True freedom is interior

Interior freedom is gained by loving God and one’s neighbor, and by not being inordinately attached to any created thing.  

            Alexander Solzhenitsyn and St. Therese of Lisieux

Freedom is what makes man to be man.  Freedom is what distinguishes man from the rest of visible reality—sun, moon, stars, elements, plants and animals.  On the natural level, freedom is man’s greatest gift or quality.

What is freedom?  Freedom is the ability to choose between various goods; it means that man is not determined to one way of acting—the way elements, plants and animals are.  Atheists and believers disagree on many important points, but they agree on the value and importance of freedom.

Recently, I read a little book entitled, Interior Freedom, by a French priest named Jacques Philippe ( ).   He offers a number of valuable insights into the nature of freedom.  He points out the difference between exterior freedom and interior freedom.  A person’s exterior, physical freedom can be limited by prison, confinement, sickness, but such limitation does not take away one’s interior freedom, if one knows what to love and what to hate.  A good example of this is Alexander Solzhenitsyn who was in a Russian concentration camp for many years.  The Communists controlled his body, but they were not able to deprive him of his interior freedom.  Because of his faith in God and love of truth, they were never able to control his mind and his heart.

The author says that freedom flows from love, but it must be love of that which is true and good.  Jesus said that it is knowledge of the truth that makes one free (John 8:31-32).  God is absolute truth and goodness and freedom.  He created each one of us as an act of love, and he has destined us for a future of love—to be united to him in love in heaven for all eternity.  From this perspective, the human person who is most free is the one who loves God with his whole heart, and mind, and strength.  No human person, whether king or emperor or billionaire, has been as free as Jesus was.  When his hour came, he freely offered himself in sacrifice to the Father for the salvation of all mankind.  He did that because he loves us and loves his Father in heaven.

Fr. Philippe says that we all want to be happy and “we sense that there is no happiness without love, and no love without freedom” (p. 13).  Love is the gift of self to the other as an act of benevolence, not in order to get something out of it.  That is what we mean by the love of friendship.  Because he is free, man can love and he can make a free gift of himself to the other; animals are not capable of this.

Interior freedom is gained by loving God and one’s neighbor , and by not being inordinately attached to any created thing.  Many people lack this love because they do not have faith and hope.  Faith in God, and his goodness, gives rise to hope, and hope leads to love.

Fr. Philippe makes a connection between faith, hope, and charity, and the First Beatitude: “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” The “poor in spirit” here refers to those who are not attached to riches or to any created thing, in the sense that they would ever prefer it to God.  As a result, they are blessed, and are free to love.

It seems paradoxical, but for Christians, true freedom can be found only by submitting oneself to God in what St. Paul calls “the obedience of faith” (Rom. 1:5).  The reason for this is that God is absolute freedom. By serving him, we achieve the purpose for which we were created.  Sharing in his life by grace, we also share in his freedom.  So freedom means doing what we ought to do; what we ought to do is to love God and serve him.  The Bible repeats, over and over again, and especially in the Psalms, that the man who lives justly, and follows the law of God, is the man who is fully what he should be.  The more one loves God, the freer he becomes.  The reverse side of that is our lack of freedom which is the result of a lack of love.

To sum it up, God is love and freedom.  Because of his love, he made man, and destined man for a perpetual life of love.   St. Therese of  Lisieux, who lived in a small Carmelite monastery, said that the one who loves God, with his whole being, is the one who is truly free.

Fr. Kenneth Baker, SJ About Fr. Kenneth Baker, SJ

Fr. Kenneth Baker, SJ, is editor emeritus of HPR, having served as editor for over 30 years. He is the author of the best selling Fundamentals of Catholicism (three volumes) and of the popular introduction to the Scripture, Inside the Bible.


  1. Poverty of the spirit is indeed blessed! But many parishes in America, I sadly observe, are impoverished with a poverty that is neither of the spirit nor blessed. You write, “Freedom is the ability to choose between various goods.” Many Catholics in America can no longer recognize the true good, and instead are saturated and drowning in the disvalues of the secular carnal culture.

    The New Evangelization was to first address the real need for catechesis and formation among us, so that we can evangelize the world. The very identity of the Church is linked essentially to evangelization, as Paul VI said so clearly: she exists to evangelize. But when she becomes instead self-preoccupied, what has she become? Pope Francis, a few days ago, spoke of this anomaly succinctly and poignantly. To the Argentine Bishops he said, “The typical illness of the shut-in Church is self-reference; to look at herself, to be bent over herself like the woman in the Gospel. It is a kind of narcissism that leads us to spiritual worldliness and to sophisticated clericalism, and then it impedes our experiencing ‘the sweet and comforting joy of evangelizing’.” In a recent homily at the Vatican’s Santa Marta residence, he said, “When we announce the coming of Jesus and give testimony to him with our lives and words, the Church becomes a mother who nurtures her children. But when we don’t, the Church becomes a babysitter whose job it is to send children to sleep, rather than a mother.”

    What piercing analogies: the Church as a narcissist closed upon herself, or as a babysitter sending the children to sleep! Such analogies seem painfully appropriate to many of our self-absorbed and impoverished parishes, devoted ever to maintenance while blind to mission, desensitized to the essentials of an authentic living faith.

    The Church in America needs to be awakened to the goods that deserve to be chosen! Many of us have become numb to all that ought to stir us! The culture of death no longer horrifies us, yet all the while it continues to permeate and deaden us, old and young. The communion of prayer escapes us, so busy with trivia have we become. The grace of the sacraments flows through our fingers, so poorly disposed are we as we approach and receive them. We have become impoverished, in a poverty that is no beatitude. Where, then, is our freedom in Christ? It waits for us in Him, while the prison door of slavery threatens to close behind us. Where then is “Holy Mother Church”? Blessed Mother Mary, pray for us!

