“It is my right to choose!” Some will go even further and call it their God-given right. It has come up often in the pandemic—innocuously regarding medical procedure masks in stores or much more seriously regarding vaccination. Franciscans think highly of freedom, but we also live with a vow of obedience. What then is freedom, and what is obedience?
I find this an important question! Too often, we get caught up in the political strive between collectivist and individualistic thinking, or socialism vs. libertarianism. I think that for a Christian, this is a false choice. Our responsibilities cannot be reduced to either my rights as an individual or my duties to everyone else. Saying “both” is no good. I am not everyone else. Trying to balance the exercise of my freedom with the needs of everyone else is far beyond my abilities. I know that I cannot do this, even while I know that this is what I must do.
Christian faith, and the faith and life of St. Francis, is to live with this burden without trying to make one of two false choices. It is the essence of community life, which is where we practice it daily. It is the essence of political life for a Christian. It is the duty to see the good in both choices while knowing that compromise in daily decision making will be imperfect and painful.
Accepting both freedom and obedience joyfully in spite of this burden is possible by the gift of faith. It lets us live. It lets us pray. It lets us find peace. And it lets me get used to wearing a face covering and no longer get upset because my glasses fog up and I wish that the pandemic were over or I could at least ignore it. And it lets me accept that some reject vaccines, despite putting themselves and others at greater risk by their choice. I know that I do not have to heal the world and its defects, as in Christ, they already are.
In walking with Christ, in the midst of danger, we know that there can be no fear. Freedom and obedience are now no longer a contradiction, and political strive can be put in its rightful place.