, and found it to be life changing in that it was the first time I ever really considered that one could be completely restricted on the outside, but still experience peace and joy inside. I had read many stories of the martyrs, but I never really identified with them. Fr. Ciszek clearly developed that joy over time, as he realized what the Gospel really meant. His book does a wonderful job of illustrating the concepts that Fr. Philippe describes.

  • Mary L

    Thanks to all for your thoughts and experiences. I read this book several years ago and have really needed to read it again, but honestly forgot I had it until I saw this book study.

    For me, interior freedom is a little like contemplation. You can’t ‘make’ it happen but you can prepare yourself, be ready, be open, be willing to receive it. The moments (and I DO mean moments) that I have experienced interior freedom at some level have been kind of a surprise. Those moments rarely happen during prayer but most often in relationships.

    So what’s my part? I took a few minutes to watch the EWTN video of Fr. Philippe and he pretty much gave the recipe:

    + persevere in prayer (for me that means to ‘show up’ on a regular basis regardless of the quality of prayer time)
    + accept yourself as you are (including….even especially your weaknesses)
    +confidence in God’s love and mercy
    +live in the present moment-putting the past in the mercy and forgiveness of God and the future in the perfect loving hands of God.

  • Tina

    1. After starting to read this section of the book, I discovered that interior freedom is a new concept for me. I had never considered it before. In my daily life, I believe that overcoming material obstacles and acquiring external freedom would be easier for me than finding interior freedom. I don’t feel that I have the interior freedom described by Fr. Philippe and would need to work very hard to achieve it with God’s help.
    2. I don’t think I’ve experienced Interior Freedom or, let me put it this way; I’ve been unaware that this was possible. I’ve been too busy battling all the circumstances
    that are present in daily living and some that just come out of left field that
    rock your life. Reflecting on this, I think that it would really be something good for me if I could work toward this Interior Freedom. I feel that I am going to benefit greatly from this
    book.

  • Lisa

    This is the first time I am partaking in the Book Club. It is so good to learn from you all. I sense (dare I say HOPE) very strongly that I am on the verge of something…..moving in a direction that will help me be healed from past wounds and sins, as well as many mistakes. Yet, at the same time, I am still soooo very very far from where I need to be–a great deal of work lies before me. Interior freedom is a huge struggle for me, and I find exterior freedom no piece of cake either. It is as though my mind never shuts down. I am often chained to worry an anxieties, fears, and discouragement…..sometimes more than others.

    When I read from the book last night about being “relaxed” with God—it was like reading a foreign language. I have to say, with the exception of rare moments, that is not my experience with God. Yes, I “KNOW” that God is
    Love, that He loves unconditionally, and desires me to be with Him each day and eternally. But, I’ve yet to feel that reality in my heart. My trust issues are quite deep, and as much as I pray and ask for healing, for trust, for help and grace, (EACH DAY) I am still struggling so much. And, so no, I have yet to really experience this with God.

    On the one hand, as I pray each day, and try to grow in holiness, try to work on “myself” through this website and spiritual readings, attend daily Mass, etc., it would seem to finally sink in by now. Then, as soon as something happens in the course of our day, something that is a difficulty (usually relating to childrearing and marriage) it all goes out the window. Well, truth be told, maybe not always, but more than I would like to admit. I know I’ve got control issues…and rely on my own efforts as I’ve grown accustomed to. How does one truly surrender one’s will to God’s grace. How?

    So, as I embark on this journey with you, I beg your prayers, and I pray for you. I am hopeful (while at the same time feeling some discouragement and cynicism) that this will be a step in God’s direction for me. I long for and desire to experience what the author writes about. It feels like it’s on the other side of the world, though. (Sigh)

    Ever since I was introduced to this website, remarkable insights and spiritual riches have been poured into my lap. I believe the Holy Spirit led me here…. and now, in this particular place and time with you, I will remain open to whatever God wishes to offer me in His love.

    • Vicki

      Lisa, God’s grace is amazing, and I’m sure it’s no accident that you’ve found this site. We’re so glad you’ve joined us and I’ll certainly pray for you on your journey to toward interior freedom – and we thank you so much for your offered prayers as well! God bless!

      • Lisa

        I am grateful to you and all those who welcome me here. This may be jumping ahead …. But my question still remains– How does one surrender to God? What does it look like? I pray for this and attempt to, but am fumbling at each turn. I know God’s grace is what is most needed, but aren’t my efforts critical? It is hard to understand the balance between the two for someone like me who is struggling with control issues.

        • Vicki

          Lisa, I don’t think you are alone. I’m sure most of us struggle in this area – we are so connected to our “selves” that it’s difficult to “let go and let God” so to speak.

