The Personalist Project

Accessed on September 25, 2023 - 12:41:02

The difference between slaves and brothers

Katie van Schaijik, Nov 12, 2020

From the first reading for today's mass, a line jumps out. It's St. Paul writing to Philemon from prison. [my bold]

I'm sending [the former slave, Onesimus], that is, my own heart, back to you. I should have liked to retain him for myself, so that he might serve me on your behalf in my imprisonment for the Gospel, but I did not want to do anything without your consent, so that the good you do might not be forced, but voluntary.

Goodness entails freedom. Solidarity entails subsidiarity. Decision-making power belongs to human dignity and is the sin qua non of authentic community. Legitimate human authority comes first from God and secondly from the consent of the governed.

This basic truth is unrealized in Catholic parish life today. (Again and always, I'm speaking of matters within the competence of the laity, not things that belong specifically to the Petrine ministry.) The Church is hobbled and impotent because of it.

Many years ago I came across a passage in Raissa Maritain's journal that stays with me. When suffering is thrust on us against our will, we render it fruitful by making it voluntary, by giving it our fiat.

That's one mode of spiritual triumph. Another is to extend liberty, consent, and self-determination to those who might not otherwise have it—to divest ourselves of power or privilege for the sake of empowering others. That's what Paul is doing in this passage. 

I'd love to see the clergy do it much more widely—hand over responsibility; let go of ownership and control, so that freedom and goodness can abound and former slaves become "more than brothers."