John Cassian once wrote that it is twice as difficult to uproot our vices, which strive within us, than it is to acquire virtue. We are twice as likely to be bound by the things inside of us, than we are to be enslaved by the things outside. Therefore we must pay twice as much attention to the emotions and desires (movements) within us, which would defeat us, than to the impositions on our freedoms which may be applied upon us from without.
Our recent past has yielded many things in our world to challenge all of us; things which rile up our inner monsters: our fear, anger, selfishness of all sorts, pride and so on. None of these things come on their own however, but they are accompanied by reasons and justifications for themselves; so that we will agree to them and will allow them free reign to dwell and act within us. I may be angry at you, but I have these reasons (x, y and z), therefore its okay. I may be acting selfishly, but it’s only because of this or that. I’m afraid, therefore I can act or say these things towards you…I am justified! But I have also become enslaved; and I am becoming monstrous. Or if that word sounds too harsh—I am becoming unkind, impatient, angry, cowardly, selfish and/or unloving.
I have been distracted by my vice and my self-justification, to look outside of myself—erroneously—projecting the source of my problems onto you; while my own vices, I allow to move and act within myself with freedom and impunity. Sure, there are certainly real problems outside of us and we must respond, but wait. First and foremost, I need to clean up the problems that dwell inside of me, before I have any chance of responding helpfully to the world outside of me. Otherwise, it is more likely I will add to the problems, even if my intentions are good.
What good is freedom to be angry at my brother or sister? Or what use is freedom to enter a restaurant, or freedom to move about in this world, if I am bound by my anger, wrapped up in my fear, and blinded by my pride and selfishness? I have erred. Our world needs more forgiveness not anger. The Christian tradition holds that anger was only given to man by God, to resist the things within us which keep us from a relationship with God. Anger is not intended to be directed at our brothers and sisters in this world, regardless of the reasons and justifications that we may believe.
It is better for me to lose my freedoms in the world, than to lose my freedom from the vice which rages within my own soul. It is better for me to be free of anger towards you, so that I may also be free to forgive you. It is better for me to be free of fear towards you, so that I am free to love you, to listen to you, to hear you, to dwell peaceably beside you. I must pray every day, even every minute if I am able, to discern the still, small voice of God, who calls me to peace within my soul—I must pray, and seek to understand this God, who calls all of us to peace within, and freedom from our vices. And then I must do his will, applying myself double to the task of uprooting the things inside which enslave me; and next to freely acquire the things of love: forgiveness, mercy, kindness, patience, gentleness, humility. These are the gifts of freedom that I would like to give to you—my brothers and sisters. Forgive me for my enslavement to unlove. Pray for my freedom, and I will pray for you also.