          I’m often reminded of someone learning to swim. I used to teach swimming lessons, and when kids learned to float, they struggled so much against me that the were sure to drown if I let them go. It was only when they relaxed and trusted me that they were able to float. In the beginning, their “trust” was forced -but over time, they relaxed, and they became comfortable in the water. In every moment, we need to relax – and thank God for that moment and for the next, knowing that He placed us there for a reason. Acceptance and gratitude for each moment or situation seem to be the first step toward surrender. In the beginning, it takes the discipline on our part – but over time, like anything else, it becomes more natural.

          As far as what it looks like? I think Fr.Ciszek demonstrates what it looks like in his book when he says :

          “We had to learn to look at our daily iives, at everything that crossed our path each day, with the eyes of God; learning to see his estimate of things, places, and above all people, recognizing that he had a goal and a purpose in bringing us into contact with these things and these people, and striving always to do that will – his will – every hour of every day in the situations in which he had placed us. For what other purpose had we been created?”

          (Note that he said “we had to learn…” – it’s a process – God will certainly bless all your desires and your efforts to surrender to Him.) Great book that was life-changing for me: Trustful Surrender to Divine Providence – we’ve read it in this club – check out those posts if you’d like. Hopefully they will be helpful too.

          • Lisa

            Vicki, The opening sentence of your last reply sends a message of hope and relief to me. While I don’t wish this on others, it is good to know somehow, that others can and do relate to my struggle. You give me some things to dwell on – to deeply reflect upon and bring into my prayer space. Thank you for the recommended books you suggested as well. I plan to make a visit to those posts. Meantime, I am beginning to realize more and more that our family will benefit from outside help (counseling?) and that I truly am in need of a spiritual mentor. Some of these issues are simply beyond the tools I have to manage on my own. Even though God provides the grace, I think He is asking me to lean on others’ wisdom and professional skills to get through this. The challenge is trying to get it all set up and still get through each day without losing it.

            Your swim analogy makes perfect sense! Will remember it often. I think there are a lot of elements caught up in my need for control. While I know that some traits can be a gift to others (planner, organizer, prepared for unexpected), it can be stifling if it comes on too heavy-handed or I lose perspective (which happens a good deal). Ultimately, it is an illusion….I really do not have complete control anyway. Easier said than to live that truth. I tend to take myself way too seriously, take others in my immediate circle the same, and get very discouraged along the road. Just dialoguing like this is very beneficial. I know time is a limited resource, so I don’t expect a reply to everything I said. And others are engaged here as well. It’s just good to have a safe place to share. Thanks again!

  • Michelle

    I’m new to this book club as well, but the Holy Spirit is really working. I have felt called to read this book for the past couple of months (I actually bought it in January), but didn’t have the motivation. Thank you!

    1. Interior freedom for me is much more difficult to acquire than external freedom and I think that is because material obstacles either have a solution or they don’t. I tend to resolve whatever obstacle comes up. What is really hard is when the obstacle cannot be overcome. Then I have to see God’s love in the obstacle, accept it and embrace it as part of God’s plan for me… doesn’t come that easily.

    2. At first I thought, no, haven’t had a lot of experience with interior freedom,
    still need to work on that. But then, I realized that God has given me the grace to unite myself to Him and free myself from frustration whenever I get sick – be it a headache, flu, or anything else. He has allowed me to unite this suffering to Him and “complete in my flesh what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions” Col. 1:24. It is a very freeing experience to give meaning to my little physical drawbacks.

    • Vicki

      Welcome, Michelle! Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts – we’re so glad you’ve joined us!

  • Angel P

    This is my first time posting in response to questions from a book club. I feel a little inadequate to answer these questions. There are times that I feel I am achieving some form of interior freedom, but my control issues come into play. I like to have control both interiorly & exteriorly.
    I am hoping that by reading this book and joining in this discussion that I may grow in both my spiritual & my personal life. I know that all things are possible through Christ and that He is here with me on my journey. That does keep despair and most anxiety at bay.
    It is easy to feel you have achieved freedom when things are going smoothly. It is in rough times that interior freedom seems to disappear from sight.

  • Marianne Mooney Rhoads

    Wonderful book and written so clearly. I struggle with that internal damaged view that I have to be perfect to be loved. God gives me grace to see the pride and foolishness of that but it is still there in the background. Fr. Philippe describes it so well. The internal freedom for me is the freedom to change my attitude, to receive God’s grace and accept His view as truth. Very, very hard to do – only with grace. At work, I used to be horrified (and embarrassed and afraid and ashamed) if I made a mistake, but over time, I accept that I will make mistakes and the better response is to admit it and work to fix the mess. That grace also makes me more accepting when others make mistakes even when it costs me time and effort.
    Fr. Philippe’s section of accepting ourselves – “The mediation of another’s eyes” was amazing. “The greatest gift given those who seek God’s face … may be that one day they will perceive something of this divine look upon themselves; they will feel themselves loved so tenderly that they will receive the grace of accepting themselves in depth.”
    I think of God loving us tenderly with this divine look as in Hosea 11:4 “I led them with cords of compassion, with bands of love, and I became to them as one who raises an infant to his cheeks, and I bent down to them and fed them.”

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