When a book sells more than 12 million copies and has been translated into 24 languages, chances are it merits our time and attention. The book is “Man’s Search for Meaning” by Viktor E. Frankl (1905-1997), published by Beacon Press, 1959. Frankl survived the concentration camp and tells the story of his incarceration and survival. A good summer read.
Frankl writes: “… freedom is in danger of degenerating into mere arbitrariness unless it is lived in terms of responsibleness. That is why I recommend that the Statue of Liberty on the East Coast be supplemented by a Statue of Responsibility on the West Coast” (132).
In the garden of Eden there was freedom, to eat or not eat of the fruit on the tree of knowledge. Adam and Eve, in disobedience to God’s will, ate and then refused to accept responsibility for their deed. The poor old serpent got the axe. God did not let Adam and Eve get away scot free. The consequences of their action drove them out of paradise. They forgot that there was a statue of responsibility on the west end of Eden.
St. Paul spoke both of freedom and the obligation to fulfill our duties. We are free to either follow the way of Jesus or walk away. Paul himself realized his own abuse of freedom in persecuting the early church and he acknowledged his responsibility for his fanaticism. Now, by God’s grace, he believes that “… the one who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus” (2 Cor. 4:14). Paul would not pass the buck nor would he blame a serpent or indigestion for having a bad day. He did wrong; he admitted it; he received God’s forgiveness and committed himself to a life of discipleship.
Jesus speaks about the doing of God’s will. Whoever is obedient to the great commandment of love is a member in Jesus’ household. Again we are in the arena of freedom: to love or not to love. Again, we become responsible for the choice to show active concern and respect for others (the art of loving) or going off on our own narcissistic journey.
In the end, when death comes, we hopefully will hear Jesus cry out: “Well done, good and faithful steward.” We will hear those words if we have visited both the Statue of Liberty and the Statue of Responsibility.
Let us leave the last thought to Viktor Frankl: “To be sure, people tend to see only the stubble fields of transitoriness but overlook and forget the full granaries of the past into which they have brought the harvest of their lives: the deeds done, the loves loved, the last but not the least, the sufferings they have gone through with courage and dignity” (150).
Bishop Morneau, auxiliary bishop emeritus of the Green Bay Diocese, serves as sacramental minister at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish, Green Bay.