  2. I loved this editorial about interior freedom by Fr. Baker, and also the comment following by Thomas Richard. I have found Mr. Richard’s observations to be true. My personal experience is that there are “hollow men” occupying positions of power in the Church who are utterly devoid of normal compassion and moral uprightness in an elementary sense. I was shocked at this discovery but I shouldn’t have been. They go on with surface appearances of normalcy while discounting serious issues brought to their attention. I’m so glad that the prayers I prayed to the Holy Virgin kept my family safe in the midst of danger coming from within the Church despite the inaction of such hollow men.

  3. Sanctuary house of which I am founder by God’s grace since 1951 deals specifically since 1985 with inmates and former ones and sexually sinning unrepenting males worldwide …this is a wonderful article for them all. The former inmates actually staff Sanctusry House as Laity brothers of the passion of Christ.

    Albany NY

  4. I love this truth of interior freedom and am very thankful of the comment by Richard Thomas.It is sad to say that The American Catholic Church is a contributor to this lack of love through our own priest and religious as some not all dont have the excitement of faith always parked in neutral. Always walking on eggs which is not true interior freedom. Not having the Spirit of St. Paul in preaching .At times they seem so bored of mass and the truth you are not sure they are priest or religious.But I still love them and pray for them as i ask others to pray for them. Those of us who are excited about the Church do not apologize for being Catholic and are in alignment with the Popes which is Truth and the true path to our Salvation. I am not attacking but defending the Church and in the spirit of St. Paul addressing the correction he made to St.Peter to his face.Thank God the popes are cleaning house. Peace

  5. Interior Freedom, by Father Jacques Philippe has helped me through the toughest time in my life. Because of that little book I was able to find peace of mind after suffering for almost a year when I discovered that my husband had abused my daughter. That little book helped me find forgiveness for him, not in the “all is forgiven, come home” way, but in the way we all need to. I can hate the sin, but find love and forgiveness for the human that sinned. I can support the jail sentence that is soon forthcoming, but understand that no term in jail can provide true justice. I can recognize the harm that the evil did, but can refuse to let that evil overtake me. I may be financially ruined, emotionally beaten up, physically exhausted….but I am not defeated, because I can still breathe and smile and pray. I can still love. I am free.

    • Avatar Judy Meade says:

      As you know already, your daughter will need a LOT of prayer and she also will greatly require healing, probably for the rest of her life. It affects every aspect of one’s being. It is so evil, may God’s grace, however, abound in her and in you.

      • Please, please remember her and all my children in your prayers. She is so far removed from the person God intended her to be, it is heartbreaking to me. As a mother, I am powerless to exact change in her, now, as an adult. I can only lead by example at this point, and an example of compassion and healing seems weak and ineffective to her. She cannot see how much she is imitating evil at this point in her life and I can only leave her to Mother Mary, to whom I gave her at birth and to the Hands of God.

  6. Avatar David Cicotello says:

    Interior Freedom was the right book and the right time in a critical juncture of my life. Given to me by my priest, the book assisted me in navigating through the devastating loss of my brother from a climbing accident which left me stranded for 6 days. Surviving that ordeal was an extraordinary experience (aided by faith, hope, and grace), but I experienced an even greater challenge when I faced the complex emotions of guilt, remorse, and grief during my healing and recovery.

    I did not READ Interior Freedom; I re-read it several times, annotating the margins and underlining passages many times over. The book has been an inspiration, a life saver, a beacon that guide me out of the darkness.

  7. Avatar Fr. Rafael Partida says:

    This book was recommended to me by a young woman, for whom I provided spiritual direction. The book was a blessing for her. I found it a blessing for me as well. I have often recommended this book to others and they have found likewise a blessing by its reading. Interior freedom is what some many Christians need, and many do not even know to seek it. With interior freedom one can live a life of love and truth

    I just finished reading another book by the same Fr. Phillip; “Time for God”. It is a great book for those who desire a deeper, and better prayer life; especially for those seeking to be more faithful to prayer.

  8. All of Father Philippe’s books are wonderful. My own personal favorite is “In the School of the Holy Spirit,” which I have read three times. “Searching for and Maintaining Peace” is excellent too, as is “Time for God.” These books are easy to read and filled with wisdom. Each time you read them, you find another gem of insight. I highly recommend them all.

  9. Avatar Martin B Drew says:

    Freedom translates into the transcendentals, one true good and beautiful and that mankind comes to permanent facts called systematic theology ; grace, faith, sin church, Jesus, Saints , Mary the mother of God. It is wonderful to have freedom

  10. Avatar Evan Ferguson says:

    1739 Freedom and sin. Man’s freedom is limited and fallible. In fact, man failed. He freely sinned. By refusing God’s plan of love, he deceived himself and became a slave to sin. This first alienation engendered a multitude of others. From its outset, human history attests the wretchedness and oppression born of the human heart in consequence of the abuse of freedom.

  11. Avatar Cheryl U. Oconnor says:

    This is the dilemma that used to preoccupy Albert Einstein which led him to the famous statement: “God does not play dice with the universe.” Even God cannot declare that 2+2 equals 3. But on the other hand without freedom, love, the greatest of Christian virtues, is also moot. It is the intertwining of love and freedom that makes for the grandeur of Dante’s Commedia; without love and freedom Western civilization cannot possibly be understood.


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