Ceding control to Christ expands our freedom

Recently I heard of the passing of a man about whom I had not thought of in years. At the news of his passing I began to recall him with great fondness, and I remembered some of the lessons I learned from him.

David grew up in the Midwest and there were two things that stood at the core of the man that I knew: his Catholic faith and his love for his wife. In the 1950’s and 60’s David’s radical Catholic faith made him a proponent of what some have called “Catholic agrarianism”: a movement that hoped to put into practice the church’s social teaching in part by bringing society back into touch with the land. After some years of trying – and failing – at communal farms on the East Coast, David landed on the rich, black earth of southeastern Ohio.

I met his daughters while they and I attended college there, and we became friends. Thanks to them, I was invited into a group of remarkable people who would go out to David’s farm on weekends. I can still remember the deep green of those grassy fields on gorgeous spring days, the singing and the dancing, the great conversations about living the faith with radical intention.

David was, as I discovered later from his daughters, a complicated man. The financial insecurity born of this radical back-to-the-land living had been a great burden on the family. The idyllic life that I saw under those beautiful Ohio skies was not what it seemed.

Around the time I heard of David’s passing, I read an article that noted that this time of self-quarantine and loss has made us look more closely at our lives, and it connected our situation with the story of the rich young ruler who was invited by Jesus to sell everything and follow him (Lk 18:18-23).

The article went on to make a very important point. We would all like to believe that we are not the rich young ruler. We hope, at least, that we would not walk away. Many of us are willing, I think, to get by with less and even to live in relative poverty. What we as Americans may be having the hardest time with, then, is not the loss of possessions as much as with the loss of control over our lives.

Many of us would gladly give up some of the trappings of suburban life, but we love our independence. We draw the line on limits to our freedom. So much so that some are arguing that the lives of the vulnerable should be expendable as long as we keep our freedoms. But this is not authentic freedom.

My friend David trusted in the Lord in all things and at all times. He had his failings, he was no doubt imprudent I many ways, but his big-heartedness taught me that to be a follower of Christ is to cede control over to him. The more we do that, the happier we’ll be and the more generous we’ll be to others.

That was the real invitation from the Lord to the rich young ruler who was asked not only to give up what he owned, but also to give up control and follow.

The paradoxical truth of our faith is that we will actually be freer if we die to our own wants and desires and demands (Jn 12:24-26). So I pray that we all learn through this horrid time to cede control to Christ Jesus so as to embrace the freedom to love deeply and in peace.

Deacon Omar Gutiérrez is director of the Pontifical Society for the Propagation of the Faith in the Archdiocese of Omaha. Contact him at

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